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A firm is a paper-processing facility. Bulk paper comes in one end and is converted into documents going out in mailings and file boxes that exit the other end. The process starts with lawyers. Attorneys make their money with their minds and their mouths. Their minds figure out what to do and their mouths speak it into Dictaphones. After that, it is up to the paralegals, secretaries and clerks to finish the jobs. Whenever there is a special information-processing requirement, however, it’s time for the information technology department to be consulted. Often IT staff may have a simple solution to an arduous task. From saving time doing data entry to maximizing information dissemination, IT employees have specialized knowledge that can save time and money. The IT staff can help streamline digital discovery. It’s recommended in cases involving large amounts of data that a digital copy of the information be requested from the source. When your discovery documents include obvious spreadsheets or data tables, request that information in its original electronic format. Many times this will be an Excel spreadsheet, a dBase or Access database file, or an ASCII text file. These electronic versions of your discovery may then be searched, queried and analyzed with the computer. In seconds you can have the answers to questions that would take hours of manually searching through mountains of printouts. How many times did “X” occur between dates “Y” and “Z”? What is the total of A, B, C, etc.? Once you have the data in electronic form, the questions and answers come easily. All e-mail is not created equal. The IT staff can help choose the correct file format. The typical fax page takes 30 seconds to transmit, so if you’re urgently sending 60 pages to your attorney at an out-of-town hearing, it’s not going to be there in the next 10 minutes. The same file would take only a minute or so to download as e-mail over a dial-up phone connection. If you’re sending large documents to other offices, e-mail is much faster, cheaper and more efficient than faxing. When e-mailing documents, there is a difference between sending an editable document versus sending an image of the finished document. When you e-mail a Word document (.doc) or a WordPerfect document (.wpd), you’re sending an editable word-processor file that can be altered on the other end. If you’re collaborating and each party intends to allow the other to make changes, then e-mailing the word processor file is appropriate. Sending a fax means sending unalterable images of the pages. You similarly may e-mail an image of the pages by scanning the document on a scanner or digital sender and then attaching the resulting image file to the e-mail. Typical scan file formats are TIF and PDF, and almost all computers have at least Kodak Imaging for the TIFs and the free Adobe Acrobat Reader for the popular PDF format. Scan more successfully with help from IT staff. Scanning a paper document is sometimes confused with what most attorneys really want to d OCR a document. Scanning is simply taking a picture of the page. But with optical character recognition, the software program examines the squiggly black lines and tries to figure out if they are similar to text characters we use in our written language. The program first groups characters based on white space on either side and declares those groups to be words. It then checks to see if those words are contained within the dictionary to which it has access to confirm that it translated the squiggly lines correctly. If it doesn’t find the chunk of perceived text in its dictionary, the system prompts the operator to view the questioned area and to enter the correct characters. Overall, this is an imperfect process that is more art than science, especially if there are black marks, fax streaks or copier-glass dirt spots that can confuse the OCR process. When starting from a decent original, transmitting via OCR a large paper document that needs editing and revising can save a considerable amount of typing. Your IT staff can help the process go more smoothly. The IT staff can help guard against computer viruses. No discussion of modern computer issues would be complete without mentioning viruses. There are more than 74,000 viruses and their variants, with several new viruses discovered each day. E-mail is your most likely source of picking up a virus, but file-sharing collaborations and floppy disks are other common vehicles. Even if anti-virus software is operating, all computer users should have a basic awareness of the ever-present danger of viruses. Know how to use your anti-virus software to check a floppy disk before using it. You would be surprised at how many old floppy disks you grab to reuse have a virus on them. Also, macro viruses in Microsoft Word and Excel documents are the fastest-growing type of virus because they are easy to create and easy to spread. The simple rule: Virus-scan all Word and Excel documents you receive from other people. Today’s digital office productivity devices — computers, fax machines, scanners, printers, etc. — are an invaluable, virtually indispensable, asset to any firm. To maximize their value, they must be maintained, updated and, most importantly, used. Good coordination and communication between support and IT staffs will assure a maximum return on your investment in terms of efficiency, productivity and your bottom line. Randy Pierce is the MIS director at Touchstone, Bernays, Johnston, Beall & Smith in Dallas. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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