5 Paperless Law Office Tips to Increase Efficiency (+Tools & Myth-Busting)
If your business is considering pursuing digital documentation, here are some steps you can take to ease the transition to a paperless law firm.
There was a time when going paperless seemed like a lofty goal. However, digitizing processes can not only accommodate remote working arrangements, but they can also help keep documents organized, streamline client communications, and lead to major cost savings for your law firm.
These days, most lawyers recognize the benefits of moving toward a paperless law office. But many aren’t sure where–or how–to start.
Although the process of digitization isn’t always a one-size-fits-all approach, fortunately, there are sufficient similarities across firms that allow for paperless processes to be applied no matter the type of your firm. If your business is considering pursuing digital documentation, here are some steps you can take to ease the transition to a paperless law firm.
1. Begin with a goal
We can’t stress enough the importance of defining your goals before you move forward with converting to a paperless law office.
Since many firms are still dependent on physical documents to complete day-to-day tasks, reducing paper in your office is always a work in progress. Figure out how your firm is currently using paper and then adopt a digital intake process that can help eliminate future paper needs of your firm.
2. Decide where to store the data
Another thing to consider when digitizing your law firm’s documents is where to store the data.
Online storage provides 24/7, convenient, secure access to all your law firm’s documents. So, if your law firm isn’t already in the cloud, the next step is to choose a provider for the storage of your firm’s data.
3. Protect your firm’s files
When it comes to your law firm’s confidential client information, security is paramount. Because you have an ethical duty to protect your firm’s data, you must take the necessary steps to keep that information secure, whether you store it in the cloud or on your law firm’s servers.
We recommended that you back up at least three copies of your law firm’s digital data at two different locations. You should also ensure that your law firm’s data is encrypted to protect it from prying eyes.
For more cybersecurity tips, here’s an informative read for you, “Cybersecurity Tips for Lawyers Working Remotely.”
4. Design a paperless workflow
Once you’ve determined where your data will be located, one of the top paperless law office best practices involves establishing your law firm’s paperless workflow.
This workflow will be used by all employees whenever a new document arrives or is created at the office. If it’s a handwritten document, such as notes, you’ll want to determine how it will be handled once it’s created.
Keep in mind that various paper documents will need to be scanned and filed in the appropriate place in your law firm’s practice management system.
5. Put an organizational system in place
Lastly, law firms going paperless should create an organizational system for all digital documents. Every employee should be familiar with the system you create and should adhere to it. But, it’s important to have employee buy-in beforehand–otherwise, your new digital system runs the risk of falling into disarray.
To avoid this, consider implementing consistent, descriptive naming protocols for documents and base these conventions on feedback from your employees. That way, they’ll be more invested in the process and will be more likely to cooperate.
Paperless Law Firms: Dispelling the Myths
Despite the number of technological advances, many lawyers are still hesitant to transition to digital documents. Oftentimes, the reluctance is based on antiquated myths about paperless law firms.
Are you one of those lawyers? If so, rest assured those myths are unfounded.
Myth #1: A paperless law firm means no paper at all
Many lawyers operate under the mistaken belief that a “paperless” law firm results in the absence of paper. That’s not the case, and for many lawyers, could be impractical.
Instead, a paperless office is simply one that has less paper. By digitizing documents, you reduce the amount of paper but don’t eliminate it.
Certainly, some documents will need to be retained in hard copy. But embracing a paper-free environment allows you to easily organize your law firm’s files, all the while having 24/7 mobile access to pertinent documents whenever you need them.
Myth #2: Going paperless simply means digitizing documents
Another popular myth is that going paperless means you need to scan all of your law firm’s documents. Of course, scanning documents is an essential part of your firm’s intake process when you have a paperless office but there’s more to it than that.
A necessary part of a paperless law firm is the creation of an office workflow that includes the digitization process. As part of that workflow, you should confirm that your law firm has a consistent case-naming and filing system that everyone uses. Creating this workflow–and sticking to it–is essential since it assures that your law firm’s documents are organized and easily accessible.
Myth #3: Paperless law offices are less secure
Some lawyers are unwilling to transition to a paperless law firm because they believe paperless law offices are less secure. However, when you use a trusted, established provider to store your law firm’s digital data, your data is completely secure. The key here is to ensure your provider securely encrypts data and that it is backed up at servers located in different geographic regions.
Offsite storage of digital documents provides a safe, accessible form of backup for your law firm’s files. And, because all of your law firm’s data is housed in a secure cloud environment, it is protected from onsite physical damage, whether due to extreme weather, a fire, or some other calamity.
Paperless Law Firm: Tools to Reduce Your Footprint
Can a law firm be paperless? The short answer is yes.
Of course, as is the case with most changes in a law firm–to ensure a successful transition to a paperless law office, plan it ahead of time.
Come up with a strategy before starting the process, and make sure to draft written paperless law office procedures and policies for everyone in your firm who will be part of the changeover. And most importantly, choose the right hardware. The following suggestions are a great place to start.
Law Office Scanners
For starters, you’ll need a reliable, affordable scanner. Here are a few recommendations that address the many different hardware needs of law firms, including scanners:
- For firms in need of a low-volume scanner, consider the WorkForce ES-400 II Duplex Desktop Document Scanner, which includes 50-sheet Auto Document Feeder that allows you to breeze through stacks of documents of varying sizes.
- For firms in need of a higher-volume scanner, consider the WorkForce ES-865 Color Duplex Document Scanner, which scans 130 color pages per minute.
If you travel often, whether, for court, client meetings, or otherwise, you’ll likely also need access to a scanner when you’re on the road. After all, you never know when you might need to share documents you’ve just received from the court or opposing counsel with a client or your office. That’s where mobile scanners come in. These are two popular options to consider:
- The Brother ADS-1250W portable scanner is small enough to fit in a briefcase or laptop bag and can scan up to 25 color or black-and-white pages per minute.
- The Fujitsu ScanSnap s1300i is a more compact scanner that can scan up to 12 double-sided color or black-and-white pages per minute.
Alternatively, if you’re a frequent traveler, another option is to use your smartphone or tablet to scan documents, upload them, and convert them to PDFs. The good news is that there are many document scanner apps available either for free or at very reasonable prices (less than $10).
These apps make it easy to scan a document using your device’s camera function and convert it to a PDF. Once you’ve scanned the document, it’s easy to share it via fax, email, or text.
Many also give you the option to store the document by uploading it to a cloud-based document storage website such as Dropbox, Evernote, or Google Docs. Popular scanner apps include:
- Scanner Pro
- Genius Scan
Now that you have the lowdown on how to reduce paper in your practice, the move to a paperless law office is right around the corner.