Confessions of a Dinosaur Going Paperless


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dinosaur-going-paperlessGuest post by Thomas Gallagher.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? Lawyering without papering . Ahhh! A few years ago, I dreamed about it. I heard about it. But I was a dinosaur, tech-wise. Now, after a few steps in the right direction, I have a few tips for the other tech-dinosaur lawyers out there like me:

  1. Develop the goal of paperlessness. At first it may be fuzzy. But stick with it. Learn more about it. Learn by doing, most of all. And as you do, keep refining that goal, so that it can be broken down into easy-to-follow steps. Know why you are doing it and get excited about it!
  2. Paper-on-demand might be a more descriptive term. You can have paper when you need or want it. In between, you no longer need to store it, carry it, pay for it. Get it in digital form in the first place, or scan paper for storage. Use a printer when you want it in physical form.
  3. Security is necessary. This means you cannot risk losing your important data. There are many ways to accomplish data security. Back-ups are key, and redundancy in back-ups is a virtue.
  4. Don’t try to swallow a whale. We each have our own style and personality. For me, the incremental approach works and facilitates learning-by-doing. That means that instead of doing nothing but convert valuable paper-based information to electronic form, I work on it in pieces, as time permits, and new things are prioritized over old.
  5. Get a good, easy to use scanner. The Fujitsu ScanSnap s1500 I use now must be 10,000 times better than the old all-in-one machine-from-Hell. Read about it elsewhere on Lawyerist. The more I use it, the easier it gets, the more I love it. Have a system for organizing documents on hard drive. There are some great discussions of this on Lawyerist.
  6. Say Goodbye to fax. The facsimile machine and it’s once familiar modem screech are fading away, and none to soon. Anything fax can do, scan and email can do better, right? Technically, yes. But humans are social animals, and changing our ways takes time. Why waste money on a dedicated phone line for fax? You can subscribe to an online fax service. People can fax you via an online fax service, so that you get the document as an email attachment or webpage download. And you can send fax documents out through an online fax service with a scanner and web access—cheaper than a dedicated POTS-analog phone line. Fax will not exist in twenty years.
  7. Print to .pdf or print to .paper. Over time, we as a legal culture will move away from paper as the medium for communication. More and more documents will be created or received, stored, and viewed electronically—fewer will ever be in paper form. But fear not, we will be able to print to paper when we like, just like now. More choice will save resources, as well as give us more time.

Yes, you can do it. You can go paperless—one small step at a time.

(photo: mitikusa)

Thomas Gallagher is a well-regarded criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis.


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  • Cindy Mae Swee

    Great article. Good information and inspiring.

  • Matt Horn

    These are great tips to move towards a paperless office. One of the major goals when moving towards a paperless office is to improve efficiency so it’s important to use the proper tools to quickly search and find relevant documents. Using dual monitors or extended desktop allows users to review two screens at once which is always better then one. At litfolio ( we always scan paper correspondence before anyone gets a chance to read the paper version so we can encourage a new way of thinking.

  • Greta Kirkland

    I am heading toward paperless myself, but as the one who always puts the trial exhibits together, it seems futile at times. We have an internet fax, which was really a godsend. After saving the document in my system, I print out just the first page of the pleading to go into the hard copy file, almost as a place holder for the document. It probably isn’t necessary but it makes me feel better.