Sunday, April 08, 2007

Seven Tips for Successfully Using OCR Technology in a Legal Setting

The average legal practice is buried under an avalanche of paper. Documents are crucial elements for the communication, reference and execution of every legal transaction. But the management of these documents can severely impact your law practice’s billable hours. Finding necessary paperwork still requires human intervention to search and identify the document.

However, a little bit of computer hardware and the right software can transform that paper into usable, searchable, storable data, saving you time and money. As you move through your day, look at the ways you handle paper—and then start leveraging the power of document imaging to cut costs and increase efficiency. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Cut outside copying costs. Rather than paying outrageous copying costs to replicate documents while away from the office, you may want to take a digital camera with you to photograph them. When choosing a camera for OCR tasks, look for one that includes an image stabilizer and offers resolutions of at least four megapixels.
  2. Pick the perfect OCR tools. Invest in an optical character recognition (OCR) product that will convert your digitally photographed images into text. ABBYY FineReader 8.0, for example, takes a JPEG file and converts it into a searchable PDF and/or an editable Microsoft Office document. The software allows for accurate translation even in the face of a variety of photo mishaps. It also corrects some environmental factors, such as the curve created in a page when it is part of a very thick book
  3. Pick the perfect scanning tools. Although a simple scanner can do the job, choosing a model that offers some more advanced features can further boost your productivity. Most duplex scanners, for example, incorporate an Automatic Document Feeder, which automatically feeds stacked pages into the scanner one at a time.
  4. Keep up with the news. When scanning the latest legal periodicals or newspapers, there’s no need to read every word. Instead, scan them with your OCR program and use the Hot Folder feature available in many OCR programs to automatically create a special in-box directory of items you want to peruse later.
  5. Create good email habits. Your email box is likely to be flooded with important briefs, articles, letters and other documents that are sent as email attachments. These image-only PDFs can be opened and viewed but are not searchable so they can get lost in the shuffle. Use your OCR software to translate them into a searchable PDF that allows the documents to be managed and searched electronically. For example, you can convert image PDFs into searcheble with PDF Transformer.
  6. Throw out the fax machine. A dedicated fax line can be a costly proposition when one considers the cost of equipment, phone charges, paper and time spent in upkeep. An electronic fax service (or a fax server) provides a practical alternative. Electronic faxing allows your office to send and receive faxes as TIFF graphics files, which can be read but not readily used in any other way. To further enhance usability of these documents, use OCR to transform them into editable text or searchable PDFs.
  7. Scan for discovery. Rather than having a secretary retype and reformat responses, use scanning and OCR to convert discovery, motions and pleadings to word processing documents. Document formatting will be retained, and the process takes mere seconds.

Because OCR introduces far fewer errors than retyping, you’ll also save time on proofreading. This approach allows you to provide electronic copies of documents to clients faster and helps clients store and access documents easily. In addition, you’ll be able to readily create an electronic storage system for files and improve accessibility to past work products.

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