Posted by: patenttranslator | July 24, 2015

Remembrance of things past as old client files are turned into digital memories

Two days ago I decided that I needed to create digital copies of all of my client files as a part of a general downsizing of all of the stuff that I own, which George Carlin would describe by the Japanese word ガラクタ (“garakuta”, crap, junk, useless stuff) had he found out that they have this word in Japanese.

At some point I plan to sell our house and find something much smaller. When we moved from Northern California to Chesapeake in Eastern Virginia 14 years ago, we needed a big house for 4 people (my wife, myself, two sons, three dogs: two dachshunds and a German shepherd/beagle mix, plus an Australian bearded dragon lizard). In fact, one big reason why we moved here was that we were able to trade a much smaller house in expensive California for a much bigger house in Virginia.

But the dogs and the lizard died quite a few years ago, and the children moved out a few years after that. They still have their garakuta in the closet in their room, but we hardly see them now.

So the house is way too big now for just two people and one dog.

When the time comes to move again, this time I will try to get rid of most or all of the furniture, including what is in the two rooms in our house that I use an office, either in estate or garage sale, or by giving it away. Computers and printers too will go to the GoodWill store. Not sure what I will do with the many books and dictionaries that I have. Will I be able to part with them? Only time will tell.

When the time comes, I plan to keep only one laptop with my files on it, plus a few USB sticks. Well, maybe an external USB fixed drive too, we’ll see. The idea is to be as free and careless about the future as I was when I immigrated from Germany 34 years ago to America, an entire continent where I did not know a single living soul, with 500 dollars in my pocket.

They say that the time to travel often is when you are young because you can travel lightly when you are young. I agree with that, and I have certainly done my part to prove it true. But when you are old is also a good time to travel, preferably often and lightly. Just like when you were young, nobody really needs you that much as nobody really depends on you anymore when you are old.

In my office I have three filing cabinets containing files on each and every client who entrusted me with precious documents for translation over the span of more than 28 years.

That is almost three decades of paper files that need to be converted, little by little, into PDF files!

I divided the files in the filing cabinets as follows:

1. Active Clients (including direct clients and translation agencies). These are important files because the information in them pays all of our expenses. I will only start digitizing these if and when I have a concrete plan for moving.

2. Inactive Translation agencies, and

3. Inactive Direct Clients, mostly patent law firms and patent law departments of various companies.

The files are just printouts of my invoices, client contact information and printouts of messages exchanged over the years with the clients, arranged chronologically in vanilla folders, which are obviously arranged in alphabetical order.

I started by digitalizing my Filing Cabinet 3, namely Inactive Direct Clients.

Digitalizing, which is translated into French as “à la recherche du temps perdu”, means that I take out a bunch of files from the cabinet, look at them, remove staples and stubs of checks, Christmas cards and similar items with non-standard dimensions that might confuse the scanner (sometime I make a copy of these things too if I decided to keep a memento), and stick a stack of pages into the scanner.

Clients who do not fit into one scan in the scanner, which can accommodate about 50 pages, get their own folder with several subfolders in it, each covering 2 or three years of invoices and communication with clients. After less than 2 days I am now still in the middle of letter C and so far I have 4 separate subfolders for clients who kept me busy for years in the Inactive Client folder on my computer.

The oldest direct client that I scanned into my digital memories so far is from 1991. It was a law firm that was sending me for 2 years handwritten test reports for translation from Japanese for a lawsuit involving pharmaceuticals. Once I went to their offices in San Francisco to pick up a check from the paralegal who was coordinating the project. Could not wait 2 more days for mail delivery. She had a Japanese name (both first and last) but she did not know any Japanese. She looked to be about 18 years old and she was very, very pretty. Was that why they hired her? She is probably a grandmother now. The law firm stopped sending me work after a little over two years and then I saw in the San Francisco Chronicle that the law firm was dissolved.

Another old customer, who ultimately defected to greener pastures after sending me work from 1993 until 2009, was the legal department of a large multinational corporation. At first they were sending only Japanese patents, and then they added German patents as well. I must have dealt with 6 or 8 paralegals there who worked for 6 or 8 patent lawyers. Towards the end, I started to deal with a librarian instead of paralegals. I remember that I disliked the last librarian. I don’t remember exactly why, but I do remember that he seemed somehow unprofessional.

This customer’s file was so big that I had to put it into two manila folders while the company was still filed among current customers. So now I have two manila folders with a lot of paper in them, but both are in the filing cabinet for Inactive Customers.

Most companies get only a single PDF file, but I am creating separate directories for companies that dumped me after many years of working with me, further subdivided into subdirectories organized chronologically, mostly because I can put only 50 pages at a time into my scanner.

I put a couple of customers in both categories, Inactive and Active, because one manila folder would not hold all the paper. One of them, which still keeps sending me work at least every other month, forgot to pay an invoice for last month’s work. I did four jobs for them but, but they paid only for three. Their accounting department is very easy to get hold of (which is not a very common occurrence), and they told me to expect the check within the next few days. They even apologized.

