Is your law firm’s new year’s resolution to go paperless? (Or to achieve a mostly paperless law firm?) You’re not alone. And if it was also last year’s new year’s resolution: Don’t worry: in this post we’ll explore the best practices when implementing a paperless law firm.
First: Why to Have a Paperless Law Firm
In case you need just a little more convincing… yes you should have a paperless law firm. Here’s why:
1. Paper (and the banker’s boxes they fill) take up space. Whether your practicing law in Manhattan or not: It’s a huge waste of space and therefor money.
2. Paper documents tend to be poorly organized. No judgement here–but over the years your boxes and stacks end up a mess.
3. You can’t search paper documents. Not in the modern sense of the word anyway: Finding an old paper document is a manual, laborious process.
Paper documents are one accident or disaster away from being lost forever, as opposed to their electronic counterparts which can be backed up or–better yet–stored in the cloud. (More on this shortly.)
Next: How to Achieve a Paperless Law Firm
Okay, you’re convinced that you really should get to a paperless law firm. (Right?) Here are some basic steps and best practices you’ll need to follow if you want to follow in the footsteps of law firms, like yours, that have achieved a paperless law firm the right way.
1. Understand your firm’s document flow. Identify every point of entry of documents into your practice–from email, to snail mail, to new document origination. Then map out a process by which these all become, and remain, an electronic document.
2. Get solid scanners. Whether it’s a big Konica Minolta in the center of your office, or a Fujitsu ScanSnap in each private office (or both): make the investment into modern, reliable scanners for your team.
3. Implement Document Management Software. You can’t go paperless without a Document Management System. You’ll need Document Management software to store, organize and search documents. Document Management software will also let you manage document versions, tags/categories and more. A simple file system of folders and subfolders isn’t going to cut it.
4. Leverage the Cloud. Cloud computing brings so much benefit to law firms: mobility, reliability, security. In this day and age there’s no good reason spend money on a on-premise server: They cost money to buy, to maintain, to repair, to upgrade and to replace. Save yourself money and headache and leverage the cloud in your paperless law firm endeavors. (Note that Dropbox is Not Document Management.)
5. Implement OCR. Have you ever scanned a document or been sent a scanned PDF file, and noticed you can select or copy the text? And–the PDF seems more like a photograph of a document than an actual document? That’s an un-OCR’d document, which means it’s a scan of a document that hasn’t been converted to a text-enabled file. This means your Document Management software can’t read or search it. That’s a major problem when you consider that without OCR software: much of your firm’s documents won’t be searchable. So do yourself a huge favor and implement OCR software within your law firm.
6. Define Hardcopy Retention Policies. Your retainer agreement for new clients should spell out your document management process. Let them know that you will retain originals until the matter is closed, at which point the client has 30 days to pick up originals from your office before they are shredded and then set on fire; digital files can be provided via shared client portal or some other means.
7. Implement and Enforce Paperless Policies. Once you have the tools in place: Scanners, Document Management software, OCR systems: Make sure everyone in your firm understands (and follows) your paperless law firm policies. Electronic documents should remain electronic. Documents that originate as hardcopy should be scanned, filed in your Document Management software and shredded (in accordance with your hardcopy retention policies.)
Closing the Loop
There you have it: These steps outline (at 100,00 feet) what you’ll need to do to achieve a paperless law firm, and do it the right way. As you can see, a good legal-centric (and ideally cloud-based) Document Management system is the hub of a paperless law firm, so we recommend evaluating and comparing a number of solutions.