The future is NOW Musbach says; time for attorneys to go PAPERLESS

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By Frank Weir

Legal News

Chelsea attorney Randy Musbach knew he was on to something during a personal injury trial last fall.

Opposing counsel showed up at court with five or six boxes of documents and exhibits.

Musbach walked in with . . . an Apple iPad.

"That's all I had. My iPad. It had all the documents, photos, and 100 exhibits that I needed (hard copies to pass around to the jury of course). I could immediately access everything.

"The biggest compliment I got was when the judge asked opposing counsel for a document and he replied, 'Ask Randy. He knows where everything is.'"

Musbach is convinced he has seen the future and it is NOW: law practices must become "paperless." That's what he told the WCBA's Solo and Small Firm Practice section meeting last week.

"The first thing I can tell you is that going paperless would be the best decision you could make for your practice. Within 30 seconds, I can access any document for any of my cases that I've worked on in the last five years. That's 30 seconds cold.

"That kind of ability is critically important if you are cross examining a witness or, as happened last fall, when the judge asks to see a document in front of the jury."

Further, Musbach is convinced that being paperless can easily level the playing field when opposing large firms.

"I just have one partner and I think we have an advantage in not having a staff and being current technologically. Things have turned upside down due to technological advances. When I started practice, it was considered a disadvantage to practice alone.

"Now the firms are trying to economize and do things the way solo practitioners have had to do them for years. A retired judge who is a friend, Rodney Hutchinson, told me years ago to 'Never work for your overhead.'

"That's the best piece of advice he could have given me. Some lawyers can easily pay six figures in overhead expenses annually. That's a lot of hours to work before you can feed yourself and your family.

"You can set up a paperless law office for around $2,500 and you can do what much larger firms do but do it better. It's a terrific advantage."

Noting that federal courts already require electronic filing, Musbach feels that within five years, lawyers will have to have a much greater digital capability than they do now.

"With the continuing development of tablet computers and smart phones, there will be an exponential increase in societal change from paper to digital information."

All it takes, he said, is to cross the threshold, to make a new golden rule: no paper at any time.

How does he do it?

* A scanner is the first requirement. He uses the Fujitsu S1500 ($380 to $495 and both PC and MAC platforms are supported) that can scan 20 pages per minute and offers a 50-page sheet feeder.

* Although not necessary, Musbach also has a small portable page scanner which he can take anywhere and tether to his laptop for scans on the fly.

* Adobe 9 Standard, furnished free with the Fujitsu.

* Apple iPad and at least one MAC laptop with WIFI capability at least.

"Although my IPad has 3G capability, I use WIFI 80 to 90 percent of the time," he said. "You can set up a temporary office in any coffee shop that offers WIFI. The changes that are happening are amazing."

* Apple iPhone.

* An account with a "cloud" website such as the one he uses, Dropbox, at www.dropbox.com.

The account is free for up to 2 gigabytes of memory or $9.95 a month for up to 50 gigs. A Dropbox application is downloaded to the respective laptop or IPad so file saving and retrieval can be done automatically be it documents, photos, anything that can be scanned and saved digitally.

His procedure:

* He personally scans correspondence and documents as he receives them in his office and saves everything as a PDF file. A 20-page brief scans in less than a minute, he said.

* He then saves the resulting PDF file in that client's folder on the "dropbox" application on his laptop and iPad which is automatically saved at the Dropbox website server.

"That's it. I can now access the brief from any place and at anytime via my laptop, IPad, even my iPhone by going into my Dropbox application which connects to the Dropbox server.

"I email everything to the client. His file mirrors mine; this makes for incredible client relations. There are no calls about where is this letter or that document or when can I see the opposing counsel's brief."

* After scanning, all paper goes into a bin which Musbach has shredded once a month.

* For volume copying of records for instance, Musbach only deals with copy companies that will send him digital copies via email or by compact disk, which he downloads and then destroys.

* He has one manila folder for each case which contains "two or three" documents requiring an original signature.

All other paper is scanned and shredded. Even envelopes can be scanned to show postal delivery dates, Musbach said.

What about those ubiquitous faxes that fall like snowflakes in lawyer's offices?

Musbach got rid of his stand-alone fax machine long ago, he says.

"I set up an account with myfax.com. I have a toll-free 'fax' number and when anyone faxes me, it comes to me in an email as a PDF file. I look at it on my iPad or iPhone and of course can save it to the appropriate client folder at my Dropbox account."

Musbach concluded as he started by saying, "This is the future. It just makes too much sense. Lawyers are a little adverse to change but this is the time to jump in and do it.

"Soon the courts will be requiring that everything be filed and handled digitally. There are still issues with pro per litigants but lawyers will have to get on board. You have a choice now but you won't in a couple of years.

"This makes life so much easier and it make us all more organized and effective as lawyers. The clients love it when you can tell them in 30 seconds what's going on and email documents to them.

"In a sense, your physical office is wherever you are with your iPad and a WIFI or 3G connection. It gives you a great sense of freedom and empowerment."

Musbach added that he is always glad to talk tech and to help other attorneys if he can with their questions. "I've learned a lot about this through trial and error and I'm happy to share that," he said.

He can be reached at:

randymusbach@me.com.

Published: Thu, Jan 20, 2011

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