How to choose the right scanner for your law office

The ability to scan paper documents has been a vital requirement in most law offices for many years, but the advent of electronic filing now makes the capacity to get printed documents into digital form more important than ever.

Okay, I know. You are likely dreading the prospect of buying a new scanner for your office. The main reason you’re probably dreading it, though, is the myth that hardware of this type — printers, scanners, photocopiers — are gargantuan machines, with thousands of moving parts, just waiting to get catastrophically jammed. Oh, and did I mentioned they’re outrageously expensive?

Yes, these concerns were valid in the 1990s, but they’re not anymore. These days you can get a very reliable and high-quality scanner for your office for under $500. Not all scanners are created equal, though. Here’s how to decide what scanner is right for your law office.

Remember, you don’t need to scan to create PDFs

The first thing to note is that your scanner need not be a particularly heavily used piece of office equipment. It’s a common misconception that to convert Word documents to PDF, or to combine multiple documents into a single PDF, that you need to print the document to paper, then scan all of the pages to create a PDF.

In fact, all versions of Microsoft Word since 2007 have had the ability to save documents directly as PDF. Saving your file this way not only ensures a higher quality PDF but also that your document will be text searchable — a requirement in all eFiling courts.

There’s also no need to use a scanner to combine multiple documents into a single PDF. The most recent versions of Adobe Acrobat, for example, include the ability to add and remove pages from a PDF, and to combine multiple PDFs into a single document.

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Your scanner, then, will be limited to important but smaller scale tasks like scanning images of signatures for digital signing and creating digital copies of handwritten documents and forms or exhibits that are only available in hard copy.

Do you need an all-in-one printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine?

So, it is vital that your law office has the ability to scan (there’s tech emerging that will turn pictures taken on a phone camera into PDFs, but the quality is patchy). But do you need a “bells and whistles”, all-in-one machine that prints, scans, copies, and faxes? Probably not.

Many of these multifunctional machines fit the saying “jack of all trades, but master of none” The squeezing of more components into a single device simply leaves more room for things to break down. As the legal tech blogger Sam Glover has written: “you’re left with an okay printer and a not-very-good scanner.”

As Glover points out, if you think about it, at least two of these functions are unnecessary: copying is just scanning and printing without saving a copy in between, while faxing can now be achieved online via services like MyFax and HelloFax, which allow you to send and receive faxes like emails.

While an all-in-one machine may seem tempting, it’s well worth investing in a good quality scanner and separate printer and copier.

What minimum requirements should you look for?

The most important requirements relate to producing acceptable quality scans for eFiling. Scans should, of course, be just as legible as the original. Generally, eFiling courts adopt the same minimum resolution standards as the National Archives: 300 dots (sometimes referred to as pixels) per inch (dpi) for ordinary documents and 600 dots/pixels per inch for photographs. So you’ll need to go for a scanner that captures images at least at 600 dpi.

In addition to the eFiling-vital scanning resolution, you’ll also want to consider features that will have greater or a lesser impact on decision depending on the size of your office. The main things to consider are:

  • Daily throughout / duty cycle — this is the maximum number of pages that can be scanned daily. Unless you’re in an enormous office, you’re unlikely to come up against these limits, which are typically in the thousands.
  • Pages per minute — the number of pages the document scanner can scan in a minute. Speeds are generally quoted for letter sized paper at standard 300 dpi resolution.
  • Connectivity — many new scanners can connect over wifi, allowing multiple users to connect to a single scanner. Depending on the size of your office, consider a wifi-connected device over one connected to a single computer.

Finally, since the ability to scan is a critical task in almost all law offices, make sure you choose a model well known for its reliability and with a good manufacturer’s warranty.

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