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So easy a caveman could do it

Jim Colville owns Colville & Associates, a court reporting firm in Tucson, Arizona. He has been a court reporter for 40 years, and an RB user since the “stone age” of DOS. He set up his first online case repository this year, and this is his story.

When Yong asked Jim to address this year’s Team RB conference regarding his experiences with the records repository, Jim didn’t understand why. He doesn’t consider himself an expert on records repositories or on any part of RB8. He rates himself, at best, an average RB8 user.

While Jim was thinking about what he had to offer, he saw the GEICO ad on TV about “It’s so easy, even a cave man can do it.” Click, the light went on. Jim knew that Yong wanted someone who is not an expert to tell their story so that all of the other average RB users can see that they too can do this.

Online repository case history

In the early part of 2007, Jim was contacted by one of the largest law firms in Tucson about setting up a records repository. This law firm had recently begun representing a large general contractor in a construction defect case. The attorney who contacted Jim had been involved in construction defect cases in California, Nevada and Arizona. However, all of her Arizona construction defect cases had document repositories in Phoenix, and she was tired of having to drive to Phoenix to retrieve documents.

The repository they were using did not allow them to actually view documents online, they could only see a description of what each file contained. When the lawyer wanted to actually view documents, she had to either order them from the repository and hope that they were what she wanted, or drive the 125 miles to Phoenix to view them. She wanted a repository in the Tucson area so that she could avoid the frequent drives to Phoenix.

Jim had heard of RB8’s repository, and being a typical court reporter and pathological optimist (his words), he quickly answered that this was indeed something that he could do, and they made an appointment for a demo.

Immediately after hanging up the phone, Jim called Yong and asked him if he could actually do what he said he could do. Yong assured Jim that he could. He then walked Jim through, step by step, what he needed to do. (You do not have to call Yong for this information. It is included in the Field Guide to Success with RB8, which registered Team RB members can download from the members download page on this site.)

Jim put together his demo. First, he created a demo case file. Then he scanned in some old exhibits and miscellaneous documents, and uploaded the files to the repository. Next he practiced all the steps over and over again until he could do it blind-folded.

The demo went without a hitch. The client was elated. The fact that she could download files right at her desk and print out just the ones she wanted was like a miracle to her. She was sold. But Jim had a haunting feeling that he was missing something. He thought, “Nothing that you can charge for is this easy.”

Problems encountered

Jim worried that if there was going to be a problem, it would be with scanning, the aspect of the process that he was least familiar with. He had scanned in documents for the demo, and it seemed as easy as copying documents, but without the paper. But because the company scanner is also their copier, scanning would have to be done evenings and/or weekends, so as to not interfere with normal production. Luckily, they are located close to a university, and Jim found a graduate student who would work evenings and weekends to handle the scanning.

Nothing happened. They waited and waited, wondering if the case had, for some reason, gone away. Then Jim got a call from the paralegal stating that they were going to deliver some documents that day so that they can get started scanning. Eighteen bankers boxes of records was the first installment: a stack of documents 18 feet high and two feet wide. It was a little daunting.

As soon as they started the scanning, Jim realized that this was the bottleneck he had feared. It wasn’t going to be as easy as it had seemed up to this point. While they have a good, fast scanner, its software and document feeder did not seem capable of handling this kind of assignment. After scanning in a large file folder of documents it took as long as 45 minutes to convert it to a .pdf file. If the document feeder jammed, it was difficult to correct the file. Often, they would have to start the whole file over.

Handling all the different size pieces of paper was a nightmare. Some of the documents were literally scraps of paper that had to be hand fed. Removing staples was no minor task. Plus the office set-up was wrong: the scanner was across the room from the computers. So using the scanner required someone to walk literally miles a night going back and forth from the scanner to the computer. After 44 hours of work, they had completed two boxes of documents.  At this rate the cost to the client would be prohibitive.

Solutions

Outsourcing seemed to be the only hope. Jim contacted a professional copy service provider that were much better equipped to handle this kind of assignment. They were willing to do the scanning for the same per page charge that Jim had quoted the client; which left him the hourly charge that he had quoted for verifying, indexing, uploading, etc. This was a tremendous relief, as Jim was able to shift the scanning to someone with better equipment and more experienced personnel, and be able to control costs.

The next step after scanning was verifying the scans and uploading them to the repository. Jim recommends Adobe Acrobat 8 for scanning and verifying files. It was much easier to use than the proprietary software that came with Jim’s scanner. It made verifying scans and making corrections, such as sorting transposed pages and rotating upside down pages, easy. Jim says it’s a must for projects like this. (In addition, Acrobat 8 will Bates number documents as it scans them if needed.)

