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RFID Brings Order to the Law

After a national law firm installed an RFID system to track legal files at its Boston location, accuracy in locating files jumped from 35 to 98 percent—saving tens of thousands of dollars in time spent looking for documents.
By Jonathan Collins
Jun 07, 2004Last year, Fish & Richardson P.C., which specializes in patent and trademark law, turned to RFID technology to identify and track the thousands of legal files it has at its trademark practice in Boston. The national law firm hoped that using RFID to automate file tracking would cut the many hours its legal secretaries, paralegals and attorneys spent searching for files.

Hand scanners are used to find files quickly

“Hours spent looking for files are not billable hours, says Debra Rose Brillati, trademark practice systems manager who oversaw the deployment. “And everything we do has to be billable.”

The firm also wanted to store all its physical files in a single storage location, to save space and increase efficiency. It believed that the RFID tracking system would help keep one central file room more organized.

To make the pilot easier to manage, the company opted to deploy RFID in just its trademark group, which is roughly a quarter of the size of the litigation practice. Another factor in the decision to trial the RFID tracking system in the trademark group was the nature of the files.

In the trademark group, the file for each case consists of documents in the same format (8 inches by 11 inches). That means all data relating to a single case can be stored in a single folder. In the law firm’s litigation practice, one case may have multiple folders with different size documents and a variety of related objects and evidence. “There are pleading and testimony files in various formats with more numbers of dimensions,” says Brillati. “That would have made tagging a more complicated project.”

After the company considered several potential RFID suppliers, it opted to deploy 3M’s RFID Tracking System in a three-stage pilot. 3M’s offering includes smart labels, readers, database software and middleware, and consulting and support services to aid the selection of technology and its implementation.

Fish & Richardson were among a handful of pilot projects that helped 3M develop its commercial offering. As a beta site, the law firm received a discount on hardware and the 8,000 smart labels it acquired. Phase one of the law firm’s deployment started in March 2003; phase three went live in September 2003. 3M released its RFID Tracking System in October 2003.

Before deploying its technology, 3M conducted a study to see how the law firm used and logged files in its existing system. A similar study carried out at the end of the pilot showed significant gains made from the RFID deployment. “Our initial survey revealed that they had a 35 percent accuracy level when it came to actually locating files. Now that is up at around 98 percent,” says Jean Waller, market development manager for 3M RFID Tracking Solutions, which is based in St. Paul, Minn.

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