Another patent law firm kept me busy for two years, in 2007 and 2008, when each year they accounted for about 15 percent of my income. It was again a lawsuit involving pharmaceuticals, with lots of patents and articles from medical journals, mostly in Japanese, but some also in German. I have not heard from them since 2008.

In cases like this, I generally look up the lawyers that I used to deal with in that company on Google and send them a post card. I had a special post card printed to offer my services, or reintroduce myself as the case may be, in this manner.

When I do my Googling, I see that most of the time the patent lawyers that I used to work for moved to another company, sometime created a new company, often becoming partners in the new company. I send them a post card too because they would probably remember me, although who knows whether the post card will be delivered by their secretary.

So far I have scanned files of old customers up to the letter C. Hopefully, it will take months before I finish the whole filing cabinet, because that would mean that I am getting very busy again.

But if I am only moderately busy, that is OK too, as I have created a new activity for myself with the scanning project. Remembering things past as old client files are turned into digital memories feels a little weird sometime because it inevitably brings back memories of other events and occurrences connected with the same time period.

Like when I came home from the office one day and my son, who was about 7 at the time, told me excitedly:”We have a new dog, her name is Lena” and there was this big dog who kept running in wide circles around the swing on the green grass in the backyard for such a long time. My wife rescued her from the SPCA in San Francisco and because she was kept in a cage for such a long time, she just had to keep running for a change because it felt so good.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is famous for having said “you cannot step into the same river twice”. But this is only a fragment of what he said two thousand and five hundred years ago, nobody knows the whole sentence or paragraph.

I think that the rest of the sentence following the words “panta rhei” (everything is in flux) says that you cannot get the same client hooked twice.

I am going to try to prove him wrong.


  1. Love this post Steve! What a great way to start Friday. Your scanner project sounds fun! Hahahahaha. The best part about those projects is that you remember all this stuff.

    Just remember that your sons will probably have kids and then want to bring them to stay at your house, so don’t downsize too drastically.

    I loved reading about your postcards to the lawyers you used to work with. Sit up to attention, all! What a fantastic hyper-focused marketing effort. Bravo.

    Now I just have to get a scanner that can fit 50 pages at a time.


    Liked by 1 person

    • I would get one of those multifunctional gizmos that do printing, scanning and copying. I have 2, one from Samsung for printing with black toner, which also comes with software for OCR conversion from a whole bunch of languages, and an HP color printer/scanner/copier. Both can accommodate 50 pages for copying and scanning.


  2. Good post, and the one that hit home. We are facing similar dilemma after living at the same place for 15 years. The stuff definitely accumulates. And what is a meaningful possession for us is undoubtedly garakuta for others. What holds me back is remembering how we left our home country 25 years ago, leaving everything behind except our dog and a few things we could stuff in our tiny car without arousing suspicion of authorities. Of course, it was a good thing to do and I left everything light-heartedly. I had no idea, no idea at all, that I would be missing some of the things of the family heirloom – a beautiful old crystal glasses, antique tablecloths… So weird. I didn’t think back then I cared. But it’s probably a girl in me talking. I wouldn’t miss anything now (I think). Anyway, it’s the time to clean all those dark corners. Fortunately, almost all client info is digitalized with multiple backups of projects and records – but there are still folders full of unidentified printed objects. Some things are easy to eliminate, others are more difficult, including some memories, fragmental regrets, unresolved questions – such a useless, dusty clutter, the garakuta of our minds.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And some things are impossible to eliminate, or so it would seem.


  4. First of all, I’d be curious to see a photo of your German shepherd/beagle mix dog 😉
    I enjoyed reading this post, it could be part of an autobiography or even a novel.
    But why do you want to keep all those old documents, if I can ask? Especially for inactive clients? I am not sure about US, but in general each country regulates to keep them for a number of years which can vary between 5 and 10. Is that for a personal remembrance?
    Not to mention spending so many days to scan everything, that would be my worst nightmare. I can sit 12 hours in a row in front of my PC translating but I couldn’t stand to spend even an hour scanning documents. Of course we are all very different, thank goodness, I was just saying.


  5. “But why do you want to keep all those old documents, if I can ask? Especially for inactive clients?”

    These are my documents, mostly invoices and correspondence with clients. These are documents containing also contact information, information about how much these clients paid me over the years, and other information.

    Google does not have this information, nor does Facebook or the NSA.

    I could probably sell this information to a translation agency. All you have to do is give these documents to a sales person to start making calls to people who need to have documents such as patents translated on a regular basis.

    Instead of that, I just send them post cards.


  6. Thanks for your reply, now your effort makes sense.
    And as long as some people send postcards (and letters) by snail mail, there’s still hope in this world.
    For example I send physical Christmas cards to my clients every year, each one with a personalized message handwritten and signed by myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] As I continue scanning files of old customers who no longer seem to be needing my excellent services (I am not quite sure why I am doing that, there’s probably some important psychological […]


  8. […] I started digitizing my fascinating (even if only to me) past and current professional existence alm…, first by scanning files from manila folders on my translation clients into my computer – mostly invoices with notations in red ink when they were marked paid. I finished most of that scanning as well as occasional correspondence and other printed information with the exception of the last section of files on current clients because I keep adding new files to this section and will continue to do so for a while. […]


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