The paperless law student

by scotslawstudent

The wondrous instrument of paper has many benefits – I drafted this post out in pen and then typewrote it to post so I’m convinced but it has other problems, not to mention filing and storage.

One approach is to borrow from the cutting edge of professional practice – to go paperless.


This is simply the act of converting all paper documents to digital files and to keep the whole process digital as much as possible.  This requires a bit more computer power than just typing essays but give you searchability advantages and use everywhere abilities.

The catch

Professional lawyers are pointed towards the ScanSnap 1500/1500M which is a duplex, automatic document feeder model. This means you can simply leave a stack of papers in the feeder and come back to a folder full of OCR analysed searchable PDFs regardless of what other work you have to do.  This is what £400 of scanner buys you.  I consider that to be rather a lot of money to have to spend – my laptop cost me just £330 for contrast – on just the scanner part of the system and that is why I cannot quite recommend it for the average student.

Next is the difference between paper and on screen – you need quite a substantial scree to see all of a page at once – 17-19″ wide screen monitor turned 90 degrees is one option while a 24″ whopper should let you see two full pages side by side without shrinking the text down.  These are big monitors and certainly bigger than those found on laptops. I sometimes turn my laptop on its side and read like a bright, single sided book.  For desktop use, though a big monitor is the comfortable way to go so therefore an external big monitor a good move. That means two quite big purchases are recommended off the bat. If you’ve ever tried to look at a full page PDF (and then type an essay at the same time) you’ll realise how hard the task of researched writing can be in cramped conditions.

Going ahead

While I have made it clear that going paperless as you’re recommended to do it involves spending a fair bit of money I have made a try of it with nothing more than the multifunction printer I use to print off Amazon receipts.  This works but it’s quite slow (certainly at “full laser” resolution of 600dpi – to give good results if you need to print it out. I think that is unnecessary and 150dpi or so will work just as well, while being much quicker and saving you a fair bit of storage space) and I need to put each page in separately.  On the other hand this scanner can do books – which an ADF couldn’t – but feeding it individual sheets takes time.

That said – being able to put all my documents into the scanner and then copying the files to my laptop and having, at this point, years of files to flip through, if I need them.  Being able to search the files makes the range of material pretty broad.  Search cannot replace study and I would rather read paper copies on the bus but being able to put my hands on quotes and citations very quickly is always good.  Even my cut price version of paperless works well enough to be useful.

Thanks to the Lawyerist for the paperless tips and tricks as it relates to lawyers in professional practice.  I think their advice – spending more to get automatic document scanners, setting up workflows to handle the weight of paperwork that may cross their desks – is extremely advisable to professionals working under high pressure and under heavy workloads.  My advice is targetted towards students who probably do not need what is effectively a robot to do their scanning for them and could probably use the money elsewhere.  This needs to be balanced against the cost of waiting for a non ADF scanner to finish a stack of sheets however, since you need to feed each page by hand.

Snapter, a program I’ve discussed previously, is always a good option for mobile paperlessness as long as you get into the habit of following its requirements.

Attached is an example of the problem of monitor resolution – this was the previous blog post in scanned and OCR format. As you can see, the whole page width fits on one side of my laptop monitor and only the edge of the screen is left for the actual word processing document.  That is a strange set of priorities but one that would need a considerably higher resolution monitor than is present on my laptop to rectify.

OCR editing