Another program Jim recommends is A-PDF Merger. It takes multiple .pdf files and combines them into one. When scanning, sometimes it’s easier to scan in several files separately that should actually be one file. This program makes it a simple process to combine these smaller files into one file. It costs about $25.00 (A-PDF.com).

Lessons learned

The biggest lesson Jim learned is “know your scanner.” It’s the workhorse in creating a records repository. You or someone on your staff needs to know every aspect of it, such as how it can handle files with different size originals, and how it can handle going from the document feeder to manual scanning and back to the document feeder.

Now Jim’s staff knows their scanner better and is doing more scanning in the office and outsourcing less. However, for small offices, Jim recommends outsourcing large volumes of documents, especially in the beginning. In fact, Jim says he would still choose to outsource large numbers of documents because of the personnel and logistical issues involved for a small firm. As he says, “We are a court reporting firm, and we want to make our profit off of court reporting, not scanning.”

Another lesson Jim learned was about client accuracy. Some of the parties furnished indexes with their documents. These had to be verified as there were numerous numbering errors. Jim’s experience has been that you cannot trust anything you get from the client. Verify it all. However, after verifying and correcting, the indexes did simplify the description section of the repository because he could copy and paste the descriptions from the indexes into the repository.

There is a problem in RB8 when you have large files containing numerous unrelated documents because the description area of the repository has a limit of about 250 characters. In these situations, when Jim would run out of space, he would conclude the description with ellipses and post the index in the repository for the attorneys to download and read the full description there.

Once you have everything uploaded, and have notified all of the parties that the repository is ready for them to use, what can you expect? Jim had some complaints about download time. This usually can be traced to attorneys using old computers with minimum memory. When Jim explained this to them, most of them were already aware of it and were amenable to updating in order to take advantage of the repository. Some of the paralegals were actually happy to have Jim’s support in getting them updated.

Keeping file sizes down (around 35 to 40 megabytes max.) will help with download time. Jim recommends A-PDF Split or A-PDF Size Splitter (a-pdf.com) for breaking large files up.

Jim also had a problem with an attorney using a combination of Windows 2000 and Internet Explorer 6. When the client viewed a file from the repository it loaded into their temporary internet files. If they tried to view it again later, the computer sensed that it is there and did not download it again, but it didn’t display it either. The client had to delete the file from Internet Explorer. To eliminate this problem, the client should save the file instead of viewing it. Upgrading to Internet Explorer 7 also eliminates the problem.

Jim had one additional issue with download times being so slow that the server would actually time out before the file was downloaded. This was an issue with the way his internet service provider communicated with RB. It was quickly and easily corrected. Contact RB Support if you encounter this problem, as there is an option that can be selected within the program that will fix this problem.

The results

At this point there are 13 parties in the case, and more to come. Only two of these parties were already Jim’s clients, so this has been an excellent introduction to new clients. Everyone involved in the case has used it. Some of them were new to repositories and were impressed with the concept. Others have used them in the past and were impressed with the ease and simplicity with which the RB system works. One client even exclaimed, “Finally we have gotten away from the ‘Mother May I’ approach,” referring to having to order documents from the repository, which involved filling out a request form, sending it in, and then waiting for delivery of the documents.

In the beginning, there were two firms that were reluctant to use Jim’s repository. They were using one in Phoenix for their documents, but they had to use Jim’s repository to access the documents of the other parties. It was only a short time before they recognized the difference and moved their documents to Jim’s repository. Later, the court ordered that Jim’s was the official repository.

Jim believes that the online case repository has been a wonderful way to showcase what his firm can do. He describes himself as not much of a marketing person. His method has always been to try to do a better job and do it faster, and let his work do his marketing. RB8’s records repository allows him to continue to market the way he is most comfortable, by simply showing what he can do.

The next step for Jim is to introduce the parties on the case to RB’s online calendar and .pdf transcripts. Jim is hoping that because the case calendar will allow all parties to keep track of the deposition schedule, it will further enhance his firm’s value to the parties and result in all parties using Jim’s firm for all the depositions in this case. Because these attorneys are likely to be doing more complex litigation cases in his area, they hopefully will contact Jim for repository services for the next case.

If you, like Jim, have gotten an online case repository with parties who are not your clients, we’ve created a kit to help you cross-sell your case calendar and PDF transcripts to those parties. Registered Team RB members can download this free kit from the members download page on this site.

NOVEMBER 2007–JANUARY 2008 FEATURE ARTICLE

by . Posted in Best Practices, Communicating with clients, Increasing productivity, News archives, RB Web, RB8.

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