Everyone wants the “paperless office,” but many people think that it is unachievable. It’s not, but it takes extra effort to integrate paperless workflows into your everyday office procedures, documenting them and making them standard practice.
Are you stuck in a “somewhat” paperless office but really aren’t quite sure how to move to the next level? Let’s take a look at some obstacles and solutions that will help you succeed at your paperless strategy and move toward the all elusive “paperless office.”
Obstacle #1 – Mail
I hate to admit this, but this is one place where my personal paperless strategy falls down – physical mail (and paper) coming in the door. It can pile up if it is not immediately processed, so you need to stop paper at the door. Create an office procedure that immediately scans the mail, shreds the originals (use your discretion and State Bar rules), discards the junk, and saves or forwards the documents to the appropriate place-either email or directly into your document system. Equip your receptionist or whoever handles the mail with a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner (about $450 on Amazon) and they will be ready to rock ‘n roll.
Obstacle #2 – Paper from Other People
Walking back to the office from a meeting outside, you are suddenly inundated with paper from other people. Not produced by yourself, but you may have a stack of documents from a client, opposing counsel, co-counsel and your desk is cluttered again. To help with this workflow, ask people to send you the documents electronically. They probably printed them out for the meeting anyway, or they may have their bank statements online or documents already in some type of electronic format. Ask them to send you the documents in electronic format. Most people would be happy to comply.
Inevitably, you’ll have paper coming into your office from outside sources so you need to have a plan for incoming paper. The types of incoming paper can include the following:
- Client data – including data like medical records, court documents, etc.
- Expense Receipts – for client and firm related expenses
- Checks (hopefully!)
- CLE and Continuing Ed
- Non-firm related activities – Board meeting minutes and documentation
By creating a documented paperless workflow for each type of incoming paper, the paper tiger is reduced. Engage your staff in your paperless workflow, equip them with a scanner and they can process their own paper as well as yours. Share this workflow and make them accountable to be part of the solution.
Obstacle #3 – Paper We Produce Ourselves
We all need paper sometimes. Whether you like to print out a document so you can mark it up or just need something to hold on to, it’s OK – paper is not bad. It’s just bad when you don’t know what to do with it. Once again, make a workflow of paper that you no longer need. Don’t want to shred it right away? That’s fine. Create a holding basket for shredding. From checks (that are deposited electronically) to documents that are not destroyed immediately, have that recycle bin. You have it on your computer, have one in your office too.
These obstacles are not stopping you from becoming paperless; they are just bumps in the road. The most important piece of these workflows is to write them down. By writing them down and making them part of your office procedures, you get buy-in from your staff as well as buy-in from yourself. It becomes part of how the office works.
The paperless office is not unachievable, but it does take work and planning and written processes to move it forward. Good luck!