The Problems with Scanning Directly to DMS

Hybrid operations created the problem of how to deliver physical mail when you don’t know on a given day where attorneys and staff are going to be. The solution, a digital mailroom, is one of those ideas that is actually just a better way to do things. Even prior to the pandemic, attorneys were always hybrid at some level, and the scanning of physical mail is a crucial step in firms’ digital transformation.  

One approach to implementing a digital mailroom is to scan physical mail directly into the firm’s document management system (DMS). We’ll tackle the issues with this approach, and then show how we can extend the discipline of the DMS to the digital mailroom while making the workflow more efficient.  

The Challenges

Typically, physical mail is scanned directly into users’ personal workspaces in the DMS. From there the attorney or their assistant can move the document to a matter workspace. But this approach has some issues: 

1. Not everything belongs in the DMS  

Often, firms do not give attorneys and their assistants the rights to remove documents from the DMS. In iManage, for example, the rights to delete a document are granted at the database/library level and so if the personal workspaces of the attorney is in the same library as the matter workspaces, then they will not have rights to remove mail that does not belong there. Moving documents across databases is not supported. The firm would need to implement additional processes to purge documents which had been scanned into the users personal workspace but were not moved. Until that process runs, the mail items are accumulating in the users workspace and are being backed up along with all the other documents. 

2. Notifications 

The DMS itself does not provide any notification features. If a firm wishes to remind users that mail items in their personal workspace will be purged, so they can check if there is anything in there that they need to keep permanently and move it to the correct location, then the firm would need to write this customization themselves or commission their DMS consultant to design, write, implement and maintain this for them. 

3. Refiling 

In order to move the document from the temporary workspace and folder where it was scanned to the matter workspace where it belongs, the attorney or their assistant must move the document. Depending on the firms configuration, the document should inherit the properties of the workspace and folder the document is being moved to. However, this does not allow for more granular document classes. The user would need to perform the move in two steps, first move the document to the folder and then modify the documents profile to select the appropriate document class. It is far more likely that mail items will end up being misclassified and only inherit the document folder class where the document is moved to, making documents harder to find in the future. 

4. Security 

As firms move to the cloud, they also rely on more modern and robust authentication methods which those cloud-based DMS systems provide. This means that we can no longer login as the user with just an impersonation password. The mail scanning solution will need to connect to the DMS and scan documents into user workspaces, and this will either require a service account with access to every attorney’s private workspace, or will require each user to first grant the solution access to login on their behalf. The second option is preferable for security, however when mail is being scanned into the DMS, the user is not present and any issues with authentication cannot easily be rectified. This may lead to mail being undelivered to the users workspace. And so these solutions often fall back to using a service account which raises many security concerns. 

5. Speed 

Most firms require that the mail is OCR’d so it can be full-text searched. The OCR of scanned mail will take some time in a busy mail room, and so there may be a delay before users can see the mail they have received appear in the DMS.  Critical mail items need to be delivered to recipients quickly so they can take action on them and continue with their work. 

6. Inflexible Workflow 

Every firm’s digital mail workflow is different, and often different within the same firm between offices and/or practice areas. Scanning directly to the DMS forces the firm to conform to the process instead of the other way around. 

The DMS simply wasn’t designed to be the primary workflow for the digital mailroom, and forcing that creates a lot of challenges. At the same time, we want to leverage the firm’s investment in document management, and extend the discipline of the DMS to matter-related documents. 

The Solution 

At nQzw, we use our Queues workflows to customize the digital mailroom to match the firm’s needs, including efficient profiling in the firm’s DMS.  

1. Immediate Delivery 

Recipients receive scanned mail right away, even before it’s completed back-end processing and OCR.  The recipient can view the entire document, route it to the correct destination (including the firms DMS) or even send the document to someone else for review and processing, all before the background processing is complete.  The system will ensure that the fully OCR’d and processed document is delivered to the desired destination once al back-end processing is completed. 

2. Meet users where they are 

Notifications are sent to recipients in Outlook, where they can immediately view scanned documents using our Outlook integration, without clogging up mailboxes with large attachments. There is no need to open a web browser or search for the document in a folder.  

As a universal add-in, our Outlook integration works everywhere Outlook does: desktop, browser and mobile. 

3. Security 

Documents being held in MailQ are only accessible to the recipients and others who they have delegated access to.  A granular set of permissions define what recipients and their delegates can do with mail items including allowing annotation, editing (such as page rotations, reordering or deleting and redaction).  Recipients can also grant view only rights to their delegates if they wish.  As the documents are held on the MailQ server and are viewed in the browser or via the Outlook Add-In, the server maintains security and prevents unauthorized access to documents. 

When a recipient chooses to route documents to the DMS, our digital mailroom solution connects to the firms DMS as the user utilizing modern protocols which are secure by design.  All security within the DMS is preserved, meaning they cannot see workspaces which they should not be able to access and are behind an information barrier.  This method of connecting to the DMS also allows us to show the user their own favorite and recent workspaces and folders, making the process of saving mail items to the DMS easier and more intuitive.  

4. Flexibility 

Our digital mailroom solution has been designed with Law Firms in mind and we have incorporated a lot of client feedback into the product so that our solution can help firms meet the challenge of hybrid operations without needing to change everything they currently do. 

Our digital mailroom solution is flexible and can route items to destinations other than the DMS for items that are not client related.  We can set up shared queues for handling items where a group of users should be notified and can access and process the incoming documents.  As well as being able to support shared queues where groups of users will handle inbound mail instead of the addressed attorneys for firms that have created dedicated teams. 

We also support the ability for recipients to change the owner of a document, essentially re-assigning the work to another user such as their assistant or another attorney.  We support customizable retention policies and notifications and can alert users before items are purged.  And built-in to our Queues interface is the ability to annotate, edit and redact documents. 

Workflows driving the digital mailroom leverages the benefits of the firm’s DMS while providing the flexibility to match the firm’s needs, timely notifications and fast access to the received documents so they can be accessed and profiled quickly.   
Queues extend the discipline of the DMS to all appropriate documents whilst ensuring that only matter related documents actually end up profiled in the DMS.   


Phil Hewson

Director of Product Design | nQ Zebraworks
Hewson leads nQzw's product design team which focuses on product specification, user experience, prototyping and solutions architecture. Hewson is iManage certified and joined nQ Zebraworks in 2006 as an implementation specialist and managed projects for our legal clients in the UK, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

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