Stephen Covey, the esteemed author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has stated that you should, “Begin with the end in mind.” So how do you build your plan to take yourself paperless? What are the goals of the move to paperless? Here are some of the components to consider:
- Decide on what your paperless office will look and feel like. Will you aim to eliminate paper as much as possible? Will everyone be working on workstations with dual monitors and using a central document repository (with a document management system) that has remote access capability and client portals? By creating as many written goals as possible, you can make the transition “real” and decide how to stage the transition to paperless over time.
- Commit to going paperless. Call your staff to a meeting and explain the advantages for each of them individually and for the group. Fully involve them in the process and invite them to raise any concerns now while you are at a planning stage. Ask for their support and commitment to a successful transition.
- Involve your IT support as early as possible. They will have to check your existing computer hardware including your server, backup and RAID systems to make sure they can handle the increased load from all paperless applications (hardware and software requirements). They will have to ensure that your backup system is reliable and includes storage off-site. They will need to make sure the software and hardware will run quickly and effectively, a process that requires checking such aspects as whether your security is sufficient and whether the bandwidth from your Internet connection is adequate. You don’t want people to become frustrated waiting to get online.
- Analyze your current and future needs. Think about what you’re likely to need in the future as your business grows as well as what you need now. Think about which documents need to be accessed often or quickly, which may need extra security or encryption, and which could be weeded out after a certain time. After all, you don’t want to be storing all documents forever but you do have requirements for document storage and retention times from your ethics regulator or insurer (or both).
- Develop a paperless transition plan and a timetable. The timetable should be tight enough to keep everyone in line but not so tight so that it doesn’t allow for reasonable adjustments and setbacks. Plan to be flexible! Writing down the plan allows for everyone to read, think about, and provide feedback on the process, the goals, and the methods. You wish to make this as painless as possible for everyone. Listening to their feedback will make everyone feel part of the process and like they have a part in the plan.
- Start small. Use a single lawyer and legal assistant to start. Learn from the pilot project so you can address any problems before broadening your scope. It is easy to correct small things at the pilot stage before they become much bigger things in a firmwide rollout.
- Research. Thoroughly investigate the available tools to help you—document management systems, electronic faxing, scanners, data backup systems, security systems, document conversion companies, process consultants, storage formats, storage devices, remote access devices, and so on. Knowledgeable consultants can provide more help than you might imagine.
- Budget. No exceptions! Select your needs in advance—hardware, software, training and installation, consultants—and arrange to incorporate these into your budget and into your business plans. You may have to spread things out a bit to accommodate everything in the budget. For software, consider what will fit with your needs, including ease of use and implementation, cost, and integration with your existing systems. And by all means, don’t neglect backup needs.
- Do a small test project. Make any needed changes and then move to the transition into the rest of the practice, using your early adopters as change agents.
- Develop a plan for ongoing practice-wide use. Include a document storage plan with specific guidelines for employees or clients with specific needs.
- Do a celebration followed by a post-mortem. Learn from the experience!
Find the Best Technology for Your Dollar
This post was adapted from the Law Practice Division’s publication The 2015 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide, specifically from a chapter by contributing author David J. Bilinsky, a law practice management advisor and lawyer for the Law Society of British Columbia. In this book, authors John Simek, Michael Maschke and Sharon D Nelson share the most current information and recommendations on computers, servers, networking equipment, legal software, printers, security products, smartphones, the iPad, and anything else a law office will need.