Today — April 22 — is Earth Day, an annual day of events worldwide that demonstrates support for environmental protection. It’s also a useful reminder that we can all do our bit to help reduce our ecological footprint.
One of the biggest ways law firms can do their part is to minimize the amount of paper used. Today, many law firms remain paper-intensive places, producing thousands of sheets of paper every week. It needn’t be that way.
It’s not hard to see why reduced paper consumption is a good thing: Using less paper saves money, protects the environment (because most commercial paper is produced using energy and chemical-intensive methods) and preserves our forests (over 90% of paper is not harvested sustainably).
But what simple steps can your law firm take to reduce your paper usage and contribute to environmental protection efforts this Earth Day? Here are 10 simple tips.
#1 Place a paper recycling bin close to all desks
Making paper recycling as easy as possible is critical to increasing recycling rates. If your employees have to walk down the hall, or even outside, to deposit their excess paper, they probably won’t. Make recycling paper easy by placing a recycling bin beside all copiers and printers and in all rooms at your office.
#2 Use a notebook app instead of printing
If you’re someone who sees a great blog article, infographic, or online book and immediately hits print so that you have a copy for future reference, stop! These days it is much more efficient to store your notes and web clippings online in a cloud-based notebook app, saving paper, reducing printing, and making storage and retrieval much simpler. There are dozens out there, but the best include Evernote, OneNote, and Google Keep. Even better, some versions of these products are available for free. Save paper and make your saved articles more accessible.
#3 Serve opposing parties electronically
Serving papers in litigation has traditionally been a very paper-intensive process. Documents had to be printed, bundled and either mailed or hand delivered to opposing parties. These days that’s often unnecessary for subsequent filings. Electronic service (eService) is the delivery of court documents via secure email. In California, for instance, it’s available in many cases under a court order and is automatically assumed permitted where the case has been electronically filed. Make sure your litigation support service, like One Legal, offers add-on eService.
#4 Set your printer default to double-sided
With the exception of paper court filings, which, in California at least, must be one-sided (see Rule 2.102) it is very rarely necessary for documents to be printed one-sided. Save paper for general printing simply by setting the default printer setting to double-sided. On most Windows computers, this can be achieved via the printer configuration settings. Access these by clicking Start > Control Panel > Printers > Properties.
#5 Shred and reuse unwanted paper
Instead of throwing away old (non-confidential) documents, consider shredding them and reusing them as packing material in shipments. Not only is this a great way to reuse old paper, but it also reduces the use of plastic packing fillers that are not sustainably produced, and eliminates their cost.
#6 If you can, file your court papers electronically
Electronic court filing is rapidly becoming the norm in many states and has the potential to save millions of sheets of paper every year (not to mention a serious amount of time and money). In California, for example, 10 courts — so far — have transitioned to eFiling with many more planning to transition later this year. Make sure you’re using a legal support service, like One Legal, that’s certified to eFile.
#7 Distribute memos and staff news via email
These days, with all staff connected to email and very likely working within their email software all day every day, there’s no need to hard-copy memos or staff bulletins. Instead of printing out internal communications for distribution, email them and let employees decide whether or not they wish to print them.
#8 Fill forms in electronically
Instead of printing out forms and filling them in with an ink pen, use the features in PDF programs (like the new Adobe Acrobat DC) to convert the form to an electronically fillable version. In Acrobat, simply click on the Prepare Form option in the toolbar, select or upload the form you need to fill in, and let the software identify fillable fields and present you with a fillable form (full instructions can be found here).
#9 Conduct paperless meetings
When you hold a meeting, do you really need to have hard copies of materials available for attendees? Instead, permit and encourage people to use their computers for reviewing documents and note-taking. Try to facilitate this by emailing materials beforehand. If you must print meeting materials, consider making copies “as needed” rather than in batches beforehand so that you minimize unnecessary copies to save paper.
#10 Share and collaborate in the cloud
When a document requires a high level of security or is too large to be emailed, it’s common to share it by printing it out. These days, online cloud storage and collaboration services, such as Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive are very secure and allow you not only to store large documents safely but also to share them with specific people while choosing their level of access (viewing, editing, etc.).
Are you marking Earth Day in your office? We’d love to hear about your plans and the ways you’re helping to protect our environment in the comments.
Learn how to transform your business into a lean and efficient paperless law office with our free 32-page guide: