Reading the June 23, 2003 issue of Information Week magazine was a trip down memory lane for me. An article titled Imaging Gets a Second Look reports on renewed interest in imaging. In the early 1990s when I worked at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, I was deeply involved in developing one of the first litigation support systems to integrate scanning, images, optical character recognition (OCR), full-text, and structured data. At the time, imaging was technically challenging but clearly the superior means of dealing with paper-based discovery in litigation. By the mid 90s, with the advent of the Web, interest in imaging among business-at-large waned.

Now, according to Information Week, the pressure to operate more efficiently is causing many businesses to take “a fresh look at some more mature, established technologies such as document capture and imaging software.”

Law firms too are looking again at scanning and image management. Ideally, this should not be necessary – everything should start and remain digital. But that is not realistic. So firms must still manage paper. In an effort to improve operations, some firms use scanning to share and distribute incoming documents (such as pleadings) as images or as part of a coherent records retention strategy.

In my opinion, the “file copy,” that is, the final retained version of client and client-related documents would be only digital – either files in native format or scanned images. Of course, this means having human processes to scan documents and to serve as gatekeepers that prevent each lawyer from sending redundant paper files for long-term storage (which not only costs money to store, but makes retrieving files more difficult).