Paperless Law Office: Workflows
Going paperless requires proper research, planning, equipment, education, and training. We've discussed the benefits of moving to a paperless law office and the tools that are needed to make the transition successful.
After you define your goals and get buy-in from the firm, you need to create a digital workflow that allows everyone at the firm to operate quickly, effectively, and consistently. The workflow includes procedures and checklists for scanning, naming conventions for storing digital files, handling paper, and training. Note that no one set of procedures work for every firm, however there are various tips and tricks to eliminate paper. A paperless system requires firm culture considerations, input from everyone involved, and a willingness to test and fine tune the process. Here's a general guide.
Create a set of procedures for handling paper and digitizing documents
First, document the workflow by creating a procedures manual for digitizing and filing all paper documents. Define who does what and how it should be done - from the moment paper comes through the door to how it's handled to where it's stored. A step-by-step process that must be followed by everyone. This should also include file naming conventions and procedures for using whatever practice management software the firm subscribes to. Make the procedures manual as detailed and exhaustive as needed and edit as new practices are discovered and old ones discarded. And make it available to the entire firm.
Detail the set up of your digital filing system: the process of creating folders for your clients and subfolders for their matters.
Naming Conventions for files
Once matter folders have been created, additional subfolders should be replicated for each instance. For example, John Doe is the client so the primary folder is John Doe. Secondary folder is the matter, his divorce proceeding. This subfolder can then house additional folders for Pleadings, Correspondence, Discovery, Research, Notes, etc.
Ideally, file names for each document that you put into designated folders should include type of document, description of the content, date, and version. Check out David Sparks' How I name files on my Mac.
Equipment and Applications
Must-have tools include a scanner, Adobe Acrobat Professional (PDF documents are the preferred format for digitizing documents), document management system, fax-to-email, and backup options. Include the firm's choice of equipment, brands, and practices, in the workflow procedures manual. Examples include ScanSnap scanners, Dropbox, Box and Evernote.
Workflow for Practice Management System
Some may prefer to acquire a cloud-based legal practice management system such as Rocket Matter where documents can be organized and shared securely. In fact, many suggest that it's essential to a paperless law office. But it's not enough to just purchase a system, you must include a workflow of firm-wide best practices for handling documents.
Privacy and Security
Create a set of procedures to ensure the firm's electronic systems are secure and productive. This includes copyright and licensing compliance, privacy concerns, passwords, encryption, and client confidentiality related to the Rules of Professional Responsibility.
Finally, create a digital signature stamp to eliminate the need for printing, signing and scanning a document.
Going paperless is not painless but increasingly essential. Creating a comprehensive workflow with firm-wide compliance will make the process easier and the experience productive and rewarding.