Running and maintaining a paperless law office may seem like a
daunting task. However, there are many potential benefits of
getting rid of the paper in your law practice, including increased
workflow efficiency, environmental benefits and cost savings.
Unconvinced? Is the thought of running into court without a
banker's box of client documents giving you goose bumps?
I often speak with attorneys regarding my experiences in running a
paperless office and I hear many of the same concerns or doubts
repeated. "How could I possibly scan the volume of documents I
receive on a daily or weekly basis?" "How will I ever find the
document I need?" "What if I arrive for a hearing and I am missing
something?" "What about security?" "Isn't my current system of
manila folders and binders good enough?" "Why change now?"
Lawyers have been cramming client documents, correspondence and
pleadings into expandable folders and binders since the dawn of
humanity, and many lawyers may very well carry on this practice for
the foreseeable future. But running a law practice in the
traditional way has downsides as well (i.e., beyond the massive
piles of paper that need to be brought in and out of various
courtrooms, offices and elevators). Have you ever lost a file deep
in the corner of your associate's office? Have you ever spent an
hour riffling through a file looking for a pleading? What if there
was a fire or flood in your office?
A well-planned and organized paperless office can alleviate all of
these issues while adding little to no additional time to document
workflow and providing all sorts of unexpected advantages.
HAVING THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY SHOULD BE YOUR FIRST
Having the "right" technology is essential in setting up and
maintaining a paperless office. In particular, a good desktop
scanner will enable designated team members to convert mountains of
correspondence, discovery, pleadings and other documents to an
When choosing a scanner, consider how much scanning you are going
to be doing. If you're in a document-heavy practice, you will need
something with good horsepower that is capable of batch scanning
larger numbers of pages at one time and with reasonable speed.
Fujistu, Kodak and HP all manufacture top-of-the-line scanners. For
the best bargains (i.e., products that do all/most of what you
need, for a reasonable price), try Brother or Lexmark.
In choosing a scanner, it is also important to consider what
software is included with the device. Look for a scanner that comes
bundled with PDF conversion software. PDF conversion software
offers the ability to convert in and out of various document
formats. Having the ability to create PDF files is important.
Once you have converted a document into a PDF format, you have a
file that will look the same across all platforms. The creation of
a PDF document can also remove metadata from the prior form (i.e.,
information about the creation of the document that you might not
want to share with others, including any edits that have been made,
who created the original document, etc.).
PDF conversion systems can be used to create fillable forms. PDF
conversion systems feature attorney-useful tools, as well, like
Bates stamping, the ability to establish password protection for
documents, and the ability to apply underlying encryption. (This is
very important, especially in Massachusetts, where the new state
data privacy regulations require encryption for specific sets of
sensitive data being sent wirelessly or saved to portable
STORAGE AND SECURITY ARE JUST AS IMPORTANT AS YOUR
The storage and security of your newly formatted and digitized
documents constitutes the second consideration in setting up your
paperless office. Web-based storage or Cloud tools allow firms to
access storage space, programs and data that reside on servers that
are remotely located. Most practitioners already, though
unwittingly, rely upon web-based or cloud storage for e-mail,
contact and calendar management. Various providers also offer
solutions that are targeted toward the storage and exchange of
There are a number of advantages to storing your documents in the
cloud. These include: reduced reliance on in-house IT support; the
elimination of server costs (you do not need to spend as much on
office computers if your data is being stored remotely); built-in
backup management; reduced energy consumption; and the ability to
access documents and information from multiple devices and
There are also many benefits surrounding security and data control
when you keep your data in the cloud. In particular, hardware is
located in secure locations, with excellent environmental controls
and mobile access (which means sensitive data need not be stored on
local computers or laptops). Before sending sensitive data to the
cloud, however, attorneys should examine license agreements
thoroughly, and should be certain that the firm can access its data
anytime and that offsite backups of data are regularly scheduled,
FOCUS ON YOUR WORK FLOW ONCE YOU HAVE FIGURED OUT
TECHNOLOGY, STORAGE AND SECURITY
Work flow and protocol are the third consideration for
establishing and maintaining a paperless law office. Once you start
scanning documents regularly, the next logical step is to ask where
they might go. Directory structure is the organization of files
into a hierarchy of folders. An office or firm considering moving
to a paperless office may consider using their existing filing
system as a foundation. A solid directory structure will use clear
naming conventions for folders and subfolders, descriptive titles
in documents and pre-fixed dates for consistent organization.
For example, client folders may be organized by year. From there,
at the remaining subfolders and subfiles, the following convention
may be used:
Folders: 2010 01 01 Rusty Lambert
Files: 2010 01 14 Motion to Dismiss for Insufficiency of
This system defaults to chronological order, meaning that if you
open a particular client folder, you will be greeted by a
chronological recitation of the case history merely by naming your
files in a certain way.
After settling on a system for naming conventions, draft and
follow office protocols and procedures for document workflow.
Decide who will be responsible for scanning, who will be
responsible for filing, how various team members, attorneys, etc.
will be notified that a particular piece of correspondence has been
received and scanned and how the original paper documents will be
either stored or disposed of. Some practices may choose to retain
paper documents for the duration of a particular matter or the
documents may be shredded.
Convinced? Skeptical, but just a little curious? Want to try, but
not sure where to start? Start slow with one file and
One final challenge to all those entrenched traditionalists who
actually made it through this article: Locate the last order in
your most active client file, send the most recent batch of
financial discovery for review to the new associate and review
yesterday's mail, all from the cozy convenience of your home
Think you can complete those tasks in less time and more
efficiently than your paperless colleagues? A paperless law office
will allow for you to accomplish more work in less time and with
more efficiency and more flexibility. But make sure to set aside
enough time to learn how to use your new technology. Make sure to
figure out a good system for keeping track of all your data before
you jump in with both feet. But once you have everything up and
running, there is no going back.
Cynthia E. MacCausland practices family law and is active
in the Women's Bar Association (Public Relations Committee), Boston
Bar Association (Family Law Section, LRS Standing Committee, Active
Duty Military Committee) and Massachusetts Bar Association (Law
Practice Management Section Council). She also serves on the
Juvenile Bar Association board.