Paperless Law Office: Essential Systems (and Tools)
Years ago, moving to a mostly paperless office was considered pioneering. Today, it’s no longer uncommon as many lawyers have adopted practices, technology, and the cloud to greatly reduce their use of paper. Many courts have gone paperless, even attorney registration for some states are going paperless. The time to go paperless was yesterday. The second best time is now. Here are essential systems and tools to help you transition to, and maintain a paperless law office.
Scanning process – There’s no paperless office without a scanning process or workflow. Start by scanning documents related to current cases and add documents from closed cases as time and resources permit. Scan bills, receipts, anything that you’d put in a folder in your filing cabinet. (See iPhone JD’s review of David Sparks Workflow Video Field Guide for quickly capturing receipts, etc.) Organize your digital files and folders the same way you organized your paper filing system. And, don’t fret over the perfect organizational structure since you’ll now be able to perform a keyword search for documents.
You’ll, of course, need a heavy-duty document scanner. Fujitsu ScanSnap is top grade and comes with a huge bonus: a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Standard or Pro (see below). It lets you scan to your PC, Mac, iPad/iPhone, and Android devices and to popular cloud storage services for easy access.
Online Document Storage and Backup – You’ll need a safe place to store all of your newly scanned documents – an electronic version of the filing cabinets in your office. Check out Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive. Amazon also has a cloud storage service. Confidential documents may need to be encrypted using tools like BoxCryptor or TrueCrypt to meet ethical obligations. See: How Lawyers Use Dropbox.
PDF – Spring for a copy of Adobe Acrobat Standard or Pro. (If you get the ScanSnap scanner, it comes bundled with Acrobat.) This is an indispensable tool for a paperless law office, and mastering Acrobat is a must for today’s practitioner as more federal and local courts require PDF uploads to file pleadings, etc. See Adobe Acrobat for Law Firms (Video) for advice on setting up and converting a Word document into Acrobat, commenting, highlighting, and typing on an Acrobat document, adding, deleting, and rearranging pages, using the “snapshot” tool, redaction of data, and more.
Shredder – Next up, a sturdy shredder to securely clear out the reams of paper you’ve scanned and no longer need. All firms should have one, regardless of where you are in the paperless transition phase, to protect confidential information from dumpster divers.
Digital Notes – Swap your pen for a keyboard when taking notes, including meeting notes, witness interviews, deposition outlines, blog post ideas…anything that you currently use a pen and pad to record. Evernote, OneNote, and Google Docs are among the most popular options. See: How Lawyers Use Evernote.
Practice Management System – Notes, documents, anything you digitize, can be organized and managed using a powerful online legal practice management system. These cloud-based systems, like Rocket Matter, are usually subscription based with a monthly fee per user. They offer document storage and sharing organized by client and matter, document assembly that generates custom legal documents instantly, stored intuitively in their respective matters, and much more.
Fax to E-mail Services – Yes, the fax machine is still around and if you have clients or entities that use it, you’d better have one. Not a physical fax machine as that will only add to the paper clutter, but a service that allows you to send and receive faxes via email with no paper and no fax machine. HelloFax is a popular option.
Getting to a paperless law office requires motivation, habit-forming processes, systems, and hardware. Use the above systems and tools as a guide to get started and test and hone to meet your unique needs.