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[Whitepaper] Hidden Documents. Hidden Risks.

Increasingly, legal firms are embracing artificial intelligence to move faster, find connections within case documents, and make decisions. Others may still be digitizing files or implementing their first document management system. In each case, software is boosting firm speed and productivity. But there is a risk that most firms can’t see. 

Consistently, there are documents their systems can’t find. Every document that needs to be reviewed, shared, or redacted carries a danger if it can’t be found when needed. 

Time after time, technical audits of the files across a law firm’s system reveal that 20% to 30% of their documents are image-based – such as scanned PDFs – and can’t be found by searching document text.

Most firms don’t understand this is an issue. Others believe they can find everything, because they use optical character recognition (OCR) software through their scanners, PDF converters like Adobe Acrobat, or even OCR software bundled with their document management systems. But each of these solutions only cuts partway through the problem, and many documents or document pages are left unconverted.

With close to a third of all client documents potentially obscured from content searches, the chances are high that something – potentially something critical – gets missed during any given case. The dangers of missing documents range from inefficiency to potential ethics violations or malpractice suits for unseen client liabilities. Let’s walk through a few scenarios that illustrate these risks.

Inefficiency and Dissatisfaction with Existing Systems

It happens all the time. A partner looks for a document they know exists, but it doesn’t come up in a text search. Now, they or someone else needs to figure out what the file name might have been, or hunt through folders and email messages to figure out where the file might be. No-one is happy to spend the extra time spend hunting documents down, least of all a partner who spent tens of thousands on a document management system implementation.

Disclosure Omissions

The same search scenario carries deeper risks for documents no-one knows to look for. Suppose your firm is gathering documents to respond to a subpoena request, a client’s records request, or for a disclosure response during the discovery phase of a trial. Missing documents that should be turned over in these situations could result in ethics violations. If a client or opposing counsel realizes that files are missing early enough, it may only result in a repeated request. But an omission could result in monetary fees or court sanctions if caught after the discovery phase is over, or in sanctions by the bar at any time after a case has been settled.

Find out the depth of risk in your firm - and turn hidden risks into peace of mind. Download our whitepaper now to learn more

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Failure to Withhold Information

Sometimes the information withheld is just as important as what is disclosed. Attorneys have a duty to protect sensitive client information when providing documents to opposing counsel. If it isn’t possible to search for document text, such as the client’s social security number, it can be easy to transfer that information unintentionally, and in violation of rules like ABA’s Rule 1.6.


Transactional firms looking for language in client contracts will come up short searching against image-based documents. Attorneys need to find and review anti-assignment provisions or other language affecting the obligations of either party before approving a contract for their client. Documents or document pages missed due to unconverted text can leave the client responsible for unexpected liabilities. If detected before the transaction closes, the omission could sour a deal. Worse yet, liabilities detected post-transaction could lead to malpractice claims by the client, against the firm.

Finding the Gaps

How is it possible to miss such a large percentage of documents, even with existing OCR tools in place? It’s simply hard to make sure that every document that arrives via email, fax, or document download gets converted by a staff member, every time. Scanner tools only catch the documents coming through the scanner, rather than via email or document download. Most people receiving files by email don’t have time to devote their machines to converting every attachment they receive, or to place a priority on converting everything in their inbox. And in the rare cases where a firm has a batch conversion tool running in the background, most of those applications can miss individual document pages during batch conversion. In these cases, a critical PDF addendum to a longer, previously-converted document can go undetected, leading to the liabilities and sanctions mentioned above.

Taming the Unknown

For more information, check out our white paper – Bridging the Digital Divide. You’ll learn more about the specific risks facing firms without complete and automated document conversion, including the specific rules governing potential sanctions and other penalties. 

And then, contact a Trumpet representative. We offer a tool at no cost that will show you how many unconverted documents are on your system today, across drives, folders, and email inboxes. Find out the depth of risk in your firm – and turn hidden risks into peace of mind. 


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Will Stagl

Will Stagl