OFFICE - 2.0
For most advocates, this task seems daunting. One is confronted with several questions at this stage, such as:
What parts of a file should be scanned and maintained on digital space?
Should I only scan the pleadings and documents or should I digitally store everything related to a matter?
Should I still maintain physical files?
Can my clerk handle the burden?
Is digitisation a fad or can it be sustained?
Such qualms, along with the apprehension of capital expenditure required to purchase the scanner and other equipment, dampen your enthusiasm, eventually nipping the whole pursuit in the bud.
I have provided some practical perspectives to overcome the aforementioned doubts in the following posts.
COMMON DIGITAL STORAGE FOR OFFICE
Similar to the storage area for your physical files, which is accessible to everyone in your office, you need a 'common digital storage' for your electronic files.
There are several systems of digital storage. Without being concerned with technical specifications, for the limited purpose of this blog, digital storage can broadly be categorised into the following variants:
Personal storage (like the internal hard-disc of your Personal Computer),
Localised network storage (like a Network Attached Storage (NAS) accessible to everyone on the same network at a given place),
Cloud storage (Like Dropbox, OneDrive, etc)
Hybrid storage (a combination of above methods in various permutations)
Currently, the most common storage pattern used by Advocates is personal storage. Even in offices with considerable strength, everyone works on Personal Computers, sharing files through emails/pen-drives.
However, an efficient digital office cannot be sustained with independent personal storages. It is essential to have a common storage, accessible to everyone.
If such common storage is cloud based, you will have the added advantage to seamlessly work at any location, with the same experience as your office desk - even on your mobile phone.
Read the post on Demystifying cloud storage for Advocates
Apart from consumer cloud storage services, there are several Document Management services, offering greater utility to advocates. However, these Document Management systems are very expensive compared to an average cloud service.
In my experience, for stand-alone law offices or small to mid sized law firms, a normal cloud storage service is more than sufficient to cater to your all your requirements, provided you arrange your folders and files systematically.
ARRANGING YOUR FILES/ FOLDERS ON DIGITAL STORAGE
Each advocate follows a unique pattern in which their physical files are maintained in her/his office depending on several factors like practice area, number of persons, convenience, etc.
In most offices, whenever an additional matter comes up, the clerk enters the case particulars in a 'Register', inter alia assigning an office 'file number' to the case. The file is stored in the file storage area in serial order following the 'file number' assigned to the case.
When ever a specific file is required, the clerk refers to the 'file number' in the register to locate the file. After the matter is over, the file is placed back to its original place. This process goes on continuously.
Similarly, for a sustained and easy use of your office digital storage, you should formulate a well though-out Standard Operating Procedure. Personal methods that you might be accustomed to on your Personal Computers may not work for the common digital space.
In this regard, please note that there can not be one universal pattern that can be implemented in every office. You should develop your own method depending on your office's conditions.
Whatever be the method, the objective should be to enable everyone to locate any folder/ file - instantly and effortlessly. Please keep note of the following while devising your procedure:
Avoid the tendency to make unnecessary ad hoc sub-folders.
Have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which should be uniformly followed by everyone
Stray files and folders should be avoided
In my office, I name and arrange files in the 'numerical method'. The 'numerical method' is easy to follow and inherently brings in several advantages, greatly reducing the risk of human error.
Read the post on Numerical method for naming/arrangement of your files and folders.
USE OF TECHNOLOGY FOR STENOGRAPHIC DICTATION
In Office 1.0, I have suggested methods to use technology for direct dictation. I have also written a post on why dictation software cannot effectively replace your stenographer. Let us now explore how to use technology to replace stenographic dictation.
While typists are readily available, stenographers are difficult to find. Adept stenographers also charge heavily, making them unaffordable for young lawyers.
The difference between a typist and a stenographer is the skill of 'short-hand', which is very difficult to master. Moreover, efficiently jotting down the dictation in short-hand, and typing the draft without many mistakes, also requires good english proficiency.
That brings to me the question, why do we even need a stenographer, skilled in short-hand, in this advanced age of smart phones? Can't we just record the dictation and forward it to a typist who can execute the draft by playing the recording?
The solution, which has been existing since a long time, is 'Transcription'.
Before I proceed further, let me clarify that 'Transcription', as a speech-to-text method, has multiple meanings in legal sector. It could mean word-to-word reproduction of entire court proceedings or depositions as done in some foreign jurisdictions or international arbitrations. It could also mean verbatim documentation of a formal meeting such as a company's Board Meeting.
However, when I use the word 'Transcription' in this blog, I refer to its usage in the process of legal drafting in an advocate's office or judiciary, as a substitute to traditional dictation.
With a simple transcription software and a foot-pedal, costing in total around Rs.5,000/-, an average typist (with moderate english knowledge) can become equivalent to an efficient stenographer. Read the post on implementing transcription in your office, wherein I have enumerated on the equipment required to implement transcription in your office along with some work-flows.
If one can assure safety of recording and storage of the audio file (which is not very difficult these days), there is absolutely no functional difference between dictating to your stenographer and dictating into a audio recording device.
In fact, digital transcription is more efficient that shorthand dictation. Any stenographer is evaluated principally on 2 criteria:
Speed at which he can take dictation in short-hand (measured in words per minute) and
Accuracy with which he can execute the draft without mistakes.
Digital transcription, inherently, has no speed constraints as your voice can be digitally modulated to any speed. Even the accuracy is naturally higher as your typist has direct reference to the very words you spoke, which can be rewound as many times as she/he requires.
Apart from an advocate's office, digital transcription could also have immense utility for the judiciary. Tribunals and Courts, especially at District and Mofussil levels, are seriously understaffed in terms of stenographers. Transcription could be implemented in these forums, at least on experimental basis, to evaluate its prospects.