I have had a paperless law office since early 2006, when I bought my first Fujitsu ScanSnap s1500 document scanner and started scanning every page that crossed my desk.
That—and a bit of planning—is really all it takes to get started with a paperless office.
Benefits of a Paperless Office
There seems to be a tendency to think of digital files as fundamentally different than paper files. In some ways, they are different. Digital files are better. You can encrypt them or back up your paperless files in different places, and do many other nifty things. But from an organizational perspective, paperless office digital files are basically the same as paper files.
Paperless Law Office Equipment
Another great benefit to a paperless office is that it can save you money.
The only additional equipment you will need is a scanner (we highly recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap s1500, less so the also-popular NeatDesk scanner). While a good scanner can run around $450, the long-run savings of eliminating file cabinets, copy machines, folders, and other office supplies will more than off-set the one-time cost of your scanner.
Lawyers who are not used to using scanners sometimes find the transition takes a little getting used to—though rarely more than a few days to feel comfortable with the next technology. In fact, we have answered almost all questions about the Fujitsu ScanSnap s1500 that you could possibly come up with.
The Paperless Office Workflow
Creating a great paperless client file folder structure makes it even easier than a paper office to find the files you need. Chances are pretty good you use the same or similar labels on your existing physical file folders.
Other than that, all you have to do is scan everything. A good practice is to have a physical inbox. Never take anything out of your inbox without scanning it. Then, you can shred, save, or mark up the hard copy without worrying about it. You should definitely save originals of some documents, if you are not filing them with the court, but I shred 95% of the paper I receive.
Pretty soon, you will adapt to the slight change in paper workflow in your office, and never look back. If you want more detail before you get going, I put together my paperless law office strategy in much more detail in my webinar “The Paperless (Law) Office”.
Barriers to Going Paperless
In the end, the major hurdles and mistakes in going paperless are not the task of getting your scanner and computer file structure set up, but rather addressing your psychological attachments to paper and your relationship with a paper-centric office. The key, then, is to start with a solid paperless office transition plan that emphasizes changing the way you think about your paper files and your paper workflow.