Let’s face it: there is an insane amount of paperwork that goes into running a law office. The amount of physical space required to manage these ever-expanding records is a challenge. Going paperless not only helps mitigate the need for physical files, but it helps streamline your legal practice by saving a ton of time and money. But what tools do you need to run a paperless law office?
Below, we list the technologies that are necessary for your paperless journey. While you may worry about the initial upfront cost, keep in mind that this investment gets quickly returned with less need for paper and related printing supplies.
One of the more tedious first steps of turning your practice into a paperless law office is dealing with your existing documentation. All of this will need to get digitized through scanning, but keep in mind that not all scanners equipment is created equal. In addition, the size of your firm will have a significant impact on the type you buy. For example, if your practice deals with high caseloads, you may need equipment that processes up to 80 pages a minute. On the other hand, Solo attorneys may easily get by with a scanner that handles up to 10,000 pages a day.
Remember, you need a scanner that fits your needs. While your office may use it heavily when initially digitizing current hard copies in your filing cabinets and storage boxes, the demand won’t be as intense once caught up.
What happens after digitizing all of the boxes and cabinets full of case files, invoices, and other paperwork you have in storage? Once scanned, hard copies are no longer necessary and can be shredded. This piece of equipment is an essential element in paperless law offices.
Depending on the volume involved, you may also consider a professional shredding service that will leave disposal containers in your office. This is a popular option when initially making the transition to operating paper-free due to the number of documents needing to be shredded.
3. Legal Practice Management System
A Legal Practice Management system is a key component in operating as a paperless law firm. Not only will it streamline intake processes, but it creates a secure access point through a portal that legal professionals and their clients can communicate with. Features vary according to the type of practice management system you choose, but electronic document sharing is usually standard, which means your office can instantly send and receive needed forms and files.
4. Document Management System
It should be noted that most legal practice management systems provide a document management system or can integrate with most applications that perform this function. If this is not the case for your law office, having a method to create and store your digital documents is another requirement to operate paper-free. Cloud-based document management software designed specifically for legal practices provides a centralized hub to store, search, and send case files and related forms electronically.
This system should also have email and categorization capabilities so that your entire team can access this information from their office, while in court, or during consultations. Successful paperless law offices depend on the automated features within this software to provide a consistent filing method. No matter where a form originates, a document management system ensures it gets correctly categorized and filed in the Cloud.
In addition to consistent filing structure and centralized documentation storage, this software saves your firm time and money with built-in automation. Instead of using paper forms or having your support team conduct intake consults with your clients, automate the entire process. With online document requests, firms can automatically send prospects intake forms to complete when initially requesting a consultation. This frees up time for your legal team to focus billable services and streamline client meetings.
5. Searchable PDF Software
Creating forms, contract agreements, legal briefs, and other legal documents are part of daily functions in law firms. When going paperless, use a digital format that is almost universally accepted by any computer or smart device. Searchable PDF software meets this demand and provides extensive features, including editing, signature capability, and email/link sharing.
PDF software companies like Adobe offer monthly subscriptions or software packages, depending on what suits your needs. But, you can also purchase practice management software like Rocket Matter that incorporates these PDF software features and other automated tools to streamline your law firm.
This will be one of the most important mechanics of successfully running a paperless law office, and here are the reasons why:
PDFs have become the standard for sharing and editing documents across every industry imaginable. Not only that but modern smart devices and computers easily display these files automatically.
PDFs use one type of file format no matter where the document gets accessed. This is an important feature when conducting remote consultations, and participants are using different devices to view the file.
A unique feature that PDFs provide is the ability to password-protect files. This is especially important for law firms wishing to protect client information when sending sensitive data.
One of the frustrating aspects of some file types (JPEGs, GIFs, etc.) is there isn’t an electronic trail to follow when it comes to editing. On the other hand, PDFs track every change made and by who.
PDFs are especially court-friendly because of searchability features, bookmarking options, and Bates numbering support.
6. E-signature Capability
Many law firms have clients who are either homebound or don’t have transportation. This can make getting signatures a challenge. In addition, sending sensitive information back and forth via the post is risky. If a form gets lost, damaged, or delayed, important legal deadlines can get missed and hurt your client’s case. E-signature solutions fix this problem by only allowing authorized individuals to sign a document digitally through email or a secure portal. This feature is handy because the process can get completed on any smartphone, tablet, or computer. Many legal practice management solutions (such as Rocket Matter) have this feature conveniently built into their software.
7. Virtual Fax
Even though your office is going paperless, that doesn’t mean faxes are no longer acceptable. With a virtual fax integration or software, you can take a digital form in your system and send it to the recipient’s fax! And, you can still receive communications this way via digital imaging, too. In addition, your legal practice management system may come with a centralized inbox that can easily integrate with your virtual fax, which means incoming fax messages never get lost! Plus, you save on the cost of paper and toner!
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) protects client communication with law firms when transferring and/or storing data. A paperless law office needs a VPN for countless reasons, but data and identity theft are at the top of the list.
Hackers regularly gain access to the personal identifying information of internet users every day. This includes passwords, social security numbers, and even banking information. Law firms that don’t use a VPN to send and receive data from their clients or other team members risk ransomware attacks and other damaging breaches that can hurt both practice and client.
By default, a VPN encrypts all data sent and received through its network, giving users anonymity. This network will change your location virtually, so hackers cannot track user locations.