The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent closure of many businesses forced a quick and sudden shift to digital workflows.
Face-to-face meetings have been replaced by virtual screen-sharing. Instant messaging has replaced the office “pop-in.” Transmission of paper documents between parties has also declined as part of virus-mitigation efforts.
With all these changes, there is no better time than now to take the past year’s challenges and make permanent improvements by going “paperless”.
The legal world loves paper. The iconic image of the lawyer sitting at his desk surrounded by stacks of paper is a common trope. For many legal professionals, paper equals productivity, and going without it is worrisome and unfamiliar.
Despite this resistance, many law firms are reducing the amount of paper they use and transitioning to electronic storage of information. Mass tort law firms are unique in that the sheer volume of clients they represent, and the information required to service those clients, produces large quantities of paper documents taking up file rooms, spare offices, and paid storage facilities. If there is any area of law that could benefit from reducing paper use and streamlining document organization, it is mass tort.
The benefits of going paperless are well-known:
- Reduced paper and printing costs
- Improved client service
- Better organization
- Cleaner and more attractive workspaces
- Plus many more.
How a Paperless Law Office Means Improved Collaboration and Promotes Growth
The most important benefit, however, is the ability to collaborate rapidly with colleagues. With the right tools in place, the time-savings and efficiency improvements from rapid document collaboration are sizeable. Shared spreadsheets can track data, tasks, and other indicators in real-time while documents can be reviewed, edited, and even filed without a single printed page.
In addition to lower costs, fewer files create less need for storage – space that can be used on revenue-generating activities like building a studio for advertising and marketing or renting out space to an upstart solo practitioner.
Planning Ahead When Transitioning to a Paperless Law Office
The challenges of going paperless are more often obstacles that can be torn down little by little with strategic planning and commitment from everyone at the firm. While owners and senior partners may be the decision-makers, it is the office’s staff who will be largely responsible for implementing changes, cleaning file rooms, and communicating with clients.
Survey The Firm’s Digital File Inventory
Before beginning the transition to paperless take stock of how many of your files are digitized. Your practice may already have a paperless client intake system. You may also have ESI and e-discovery protocols in place.
Take Care of Your Law Office’s Current Paper
In your current office space, put small measures in place to increase the efficiency of paper currently in use. Easily accessible paper recycling bins, double-sided printing, and a shredding policy and schedule are all easy changes that can help your practice begin to make progress. Also, conduct paperless meetings when in person by encouraging people to use laptops or tablets for reviewing documents and note-taking.
Get the Right Software and Hardware for Your Paperless Law Office
Most firms are already using the tools needed to stay organized and give up paper for good. For instance, PDF editing software will enable you to make changes to documents after they’ve moved past the word processing stage. A quality scanner can accomplish tasks like scanning images of signatures for digital signing and creating digital copies of handwritten documents and forms or exhibits that are only available in hard copy. Lastly, a cloud solution is critical for storage and collaboration. There are countless providers of cloud storage such as Google Drive, DropBox, and Microsoft365.
Evaluate and Restructure Your Law Firm’s Security
Be sure to perform thorough due diligence regarding the security of your firm’s files. Your state bar may have also issued guidance for choosing a secure cloud service. In addition to security, your team will need the ability to edit documents in real-time, track changes on documents and export files for offline use at any time. Some services even incorporate instant messaging, voicemail, email, and video conferencing.
What Can You Expect for Your Firm When Going ‘Paperless’
What does paperless look like in practice? In the long term, your practice will need a system for managing and maintaining digital files as well as ways to optimize documents for on-screen reading. A full commitment to going paperless requires scanning every important document that comes into the office and converting paper into digital files.
Start by defining your folder structure and decide on file naming conventions. Next, establish workflows for incoming and outgoing documents ensuring that any destruction process accords with your state bar’s ethics rules.
When creating documents, choose a font that is friendly to on-screen and off-screen reading. While courts require a font that is essentially equivalent to Courier, Arial or Times New Roman, fonts such as Georgia, Constantia, and Cambria were all designed with both on- and off-screen reading in mind. To make on-screen reading easier for your document recipient, use a larger size rather than the typical 11 or 12.
In a world that has been reliant on paper for so long, going paperless can seem like a monumental task.
And the truth is, the mass tort community, like the rest of the legal field, will continue to rely on documents even if the format changes. The question is, how do you pivot a set of processes and procedures that maintains the importance of legal documents while working toward a more technologically-driven practice?
MTI’s Mass Tort Professional Network is dedicated to helping mass tort professionals solve their biggest tech-related challenges. Join our Facebook group and learn from your peers, experts and vendors and begin your path to less paper and more profits.
Written by Jerise Henson
About the Author
Jerise Henson is the Academy Content Writer at The Mass Tort Institute. She has served in numerous roles in mass tort firms from case manager to paralegal and director of client services. She is passionate and dedicated to improving education and training for allied professionals in the mass tort industry.