Are law firms at risk?

New document processing and mailing procedures can help prevent costly errors

Law firms employ a wide variety of practices for storing and mailing important documents. But frequently those practices are informal and disorganized — leaving a firm vulnerable to costly errors.

For example, law firms routinely rely on certified mail from the U.S. Postal Service and collect the green cards that verify the recipient received the item. But how firms keep track of those cards differs greatly. Some may allow individual employees to determine how they’re tracked and stored, says Tom Hazel, Distribution Solutions Channel Director for Pitney Bowes. “One paralegal may just put them in her client file,” Hazel says. “Another may put them in his desk drawer, and a third may scan them and store them on her desktop.”

Risks of poor processes

Such inconsistency can cause costly errors. Hazel recalls one firm that lost a client and roughly $100,000 in revenue because of a missing certified mail receipt. “Everything coming into a firm should be identified and properly logged — including identifying which recipient received that item — to ensure compliance of even basic letter mail,” he adds.

Unfortunately, costly errors stemming from documentation and mailing errors at law firms aren’t that uncommon. Firms often lose 10 to 12 percent of their revenue because of lack of process and poor reporting, Hazel says. One common problem, he notes, is that many firms lack an established process for accurately recording which clients to charge for specific parcel deliveries — so they end up absorbing those costs rather than billing them to the clients. Or worse yet, they end up billing a client incorrectly due to poor recordkeeping and manual processes used to track carrier spend.

Disorganized or informal document management can also cost law firms their cases — and their reputation. In one high-profile court case, the mailroom of a prestigious New York law firm representing a death-row inmate mistakenly returned unopened court orders denying the inmate’s appeal in 2003. The U.S. Supreme Court later ordered a new hearing for the inmate, citing the law firm’s improper handling of the documents.

Finding an effective system

“Law firms can take several measures to improve their document processes, ultimately saving them time, money and their reputation,” Hazel says. Here are the steps he recommends law firms take:

Review work flows. Law firms have many common opportunities to fine-tune their document processing, storage and mailing procedures, including improved tracking and logging of the documents they create, as well as storage, tracking and reporting. A professional who specializes in legal document workflow and mail/parcel handling processes can help a law firm review its current processes and identify opportunities to improve them to reduce the firm’s compliance risk.

Establish and train to standardized processes. The goal should be to implement a standard document tracking and mailing process that makes sense for the firm’s specific needs and that employees can easily follow. “A great system is one that is standardized, has identified known processes around outgoing and incoming mail and a full chain of custody with visibility,” Hazel explains. The larger the firm, the more important standardization becomes. Some large, multi-office law firms may have a document workflow and mailroom process they use in the main offices, but fail to adhere to those processes in the smaller satellite offices.

Thankfully, Hazel says, new software solutions can greatly help law firms improve and standardize their document management and mailing procedures, as well as dramatically reduce compliance risk. Many of today’s advanced solutions have a single-user interface and can be used across multiple mail and parcel carriers — allowing firms to select the carrier that’s most affordable and effective, while accounting for all carrier spend with USPS® and other carriers,   as well as even local couriers. Likewise, software is also available for tracking all incoming mail and packages, providing complete chain of custody and complete visibility throughout the firm.  

“There’s really no reason for law firms to have inefficient and nonstandard document tracking and mailing processes anymore,” he says. “And those that don’t are leaving themselves at risk for costly mistakes that not only impact their bottom line, but also their reputation in the business community.”