In a digital world, paper still matters to law firms

Chuck Rothman has heard of law firms whose offices could be cited by the fire marshal. “They have bankers boxes lining every hallway,” he said.

Rothman hastened to add that few firms he’s encountered in his role as director of e-discovery services with information governance, e-discovery and technology strategies firm Wortzman’s Professional Corporation bother to strive for the mythical state that is the paperless office. Even in an increasingly digital world, paper matters to law firms. As long as that’s the case, printers matter too.

Rothman has noted a change in printing behaviour, though. “I don’t think information is being kept on paper, but lawyers do print temporary copies for review.”

Paperless offices unlikely

A new generation may get closer to the “paperless ideal” but Rothman doubts it. His children receive school assignments online, complete them using computers and submit them online. “The quality of writing is suffering because they don’t print it out and read it,” he said. He advises them to review work on paper. The few times they’ve done so, Rothman notes they found mistakes more easily.

He believes it’s the same with adults. “I think that in law firms, people have discovered that it’s much better to proofread paper than to proofread onscreen. So there are still a lot of printouts.”

Modern printer features

There’s good news for printer buyers: new features plus improvements in print speed and quality have boosted the bang for the printer buck. This is especially evident with multifunction machines. Attorneys can save money by acquiring one of these all-in-one printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines instead of buying one machine per function. Aside: yes, fax machines still sell, though certain people are trying to reduce usage of these anachronistic devices. “Several years ago I took my fax number out of my signature block so people wouldn’t think to fax me documents,” said John Simek, vice-president of digital forensics, information security and legal technology company Sensei Enterprises, Inc.

In Ivaylo Nikolov’s view, printer performance has reached such a high plateau he doesn’t bother checking specs – pages per minute, time to print first page, resolution and so forth – on the machines his firm acquires.

“These things used to be a factor, but today we’re only concerned with print quality, if that,” said the director of information technology for Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP.

Print speed, for instance, is so high among all makes that it’s irrelevant whether a printer spits out 45 or 55 pages each minute. “How many documents do you have that are more than 50 pages?” Nikolov asked.

Nikolov’s views aside, lawyers tend to ask for certain things in printers. Off the top of his head, Elliott Williams came up with two things: speed and low-cost colour.

“Lawyers may deal with very long documents that can range from 50 to 100 pages or more,” said the product manager for commercial inkjet printers for Epson America, while noting that today’s professional inkjets can match laser printers in speed.

As for colour, “even though most documents are black and white, lawyers add red lines and revisions” that they want to see on paper, Williams said.

Reliability as security issue?

Proven reliability sounds like a great attribute. Simek offers a different perspective using his one complaint about Hewlett Packard printers, but it’s a strange one: “They don’t die,” he said.

“Once you’ve made this investment, you’re less likely to take advantage of increased speed and new features like wireless printing” by buying new machines, he explained. He noted that manufacturers don’t always update printer drivers for older models so they can work with current versions of operating systems. That lack of backward compatibility can prevent newer computers from printing to older printers.

Printer usage data

Collection of usage data from each machine no longer involves a clipboard and a walk around the office. SmartPrint, the company Davies uses to manage its printers, collects usage data from printers throughout the office without physically visiting the office.

That data helps them plan maintenance visits for the printers. (Printer maintenance, like oil changes for cars, is based on pages printed, not timelines.) This data collection helps Davies get more life out of its machines. “When they see one printer is being used very heavily and the same model next door isn’t being used at all, they will swap them so they wear more evenly,” said Nikolov. He uses this information to make other decisions. “We’ve been doing this for years, since we could automate collection of printer data. I get a spreadsheet every month.”

Printing policies

Printing policies can be tricky to put into place. They sometimes require third-party tools, but not always. Epson’s Williams noted that his company’s machines have Open Platform firmware used to interact with independent solution vendors to provide features like authentication, security and workflow applications like “scan to e-mail.” On the devices themselves, network administrators can create users, place them into groups and assign policies to those groups.

Wireless printing

Wireless printing has reached models throughout every printer manufacturer’s lineup. “My wife was amazed when I showed her she could print directly from her iPad to our printer,” an HP Photosmart, Rothman recalled. “She does it all the time now. I don’t think she’s touched her laptop in months.’’

Simek understands the convenience. “You won’t take your phone up to a printer and plug it in to a USB port,” he said.

As wonderful as wireless printing may be, Nikolov said that it’s not enabled at Davies. Why not? Consider that Rothman’s wireless home printer can independently field manufacturer software updates. Getting updates is a good thing. Updates often add new or improved security features, patch known security holes and fix other problems.

However, this ability means the printer sports a processor, RAM and a storage device. In other words, it’s a computer. Combined with its ability to communicate with the outside world, it must be secured like a computer.

In the second part of this series, we’ll discuss how law firms can secure their printers.

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily website, published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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