Going paperless – the paralegal perspective
Almost every business must answer this question. Going paperless can reduce overhead and improve productivity. Having your documents available to the entire law firm simultaneously allows multiple employees to access files to work more efficiently. It cuts down on overhead by eliminating the need for storage space, file folders, labels, and paper. It increases productivity by eliminating the time it takes to find one piece of paper in a file that is six inches deep.
My husband recently had minor surgery. The hospital is “paperless” according to the information provided in our “paperwork.” The nurse joked that this was the paperless system when she picked up a spiral notebook that traveled everywhere with my husband. It was about four inches thick and full of papers. She explained that there are just some documents that must be in hard copy.
This reminded me of retaining original “wet” signature pages for electronically filed documents. When the bankruptcy court began requiring attorneys to use electronic filing, the rules specifically stated the attorney must retain the documents that required an original signature. If you must retain this document, can you really go paperless?
Even if a law firm will never go completely paperless, there are very good reasons to use technology effectively to reduce the amount of paperwork in the office. Below are a few suggestions and tips to make going paperless less frightening and a bit easier.
Use e-Signatures if possible
Many courts and jurisdictions allow attorneys to use e-signatures to file documents. This eliminates the need to print the signature page, sign it, and then scan it to attach to the PDF document. PDF scans are not as neat and crisp as PDF documents printed directly from a word document. By utilizing an e-signature, you will reduce paperwork because you can print directly from your word document to PDF format for filing, emailing, and storing.
If you scan in color or grayscale, your document size will be larger and you will have a grey background that shows any imperfections on the paper. Scanning in black and white produces a much cleaner, crisper document. If you’re filing scanned documents with a court, you should check with the clerk’s office to confirm the scan settings required by the court.
In my opinion, Bates stamping by hand should be outlawed in law firms. It is time-consuming and it often looks unprofessional depending on the system used. Adobe Acrobat has a Bates stamping tool that makes Bate stamping quick, clean, and professional. For more ways you can use Acrobat to go paperless, read Adobe’s Acrobat for Legal Professionals Blog.
Review security procedures
In order to go paperless, your staff must have access to the digital files. In many cases, this may also include remote access to your files. To protect yourself and your clients, you must have a document management system and security protocols that protect the information on your server.
Create a digital document management system
To ensure that everyone in the firm can easily store, find, and retrieve documents, you must have a uniform digital document management system. An excellent resource for information and tips is “Document Management in the Digital Law Office” by Steve Best and Debbie Foster. The American Bar Association also has a great chart the compares various case and practice management software programs.
Scan incoming mail
Stop paper at the door by adopting a policy to scan all incoming mail at the receptionist desk or the mailroom then electronically distribute the scanned documents to the proper person within the firm. A document management system can be very helpful in notifying employees when they have activity in a file they’re working on within the firm.
Invest in desktop scanners
Employees who have desktop scanners are more likely to scan and store documents as soon as they’re received. Large documents can be scanned by the mailroom or receptionist, however, having a desktop scanner makes scanning documents more convenient and easy.
Convincing your attorney to go paperless
If your attorney is still struggling with the idea of going paperless, use the one tool that never seems to fail – money. Take a few days to prepare a report detailing how much money the office can save in overhead by going paperless. Then highlight these benefits of moving to a paperless system:
- Decreases the space needed to store files (very convincing if the firm is renting office space by the foot)
- Makes finding documents quicker and easier
- Decreases the chance that a document will be lost or misplaced
- Makes transmitting documents within the office and to third parties quicker and easier
- Increases productivity by reducing the amount of time spent on filing, searching for, and retrieving documents
- Better for the environment – reduces paper by decreasing printing and shredding
- Provides a higher level of security compared to paper files
Do not give up – keep gently pushing the attorney toward a paperless system by showing them how much money they can save and how much easier their life will be when they get rid of paper in the law firm.