January 7, 2020

The Paperless Law Office

Category: Technolawgical | Author: | Share:

Just about any law practice generates a lot of paperless documents. Just a few years ago, this meant that a law practice needed room for lots of filing cabinets, so all of those documents could be kept organized and accessible. But times have changed, and more and more firms are transitioning to a paperless environment.

There are many benefits to keeping your practice as paperless as possible. In contrast, the biggest drawback is yourself and the need to learn a new workflow. Here are some of the biggest benefits to and impediments from making your practice a paperless one.

Cost

You may think that adopting new technology to manage your files will increase your office expenses. But a paperless practice is cheaper to maintain than one that relies on paper records. There a couple of reasons for this.

First, one of the essential tools of any paperless office—a good quality scanner—is both easy to find and relatively inexpensive. For example, one of the most highly recommended desktop scanners is the Fujitsu ScanSnap series, and it costs less than $500. In other words, you can get a very good scanner for about the price of a couple of file cabinets from Walmart.

And this gets to the second reason why it is cheaper to operate a paperless office: the cost of storing documents electronically is much less than the cost of physical storage. In order to store physical files, you need physical space for those files. Those could be in your office, in a place like Iron Mountain, in a self-storage facility, in your attic/basement, in a barn, etc. And the need for this physical space adds up. After all, even if you store all of your files in your basement (avoiding any rent you may have to pay elsewhere), you still need some way to manage them, whether that is filing cabinets, boxes, folders, redwells, etc. In contrast, electronic documents need almost no physical space and the cost of storage is constantly dropping.

The more paperless you are, the more you can save on the expenses associated with keeping, organizing, and maintaining physical files.

Security

One thing people worry about when they consider changing to a paperless office is security. After all, we generally feel much safer when important information is under our on lock and key, rather than someone else’s. Moreover, news of some data breach or another breaks on an almost daily basis. But the truth is that your documents are more secure when stored and backed up electronically than in physical format. The reason for this is twofold.

First, storing electronic documents with a secure backup prevents you from catastrophically losing your documents. After all, what happens if your physical files are stored in a building that floods or is burned down? Any reputable vendor will have servers in more than one location to protect against a complete loss of its customers’ data.

Moreover, the data storage you pay for will be much more secure than the credit-card data or consumer-facing data that are the subject of the hacks we hear so much about. That is because the people who do this for a living are, unlike most attorneys, security professionals who know how to protect the information their professional, paying customers give to them. Indeed, their security practices are likely better than those of anyone who is likely to read these words.

Thus, you can increase the security of the data that belongs to you and your clients by moving to a more paperless office.

Management

In addition to being cheaper and more secure, a paperless office is easier to manage than one that relies on physical files. These benefits are both relatively minor, and quite large.

For example, law practices that rely on forms can benefit greatly from a paperless environment because those forms can be automated, pulling information from a central database to fill in the relevant forms. This kind of automation can save a lot of time in a busy law firm environment.

Storing electronic files is simpler than storing physical files. Once you decide upon a uniform file structure and naming convention, the location of any document is just as close as any other. And it is simple to copy a file from one place to another. Doing the same thing with paper files can be much more laborious.

It is easier to archive old electronic files than paper files, because all you need to do is to transition the closed file from one electronic archive to another. No need to go through boxes of information and decide where to keep them.

Finally, electronic files can be searched, and some vendors can let you search across the contents of multiple files. This can be particularly helpful if you just know that you briefed a particular issue before, but jut can’t quite remember when that was done.

Convenience

The best benefit of a paperless law office on the day-to-day of a law practice is simply convenience. As you become more accustomed to dealing with electronic files instead of paper, you will find it easier to work from wherever you want whenever you want. This can help in quality of life (its easier to work from home after the kids go to bed if you don’t need to haul boxes of files back and forth), but it can also make a real difference in the courtroom.

As I made the transition from paper binders to electronic documents, I have found it much easier to bring material to court and find it quickly. For example, I was at trial a couple of years ago and was cross-examining the defendant’s CEO. At one point during cross, I was prepared to impeach him using his prior deposition testimony. However, (my own) typo in my outline led me to the wrong page number. Luckily, I had an electronic transcript with me at the lectern, and found the right page in seconds. This allowed me to successfully impeach him, rendering my typo a non-event, and we obtained a very good verdict. Without those electronic records, I would not have been able to impeach him on that point, and who knows how that would have affected the case.

The Downsides

The biggest downside to a paperless office is us. We know our systems and how we like to work. And transition can be difficult if you have a system that works for you. But I respectfully submit that the benefits outweigh this downside.

A paperless office is cheaper, more secure, easier to manage, and more convenient to use than one that relies on physical files. If you have not transitioned, you really need to look into it.