- What are the economic advantages?
- What hardware and software will you need?
Typical lawyers have stacks of papers piled on their desks, credenzas, or along the baseboards of their offices. They think they can find a particular document in the stacks until they really need it, and then the document is nowhere to be found.
Instead, what if you were able to click on a folder and find the documents on your computer within seconds?
This article will discuss the advantages of the paperless office, the hardware/software necessary, how to organize your files and documents to make this a workable system for solos and small firms to use in their practices, and end with some practice tips. I come from a Mac background, having switched from using PCs in 2006. However, the software and hardware discussed in this article are, for the most part, cross-platform and work on both systems. I am a litigator, but most of what is discussed will apply to the transactional practice as well.
Ten Reasons to Go Paperless
1. No clutter around the office. I have some paper around the office, but it is neatly tucked away in a corner.
2. Locate documents and files quickly.
3. Save money.
- No file cabinets
- No paper—I use less than one ream a year.
- Savings on toner—just do not print that much
- No space wasted on file cabinets and storing reams of paper
4. More and more Courts require e-filing. If you are paperless, the filing will be on your computer and ready for filing.
5. No paper filing, which I always hated and put off for months.
6. If use Dropbox, can access your documents anywhere you have Internet access using iPad, iPhone, or computer.
7. You can do this without any staff help.
8. No storage costs at the end of the case. It always amazes me that firms pay storage companies to store files for years, incur monthly costs, and usually cannot pass this cost to the client.
9. At the end of the case you can give client a CD of the file instead of reams of paper
10. Did I say that it will save you money?
The Hardware and Software Needed
You really don’t need all that much to transition to a paperless office. Assuming you have a computer (if you don’t, then we need to talk), the first thing you will need is a sheet-fed scanner. I recommend the Fujitsu Scansnap, which is available for both Macs and PCs, and comes with a full version of Adobe Acrobat Professional. Today on Amazon it costs $424.99. Adobe Acrobat today costs $389.99. So for another $35, you get a scanner. That is one way to look at it. I have my scanner right next to my desk and scan everything that comes in. Although you can use different programs to facilitate scanning it to PDF format, Adobe Acrobat Professional is the best I have seen.
Once you have a scanner, you need to make a decision on where you will store your files. I have adopted a cloud-computing solution called Dropbox, which costs $100 per year for 100 GB of storage, more than I will currently need. At this point, after using Dropbox for several years, I have only used 23.5% of the capacity.1
With Dropbox, I also use a free program called Data Locker, which allows me to encrypt any file on my computer. It is available for Mac, PC, iPad, and iPhone. I only use it for documents that are confidential. The downside encrypting a file is that I am the only person with the encryption key, so if I forget what the key is, that document is unreadable.
Another helpful cloud application is Evernote. It is a free service, and its uses are only limited by your imagination.
Another way to reduce the paper in your office is to use an email fax service, such as eFax or RingCentral. To fax, I send an email to the service with the documents attached, and any fax received is in PDF format, which I can then open and save in the Dropbox folder. I do not need a separate fax line or a fax machine, and no paper is printed in the process. Most services are in the $15–20 range, which is less expensive than a dedicated fax line.
This is a personal choice, and there are software and Internet providers for this purpose, but you don’t have to use any organizational software if you do not want to. Here is how I do it.
I have a file on Dropbox titled “Active Cases.” Each case gets its own file, and within the case file I have files for pleadings, correspondence, discovery, and so forth. When I create a Word document or a PDF, I title it by putting the date like this: 120919 would be September 19, 2012. This keeps the documents in chronological order. After the date I describe the document, like “Original Petition” or “First Set of Interrogatories to Defendant.” You may have a different way of organizing your files, but the key is to be consistent and use your system with every document you store in your computer or Dropbox.
I disclose to my clients in the legal services agreement that I have a paperless office, that I keep no original documents, and that they are welcome to a copy of the file on a DVD at the conclusion of my representation. So far no clients have made any objections to this practice.
I do keep a few documents, like receipts from certified mail deliveries, but not a lot else.
For further reading I recommend the book Paperless by David Sparks, which is available in the iBookstore.
Regardless of whether you go paperless or not, you need to back up your data. I back up to both an Internet-based backup service (I use Crashplan, but there are others) as well as physical hard drives attached to my computer. One of the hard drives is used by the Mac's Time Machine system to back up any changes on my computer on an hourly basis. The other hard drive is used for miscellaneous backup.
1. There are some ethical issues to be aware of in using cloud computing. I refer you to an article last month in this magazine about cloud computing by Nicki Black.