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Why We All Hate Our Scanners: Is There An Answer?
By Ross L. Kodner

Scanning has been a sore spot in law firms for many years. Why? Lawyers have viewed scanning as being synonymous with optical character recognition (OCR). The problem? Even with the best OCR products, results often fall short. Many documents are not good “candidates” for recognition. Without a clean laser-printed source document you’ll end up with gobbledygook. Your staff will tell you it would have been faster to type the document than to OCR it and have to clean up the resulting mess.

Instead, view scanning as a way to turn physical paper into digital paper. This is like photocopying the documents onto one’s computer screen. When scanning as images, the process can be 20 times faster than the processing-intensive OCR approach. Further, imaged documents on screen look PRECISELY like the originals: handwriting, pre-printed lines / boxes:  all scan perfectly. This is a core part of the concept that I call the Paper LESS Office(tm) (see, also’s Online CLE section).

What kind of scanner should a firm deploy? What software should be used to scan, organize and then search through the content of “digital paper?” Factors to consider: (1) intended volume of documents to be scanned, (2) number of pages scanned per job, (3) budget for internal scanning v. cost-effectiveness of outsourced scanning. As to volume, read the specifications for duty cycles. Buying a $100 scanner rated for 2,000 pages monthly when your firm needs to scan 10,000 per month will surely smoke that “bargain” scanner. The scanning marketing stratifies this way, roughly:

1) Entry-level flatbed - usually flatbed scanners without automatic document feeders - $50-$300. Unsuitable for law firm use because of cumbersome paper handling.

1.5) Portable scanners - Visioneer’s Strobe Pro weighs about 2 pounds. This smaller-than-an-egg-carton-sized scanner can pull 10 imaged pages per minute (ppm) into your computer system for $200. Antec’s Attache model is a 12 oz. portable scanner which scans at 2-3 ppm. However, its sub-$100 price and light weight appeals to mobile lawyers.

2) Entry-level document-fed scanners - $250 - $600 flatbed scanners with automatic document feeders. Suitable for lower volume scanning situations up to 15,000 pages monthly. Look at Visioneer’s 8650, models in Hewlett-Packard’s Scanjet series and several from Microtek. Scanning speeds: 4-8 ppm.

3) Lower Mid-range document-fed scanners - $600 to $1300. Can feed 25-50 pages at speeds from 12-20 ppm Can handle up to 50,000 pages a month. Leading products range from Visioneer’s 9650 at 12 ppm and 25 page feeder to the Fujitsu 3091/3092 series with 25-50 page feeders and a speed of 15ppm.

4) Mid-range document-fed scanners - The Fujitsu 93GX has been replaced by the 3093 series - reliable workhorses. With a 27 ppm capacity, the 3093 series has a rugged 50-page feeder and fast SCSI interface. $1,800 to $2,400, depending on the configuration.

Above this level, the sky is the limit. Spend enough money and you’ll end up with a riding model with a 12 hp engine and a pull-start! Well, almost…

Fujitsu, Panasonic, Bell + Howell, Canon, Ricoh, Kodak produce scanners that push the 100 ppm mark with massive paper handling ability.

You now have these images in your computer system; what’s next? Organizing and searching them. Document management and work-product retrieval systems are the best answer. These software systems can gently impose a file cabinet-like consistency on the way any law practice organizes both its internally-created documents as well as its externally received and scanned documents. Worldox is the undisputed leader in the small firm marketplace and has been digging into the larger firm segment for several years with great success. For larger firms, iManage and PC DOCS are popular. Elite, publisher of benchmark larger firm billing and accounting products, has recently released their own document manager called Encompass.

All document managers let you organize and search scanned image files. This presumes, of course, that the images are stored in a format that actually permits content searching of what would otherwise be only a picture. Documents scanned with Adobe Acrobat 5 or Adobe’s Capture systems are stored in the universally viewable PDF format. PDF documents can now be “image over text” documents. This means that if the software can recognize the underlying text, it may be searchable by a document manager that has PDF-search capabilities. Worldox excels at such a role as part of its overall complement of document organization, management and retrieval functions, but isn’t the only tool that can accomplish this.

Quick tip: a common misconception is that if one scans at a higher resolution, the text recognition results will improve. In fact, the opposite is often true - lower scanner resolution settings can yield better recognition. At higher resolutions, modern scanners can actually be “confused” by the fibers of the paper. Set the resolution to 150 - 200 dpi for better text recognition results.


Publications : Bar Bulletin : January, 2003 

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