Going digital shouldn’t cause panic. Here are a few simple steps to begin the transition to becoming a paperless law firm.
For an attorney, the document is sacrosanct. That affidavit, subpoena, or living will isn’t just a flattened sheet of wood pulp. Papers like these are artifacts in need of protection, holy grails to which you owe legal and ethical fealty, and the foundations of your practice.
So what does it mean for a law firm to go paperless?
When done right, going paperless means being able to access your documents from anywhere, easily search them, and collaborate in real time on writing and editing. It means mobility, efficiency, and speed. It means that attorneys can practice law instead of devoting huge swaths of their time to managing documents.
When done wrong – it can mean spending more time on tedious and complex systems than you did in the old days. Or it means merely having more places to search for a document.
This easy guide sets out the five-step ritual that every law firm or solo attorney needs in order to maintain a paperless legal practice the right way.
If you find these useful, download our Ultimate Guide to Going Paperless, and transform your practice today.
The first step of a paperless ritual is to gather things in one spot. Not only is it inefficient to store some of your documents electronically, others in the file room, and others in various cubby-spaces of your office — it is also a situation ripe for losing that case-making document. To function without paper, you have to feel confident that your digital file contains everything.
Create an inbox, as the landing-pad for all paper that enters your office. Unless you’re scanning a document immediately, never skip the inbox — there needs to be a sharp boundary between documents that have already been scanned and those that haven’t.
Mail that comes into the office can be scanned and delivered digitally to the relevant party (either through email or through a case management system like Filevine).
What’s the right scanner? Avoid clumsy all-in-one machines (which require more repair and upkeep) and flatbed scanners (which won’t keep up with the massive piles of documents coming your way). Find a scanner that does one thing and does it well. This post by legal tech writer Sam Glover provides a full run-down of top-rated scanners for a variety of lawyerly needs.
After your documents are scanned and saved (see below), most hard copies will need to be shredded. Shredding documents means you won’t have to archive them, or find and destroy them later. But before you get too shred-happy, remember there are some things you’ll want to keep. This includes special documents like wills and promissory notes, and items you would otherwise have to reprint soon for a deposition or trial.
The digital copy is now your ‘real’ file, regardless of whether or not you keep the original paper. This means it must be saved in a space and manner that’s secure and accessible to all who need it. Hopefully, this can be directly in the case file in your cloud-based case management system (if you’re curious how this works, check out a Filevine demo).
If you’re not using Filevine, which automatically notifies team members of a case’s new material, and allows you to associate the document with a task for a colleague, you’ll need a system to notify relevant parties that the document exists. This is usually done through email.
If your firm doesn’t have the right case management system, you’ll also need to devote some time to organizing an intuitive hierarchy of files, and making sure everyone is trained and on-board for saving their own documents in the same manner.
Back it up:
Back-up isn’t just to save you from lost-document headaches: you have the ethical responsibility to use a document storage system which is reliable and secure.
Using a secure cloud-based system means you’ll be able to access your documents from anywhere, using any of your devices, which gives you a measure of protection if one of your devices dies (we recommend caution, however, when it comes to using Dropbox). Additional storage redundancy can come from regularly downloading files onto an internal or external hard-drive. Add an extra online file-backup service and it would take a nuclear apocalypse to wipe out your files.
These four steps can take your files all the way from case opening to closing. But the most crucial step to the a shared paperless ritual remains:
Don’t let it slide when others skip any of these simple steps. Those who violate your shared ritual need to be held responsible for the difficulty they will cause their clients and colleagues. Because legal documents are more than ink on wood pulp (or pixels on a screen), being sloppy with storage or security can have severe consequences for the entire firm.
Want more information? We’ll send you the Ultimate Guide to Going Paperless for free.
Our Ultimate Guide includes:
- a list of tutorials to make the most out of your PDFs, so you can do everything digitally that you’ve done with the hard copy, and more that you could never accomplish with paper.
- baby-steps to paperless-ness (in case you have reluctant colleagues).
- key considerations to make sure going digital doesn’t violate any legal or professional ethics.
- a full discussion of best tech and practices for the paperless firm.
Download the Ultimate Guide to Going Paperless– With additional tips, resources and discussion to begin your transition to a digital workspace.