The amount of paperwork lawyers see on a daily basis would make any environmentalist weep for the future of our forests. I share in environmental concerns, I try to do my part to be green, but when it comes to the practice of law, I often feel like I don’t have much choice. I hear of “paperless offices” but have never actually seen one. Being a litigator, we have to produce documents. And then take depositions. As you can imagine, lawyers swim in a pool of paper all year long.
It started small with the hiring of a new legal secretary. Almost immediately, she had an excellent idea for dealing with mail. Instead of keeping the original document for the file and providing the attorneys a copy of it, she started scanning in the original and emailing us our mail report. Lawyers are slow on the uptake, this seems like an obvious thing to do. But, it’s been years since she instituted the practice, and it’s been a great success.
We do other simple things now, too. Electronic document production, sending letters via email. But so often, lawyers revert to what they are familiar with, and what they already know how to do. So I regularly receive reams of paper from opposing counsel and regularly produce reams of paper to opposing counsel. Inertia is a silent and powerful force. Going completely green seems like it would require immense effort, a complete change in habits and, perhaps most disturbingly, an increased reliance on my email and iPhone.
Maybe I’m late to the game. Maybe this is a litigator’s problem. Either way, I’ve recently committed to “go green” in a number of ways. Recently, I had a lunch meeting with a court reporting company. The representative began talking about their iPhone app and I immediately realized I’m living in the stone age… They have an iPhone app? I learned I can conduct a deposition with no paper at all, and they will provide iPads to all deposition attendees so everyone can see the exhibits at the same time on their iPad screens. The witness can electronically mark the exhibit and it can all be electronically saved. I have never seen a deposition conducted in this way. I’ll be doing my first one in the next month.
The hurdles to changing our habits seem insurmountable before we even begin. If you’re considering “going green” but are intimidated by technology, or worried about complying with the rules of civil procedure, here are 3 things to consider:
1. Start Small
As I mentioned, one of our legal secretaries simply started scanning in the mail. We have had to update certain procedures and sometimes my inbox gets too full, but it was a great first step towards reducing our reliance on paper. This change opened the office’s eyes to possible simple changes we could make to reduce our environmental footprint. There is no need to overwhelm your office with 15 procedural changes at one time. Small, concerted steps in the right direction is all it takes to eventually see some significant changes in your office’s green efforts.
2. Enlist An Expert
Also as I mentioned above, the court reporting companies put a huge amount of effort into courting law firms and sole practitioners. They have made huge strides forward technologically and want to earn your business. Court reporting companies will teach you what you need to know, they will conduct free demos at your office and they will be with you every step of the way. Essentially, this is free expert help and it’s critical for demystifying some of the technological advances that, as of yet, have eluded many attorneys. Find companies who want your business, and bring them in.
3. Convince Your Colleagues
The inertia problem is a large one. Long-term lawyers have been doing document production for decades and are loathe to change their style. Show them numbers. There are scores of articles documenting how much money, time and mistakes can be saved by moving your practice into the electronic age. Documents and depositions become searchable so you can find certain testimony in a tenth of the time. Assistants and secretaries don’t have to stand at the copy machine waiting for the collating process to finish.
Once you push your colleagues over that first hurdle, and they realize technology isn’t scary, weird or unreliable, they’ll be far more open to yet more changes in the future. We’ll see how my iPad-driven deposition goes, but it’s a step in the right direction and I’m hopeful it will become a conversation starter among my colleagues.