Innovations Fresh Thoughts For Managing

New Design Thinking for Law Firms’ Digital Mail and Records Operations

At its core, design thinking is a human-centered process for creative problem-solving that encourages organizations to keep a focus on the key stakeholders the current problem involves. If implemented correctly, design thinking leads to more innovation. Better products, services and internal processes are the intended outcomes.

Michael Herzog

Design thinking defines the creative process for noncreatives and creatives alike by using a systems approach:

  • Ask the right questions to solve any problem and properly identify the underlying challenges.
  • Visualize and organize information effectively to foster creative collaboration.
  • Involve the necessary stakeholders who the problems affect.


Law firms find themselves facing unique challenges. Work from home, hybrid work situations and return-to-office planning are disrupting operations in ways that were not a consideration before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Firms are eager to find new ways to move away from the typical handling and storage of paper records on-site and off-site. These problems can be solved with a design thinking mindset. Law firms need to start asking the right kind of questions, involve the people directly affected and create innovative solutions that address the following topics:

  • Work from Home
    • How can internal office operations or contracted facilities management process the daily mail more efficiently and securely by redesigning the mailroom to become a digital mailroom?
  • Office Restack, Consolidation and Expansion
    • How can law firms eliminate the paper footprint and the need for physical records rooms?
    • How can law firms eliminate costs and put a stop to the flow of physical records into off-site storage?
  • Security
    • What are actionable steps law firms can take to reduce the risk of evolving security threats targeting law firms and their sensitive documents?
    • How can the process of mail distribution and records storage become more efficient and secure?
  • Adapt to Change
    • The COVID-19 pandemic affected all businesses. What solutions can law firms put in place that will have an immediate impact and enduring value to address environmental and systemic threats?


Many legal organizations are still being held back by one thing: paper. The daily mail is mission-critical because it contains confidential client information and it is time sensitive. Solutions that were put into place as the immediate response to the pandemic are not sustainable in the long run because they were never designed to be.

Scan-to-email has been a quick fix, but this method has security risks. A best practice digital mailroom operation securely delivers mail directly to the document management system (DMS) where sensitive client information is properly profiled, protected and governed. A best practice digital records room operates in a similar fashion by building a digitization project for scanning large volumes of physical records and storing them in the DMS.

“Firms are eager to find new ways to move away from the typical handling and storage of paper records on-site and off-site. These problems can be solved with a design thinking mindset.”

Not only are these problems capable of being solved — they already have been. Some products completely transform a law firm’s paper-centric mail and records into digital operations that support work-from-home and return-to-office strategies.

So let’s approach this design thinking style by hitting the key employees affected by such a change.  

1. Strategic Objectives:

  • Keep attorneys and staff productive no matter where they work on any given day.
  • Target the firm’s existing paper footprint to reduce the costs and inefficiencies of paper records.

2. Client Requirements

In design thinking, identifying the key stakeholders is the first step in being able to properly create innovative solutions for them. For digital mailrooms, the key stakeholders who most need a robust solution are attorneys, mailroom operators and records managers.

3. Attorneys: Mail Notifications

For attorneys and legal administrative assistants, the most critical element of digital mail is a timely email notification. This email message confirms when new mail is delivered to them digitally into the document management system.

Notifications give attorneys and staff a far better experience than scan-to-email, while keeping things consistent with how they currently work. The email message is sent to recipients automatically with a secure link to the digital document, a thumbnail image and information about the mail item. The result enables recipients to make decisions about the next steps, and they always have the option to flag any physical mail item they want kept.

The simple and quick alert of incoming mail needs to contain enough information to triage and accurately file the digital document. Delivery of digital mail is faster because it eliminates all worker location constraints that are the result of handling physical mail manually.

4. Mailroom Operators: Simplicity and Reliability

From the mailroom perspective, operators need help with repetitive portions of these time-sensitive tasks. Some software enables quick labeling of each item based on information visible on the envelope. A self-adhesive barcode stamp or label is applied to the first page of the document. Everything else is preconfigured according to routing rules in the software.

Scanning and quality control can be done as separate steps to batch the work with simple checklists. After scanning, the delivery status, image quality and page counts are easily verified. If needed, the operator can easily go back to retrieve and fix a mail item.

5. Records Managers: Integration with the Matter File

For records managers, the requirements are to digitize the original paper documents as early as possible and support filing of a physical document when necessary — even as that becomes increasingly rare. With quality controls in place, the paper is temporarily staged after scanning and then shredded according to policy. File-naming conventions, time-based rules and exceptions are established according to the firm’s information governance policies.

Taking this human-centered approach ensures everyone affected by the change has their perspective accounted for. It may mean some extra legwork up front, but mapping this out early on can make large transitions like this implement more smoothly.