The Case for Electronic Case Files

by Fat Daddy, Esq. on January 2, 2013

This is the scene after an associate attorney was rear ended by a tractor-trailer on a snowy turnpike. After his spinning car came to rest, he walked away. But his files were not so fortunate. See that piece of cardboard sticking out from where his trunk once was? That was a banker box full of paperwork for several cases he was working on. The papers that were found were damaged from the wet snow and the impact of the accident.

While this was certainly a traumatic experience for the attorney, the loss of the box of paper did not negatively impact our ability to serve our clients. The reason for this is our office’s practice of scanning all incoming documents and saving an electronic file so that the paper file becomes a convenience rather than a necessity.


Fast forward a few months and a much more catastrophic event took place. One night I received a phone call telling me there was smoke coming from the building where my office was located. I was still several hours away and felt rather helpless. No worries, we have everything backed up, right? Sort of. Yes, I had set up a backup routine and we had a backup of our system from earlier in the day … sitting right next to our server on an external hard drive. We had other external hard drive backups but they were not current. I had researched online backup and even spoken with a representative but had not yet set up an online backup plan.

Once I learned of the fire, I got on my iPad and remotely connected to our server. I started the slow process of frantically copying files to any offsite location I could. Dropbox, Google Drive, email; I was trying it all. I got a sick feeling when I lost my server connection. I knew it meant that the server had succumbed to the fire and, while I had managed to copy all of our Quickbooks and Timeslips databases, we did not have nearly enough of our files. I am the unofficial IT guy at our small firm so all of the blame for the file loss would fall on me, and rightly so. I started considering locations in Mexico where I might escape rather than try to rebuild our practice.

Once I arrived on site, I was delighted to learn that the firemen entered our office and saved our server before the fire jumped over to our side of the building. I immediately took the server home and connected it. All of the files were there!

The aftermath of the fire has been difficult. We did lose many old files that were not part of our scanning plan. We had to relocate to a temporary space and I had to purchase replacement computers and set up another network. But the current client files and practice documents created within at least the past five years are all still there. If we wanted to recreate a paper file, we just had to click the print button on the PDF files. I have taken the fire as an opportunity to shift to a more paperless approach. I take files to court on my iPad and view documents on my dual monitors at my office. We have a new server and we have a combination backup plan where we use external hard drives but also have an account with an online backup service.


On a much more pleasant note, I went on vacation with my lovely wife, Hot Mama, last summer. I tried to make it a true vacation and not spend a lot of time working. I did a pretty good job for the most part, lying on the beach or by the pool and sipping fruity drinks. When the need arose to check in with the office and work on a file, I was able to remotely connect to my office computer with my iPad and work just like I was sitting in my comfy office chair.

These experiences would have been dramatically different if we did not have an electronic file plan in place. That associate would have lost documents that would have been expensive and difficult, if not impossible, to replace. Our office fire would have been much more debilitating. And most importantly to me, my ability to connect from the beach, or my living room, means that I am no longer location dependent. This means I can spend time with my family doing fun things but I retain the ability to be productive when needed.

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