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Can you save money copying documents in the Clerk of Court’s office?

By February 23, 2010Uncategorized

Arbitrage: “exploiting price differences in different markets or in different forms.”

Here’s a price difference worth exploiting if you’re a lawyer who spends money making copies of courthouse records. The state court for New Orleans charges $1.00 per page to make copies of official documents, which is about 20 times what the local copy shops charge. How can they get away with this? Answer: because you can’t take the records over to the local copy shop. And this constraint no doubt applies to many other courts around the country.

But what if you could bring a small scanner into the clerk’s office and scan the documents yourself? A Fujitsu ScanSnap S300 is very portable, doesn’t need an external power connection (it uses the USB connection to your laptop), and only costs $300. There’s even a Mac version. But to use the ScanSnap you need a computer, and if you’re only going to scan a few pages it might not be worth it to lug all that equipment into the clerk’s office. In that case, you could use your iPhone and an application called DocScanner ($7.99) to take pictures of the pages you wanted to capture, and have them turned into PDFs that you can email to yourself or anyone you desire.

In the case of the ScanSnap you’d be saving money after you scanned 300 pages. With the iPhone application your break-even would be 8 pages. So, now you know how to save money at the clerk’s office using arbitrage. But there’s one more thing you need to know.

In Louisiana there are laws that protect the clerk’s monopoly on making copies. For example there is La. Code of Civil Procedure art. 251 which basically says this: you can’t use fixed or portable scanners to make copies of court documents in the clerk’s office. And since you can’t take the documents out of the clerk’s office, you’re pretty much screwed. At least that’s how it is in Louisiana. So check your state laws before you head out to court with your ScanSnap or iPhone.

I would have thought that this law would not be enforced for folks who just wanted to make a quick copy with their iPhone, but I have a lawyer friend who tried to do just that and was chased down by a clerk and told he had to pay for the copies he made. That’s what I love about our modern civilization: even when you find a way to save money or do something faster you often find that you can’t really save the money or time because you
have to pay the troll that lives under the bridge. Troll, thy name is government.


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

8 Comments

  • Ben Matheny says:

    I would think the law is unconstitutional and would be easy to defeat. In Cobb County Georgia the documents are already online and you can see the full case file from your home computer.

  • Richard Gray says:

    Why don’t we get this law removed from the books? Anyone have a contact with an elected official that can get this started in a bill next year?

  • Taylor says:

    You can take a regular cell phone pic and drag and drop it into Microsoft’s One Note (part of Office) or Evernote and it will OCR the document automatically.

  • Mina Diksies says:

    Using a sheet fed device like the ScanSnap assumes you are scanning documents with loose pages. On bound documents it would be difficult, if not impossible without a flatbed scanner.

  • I too have been frustrated by this policy of the clerk’s office. I have been doing my own abstracts of title since 1993 and have attempted to use portable scanners many years ago but would run afoul of this and other clerk rules. I have resorted to simply taking the laptop into the office and typing the property descriptions directly from the documents. This allows me to get the information I need and not pay the clerk a dime. My local clerk, Carolyn Ryland, does allow us to have access (at the rate of $600.00 per year) to the documents online, which allows us to print the documents in our office at no additional cost. As you can see, once we print more than 1200 documents per year we have reduced the cost to less than the fifty cents per page they charge. I too would like to see the clerks fund their offices in another manner than using copy fees to do so. Other states (Florida) manage to allow online access to their court records without charge to the public.

  • I love the Lafourche Parish Clerk of Court’s office’s policy of allowing me to check out records for up to 5 days. I check out the record, scan the entire thing, then send it back to them.

    At least now I know how to handle other Clerks who do not have such generous policies.

  • CharleiH says:

    My god, I am not sure I have ever seen a better example of double speak than art. 251. I’ll see your “except as otherwise provided by law” and raise you a “However, notwithstanding the provisions of this Paragraph.” Kinda like the Russian expression, “no problem, impossible.”

  • Greg Adams says:

    JotNot is another iPhone app that will scan and ocr a document and save or email it or send it to Evernote. ($4.99, free version too) Works well and includes image stabilazation, so those in states without the history of corruption so entrenched in Louisiana and the resulting statutory monopolies can actually take advantage of living in the 21st Century and the available technology.

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