Going Paperless: Some Intermediate Steps


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If you’ve been reading Lawyerist for a while, you already know the benefits of a paperless law practice. But maybe just thinking about all that scanning makes you tired, even with the best scanning equipment. If you’re ready to move toward being paperless, though, there are some (relatively) painless steps you can take.

No scanner? No problem!

Even without a scanner, it’s possible to reduce the volume of paper in your law practice without a huge, time-consuming commitment. For example:

Don’t print documents you receive electronically

If you regularly get documents in electronic form (e-mails, online legal research or electronically filed court documents), you’ll be better off organizing them electronically rather than printing them off. In most cases, those documents will be more searchable (and accessible) in electronic form.

For instance, recent versions of Adobe Acrobat allow you to archive entire e-mail folders (or a selection of messages within one) into a single file. And with wider use of electronic signatures for court filings, most pleadings contain fully rendered text which is just as searchable as anything in WordPerfect or Microsoft Word.

Duplex and compressed printing

For those things you need in hard copy form, you can save quite a bit of space in your filing cabinets by printing documents double-sided (a.k.a. duplex) and/or in compressed mode (similar to a travel deposition transcript). Even if your printer doesn’t have a built-in duplexer, it probably allows for manual duplexing somewhere within the Printer Properties dialog box. And virtually every Windows application will support compressed printing (everything from two pages per sheet to 16 pages per sheet and up). Either of these strategies is particularly good for long documents like discovery productions.

With a scanner

If you do have a scanner, don’t feel like you have to go paper-to-electronic on entire files at a time. You can implement some daily changes in your workflow to reduce the amount of paper in your files with little or no disruption.

For example, when you open your snail mail each morning, make a habit of scanning in key correspondence as soon as it’s out of the envelope. Or pick a date and, for every file you open after that, commit to keeping as much of those files in electronic form as possible. For older files, you may wish to scan files when you close them rather than simply putting them away in the cabinet or sending to off-site storage.

Developing habits like these on a go-forward basis will get you surprisingly close to being paperless within a few months.

Rule #1: Be organized

No matter how you start moving toward a paperless law practice, organization and consistency are critical. Figure out first how to design a good paperless workflow and how best to organize your electronic files. After all, chaos in electronic form is still chaos. Going paperless should make your law practice easier, not harder.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/orinrobertjohn/2188277801/)


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  • Good tips. Here’s another: where possible, ask others to send documents via email in electronic form, rather than via snail mail in print. This has wroked for me, and saves time otherwise spent scanning. Don’t forget to offer to return the favor.

    • Good idea, Thomas.

      And don’t forget to right-click on any attachments and do Save As to the correct case/matter folder so you’ll have access to these documents even if email is down for some reason.

  • Here’s another rule that you rarely see being suggested: Stop taking notes on yellow pads. Instead, replace your desktop or laptop with a tablet PC that runs Microsoft OneNote. All your client notes are stored digitally and searchable. Yes, your handwritten notes are digitized and searchable. Try doing that with your set of yellow pad notes. Need to locate your notes when your client calls? You no longer have to go pull the file and instead can simply go to your OneNote notebook for that client on your tablet PC.

    • You know, I still prefer taking notes on paper, and scanning the paper. I haven’t really needed those notes to be searchable, so it works just fine for me.

      Which is a reminder that paperless doesn’t have to mean no paper. Less paper is just fine.

      • Or you could get one of those “smart pens” like LiveScribe that records your handwriting, and have it both ways!