Paperless in 12 Steps

Too many excuses are made for a law firm’s inertia toward a paperless or just “less paper”-ridden office. The reason? Most often, “We aren’t sure where to start”. Well here’s a simple plan to help get the mountain moving.

  1. Make a paperless plan. But don’t call it that. If you’re leading the cause and the cause involves lawyers, don’t utter the word “paperless”. It makes them break out in hives. You’ve got to trick them. Call it something like the “paper reduction project” or the “cost savings experiment”. If you’re really good, make them think it’s their idea. So, you need a plan and that plan should look a lot like a document retention / destruction policy (see these ABA resources on “records management”). Make sure you are armed with accurate details about what you are required to keep, for how long and in what format (in other words, can you convert the paper file to digital and still comply with retention rules related to your practice / type of document). What do you keep in paper format? What can you scan and destroy? What do you just destroy? What do you send to the client for safekeeping?
  2. Make a paradigm shift happen – Certain things just HAVE to change. First, training. Technology training has to become an unquestionable piece of Firm culture. People must understand how to use the tools they have in front of them to make this project successful. They have to be experts in Word, Acrobat and any other software implemented. The problem with NOT understanding the full potential of these tools leads to a lack of creative thinking and problem solving.
  3. STOP PRINTING but buy a new printer(s). Yes, you heard me correctly. But this time buy a VERY expensive printer with VERY expensive toner. It will make you think twice about every single line of ink you use. Do you have an assistant who doesn’t care about costs? Keep supplies in your office and force them to face you every time they need more. Then, start questioning everything that is being printed. Is it being printed in order for an attorney to be able to sign it? So that we can then scan it? And then EMAIL it to the client? Every day. Some of you are doing this silly thing – sometime tens of times a day. How about this simple rule: if it came in digital it stays in digital. (see step #11 for tips on digital signatures)
  4. Get a desktop scanner like the Fujitsu ScanSnap. You can certainly have large scanners peppered around the office but professional personnel should have a desktop scanner to make the scanning process convenient and easy. Give them training (step #2) and a proper place to file the scanned docs (step #9).
  5. Put the plan into action – assess and attack the current paper situation. Start shredding, sending and scanning with gusto! Become a paper hater.
  6. Convert all the paper possible to digital. Many, many and more and more companies are offering paperless statements; change subscriptions, newsletters and reports to the digital option.
    Stop printing prebills. Deliver them as PDF files and teach attorneys how to mark them up on their iPads or on their computers with Adobe Acrobat (step #2 is critical here).
    Make sure you letterhead is in digital format -and stop paying for preprinted letterhead and envelopes! Your expensive new printer will print beautiful envelopes when you need them (see step #3).
  7. Get rid of that traditional fax machine. Convert to a desktop scanning solution (check out Remove your fax number from business cards, email signatures and Firm letterhead.
  8. Get Adobe Acrobat Standard; upgrade to Acrobat Pro if you need Bates stamping, redacting and form creation tools. Make sure you and staff are well trained in all the wonderful and useful things Adobe can do.
    (Tip: you can get Acrobat for “almost” free with the Fujitsu ScanSnap Deluxe, it comes bundled with it.)
  9. Have a proper document management system that helps you easily save, store, search for and retrieve documents. EVERYTHING must go into the “file” in the DMS – including accounting paperwork. If you don’t have a DMS look at NetDocuments (designed for law firms!). Make sure everyone is fully trained on how the DMS works – if not, people will get frustrated and they won’t use this critical tool.
  10. Scan all incoming [physical] mail that makes sense to scan. Have the receptionist / mail room scan and distribute the mail electronically or save directly to the document management system. A question I always get asked here is, “How will I know if an important document has been added to the file if I don’t see it on my desk? I have hundreds of matters.” Most document management systems have alerts that can be set to notify users there has been activity in a file. Find out how your system handles that.
  11. Create digital signature stamps / “clipart” to insert signatures into applications like Word or Acrobat. This avoids the wasteful process of printing something in order to sign it, scan it back in and ultimately email it (see my rant in step #3).
  12. Configure Remote access and portability. Make sure there is reliable and easy access back into the network or into the document management system from wherever you are so no one has to complain that the only way they can have the entire file with them is in a paper mountain.

In the end, you can take all the steps above, but without commitment, you are destined to fail. Commit to this change. Make everyone in your Firm commit. Going paperless is easier than ever thanks to readily available technology. There’s almost no excuse for not going paperless – well, as far as technology goes. The hard part is the human part – changing habits, committing to “new” processes, getting buy-in and getting training. But don’t let that stop you – make the commitment and get started right away. Within no time, you will wonder how you ever practiced efficiently with all those paper piles laying around!

Featured image: “Hand is holding a bunch of shredded paper” from Shutterstock


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