The paper vs. paperless debate continues into the 21st century, but in reality we are all slouching into the paperless arena – for good or bad, and whether we like it or not.
It started in the late seventies with the law office word processors, which evolved to the PC desktop in the eighties. Floppy disks morphed to small hard disks (although they were still called “floppy”). We saved all our documents on “floppies” in those days. The floppies evolved to CD’s which held a lot more data. As hard drives evolved and space wasn’t an issue we began saving our documents on our hard drives and CD’s are becoming obsolete. In the past it was standard practice to maintain a “hard copy” — meaning a paper backup. It was not practical to save the boxes of client documents on hard drives because hard drive space was at a premium.
By the turn of the century, scanners became faster and cheaper. Memory grew from kilobytes, to megabytes (1,000,000 bytes), gigabytes (1000 megabytes), and now terabytes (1000 gigabytes). USB Flash drives can hold as much as two gigabytes or 3,850 one-hundred page Word documents. It is just more practical to carry around a flash drive in your pocket rather than cart around stacks of documents.
At the same time our office machines were evolving, our mobile devices became an integral part of our work and personal lives. Back in the day, the cool device was the PDA (Personal Data Assistant). My first one was the Palm Pilot with a stylus. That was a death knell to the “Day Timer” which looked like a black or tan notebook where we wrote down our appointments. Then came the Blackberry which was both a cellular phone and a calendar. We became wired to the internet and we were floating in the Cloud — whether we admitted it or not. Paper was an after-thought. Now the cell Phone/PDA enables us to do business from anywhere – a car, a court, or a café. The iPhone supplanted the Blackberry in popularity because it was more reliable for email and it had the “cool” factor. Also the computer became portable – first with lap tops, and then tablets. The use of Apps made the cell phone and tablet fun and easy to use.
Today’s Paper Tiger
Most of my correspondence to attorneys, client, and judges is conducted by email. There was a time that I felt compelled to print my emails – just in case. Now I just save them to my database program. They are searchable and printable. Even when we receive correspondence, it is scanned and emailed to me to read. I can read it on my iPhone, my iPad, or my office computer. There are times when I print out an email or a letter to mark up, but there goes another tree. Right?
Since most correspondence is digitized, that part of the file shrunk to almost nothing. What about the pleadings? There is no E-filing in our courts so we keep a paper copy of everything we file. And because we must serve pleadings by mail (absent a stipulation), we maintain a file copy of our opponents pleadings. But all these are scanned and saved by our staff. That allows us quick access to the entire file on our server. I don’t remember the last time I walked into the file room and picked up the file.
I still like to take the hard files to court because I never know if I will have remote access to our server in the courtroom. A digital file is searchable, and in many ways more convenient than shuffling through a paper file in the court room. However, courts still require paper exhibits and in a pinch I can rip an exhibit out of the file and get it admitted. It may be some time before there is a digital transfer of exhibits in our courts. In the future we will move the document to the court Dropbox and provide access to the judge, clerk, the witness, opposing counsel, and court reporter. I expect it to come when the courts realize how expensive it is to maintain and store paper.
Document production has gone digital. It is easier to transfer a flash drive or put a document in a Dropbox type program than to send paper. There is no reason to store boxes of paper when you can store files digitally. Even libraries are obsolete. Gone are the days where there are walls of books. Google Scholar has most of the cases and statutes. There are proprietary programs that access the cloud to fill in the gaps.
Paper still exists, but bytes are economical and fast. Speed and economy will win over time. The reality is that I am sitting at my computer all day looking at a screen. I go home and I log into my iPad or cell phone. I may be drafting or emailing, but there is no paper. I have a printer to the right of me which used it once today to print out a draft of this article for editing purposes. But, for the most part, we are paperless. It wasn’t a coup or even a revolution. It was a mass extinction. It didn’t happen overnight – but it occurred nevertheless.
You are going to be paperless whether you like it or not. And while you are going paperless, I will look in the mail box to see if I received any mail today.
Featured image: “Illustration of a paper tiger” from Shutterstock.