If your firm is not paperless by now, you probably know you ought to be. Chances are good that your malpractice insurer already is, and your local courthouse is going in that direction. Plus, a paperless law firm is just better.
However, I think a lot of solos and small-firms are not sure where to start. Going paperless is a piece of cake, but getting started with any new technology tends to hand up a lot of lawyers. Here is what I suggest.
Buy a document scanner
Many people already have a scanner attached to their printer. But all-in-one devices tend not to be very good at any one thing. They are a compromise device. If you really want to scan documents, get a document scanner.
If all you have is an all-in-one, you probably won’t go paperless. I know it seems like a small thing, but the difference between an all-in-one and a dedicated document scanner is small, but enormously significant.
There are two easy-to-use desktop scanners that work great for a small practice: the ScanSnap s1500 and the NeatDesk. I am partial to the ScanSnap, because it is packaged with Acrobat Standard, and therefore a much better value. But the NeatDesk has its fans, too. It’s worth looking at both, but if you just want to buy a scanner without thinking, get the ScanSnap. You’ll be glad you did.
Scan a pile of documents
Just pick a pile of documents. A stack of document production, maybe, or a bankruptcy client’s stack of financial statements. It doesn’t really matter what you scan, just so you scan something. Once you realize how easy it is, you will get addicted. You will see that going paperless is not only possible; it could be fun. And you will be right.
Once you scan a stack of documents, you will look at the piles of paper and bankers boxes clogging your office, and start to realize that you really can make all that crud go away. And you will want to.
You will be ready to go paperless.
Think about document flow and storage
Once you know you want to have a paperless law firm, the rest is pretty easy. Spend a morning thinking about what you want your paperless workflow to look like, and consider how you want to organize your digital client files. You can start by just following my lead, and tweak my procedures to fit your firm as you need to.
Don’t go too far without thinking about worst-case scenarios. Make sure you have fool-proof (and bomb-proof) backup in place. My rule of thumb is to have at least two backups in two different places. I use Dropbox for remote backup (it’s also a great substitute for a clunky, old-school file server), and an external hard drive (a bare-bones, 2-terabyte Western Digital drive) for local, full-system backups.
No matter what, you are going to have to work out some kinks and tweak some systems on your own, but if you get a document scanner and start playing with it, you are well on your way.