Martin Felsky was a lawyer who saw the future of law and it was digital. That prompted him to abandon his practice in favour of forming a company to help other lawyers save time and become more efficient by turning stacks of paper documents into digital form.

“The days of a lawyer sorting through thousands of paper documents won’t have to exist any more,” says Mr. Felsky, president of Commonwealth Legal, the Toronto-based litigation-support firm that he formed in 2000.

Technological advances are allowing lawyers to quickly and more easily retrieve the information they need. And as lawyers face ever-tightening deadlines, outsourcing the digitizing of documents to companies such as Commonwealth can help them prepare their notes in a more centralized, co-ordinated fashion.

When a case produces hundreds of thousands of documents, the process is so time-consuming that, more and more, firms give the job to companies such as Commonwealth.

The process begins when one of Commonwealth’s 200 clients sends over shipments of boxes. Commonwealth staff prepare documents to be scanned by removing all the paper clips, staples and sticky notes.

After that, the documents are run through high-speed scanners to turn all the information into a TIFF or PDF format. Once a document has been scanned, the computer file in which the image is stored is merely a graphic rendering of the document; the words on the page are not interpreted as text and therefore are not searchable. Commonwealth staff then code the documents based on various fields that will appear in the data base. Fields can be arranged on lawyers’ preferences.

Once the process is completed, any lawyer with a laptop can instantly call up documents as a trial proceeds.

Mr. Felsky says that some jobs can be turned around in as little as a day. “Mega cases,” building up to 2,000 boxes and close to a million documents, can take up to a month to complete. Some cases are on a secure Web server so lawyers in different cities can review the documents.

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