Since computers entered the mainstream in the 1980s, it’s been hard to escape articles proclaiming the era of the paperless law office. Indeed, “The Economist” was proclaiming that paper would be a thing of the past way back in 1980.
Things didn’t go as planned. Since the 1980s average paper use has actually increased by half. The average American — let alone the average American lawyer — uses the paper equivalent of six 40-foot trees every year.
Many professions are beginning to act on this paper mountain and take steps to reduce their paper use. In the law, though, efforts have been hampered by an insistence on paper court filings, paper service of process, and a skepticism of anything but paper file storage.
We recently marked Earth Day 2016 by giving ten tips for reducing paper use, but we missed a crucial step: explaining why it is beneficial to reduce paper. So today, we’re correcting that and answering the question: What are the main benefits of going paperless in your law office?
#1 You’ll reduce your costs
Despite some initial upfront investment, over time you’ll see long-term savings as a result of minimizing your paper usage. How’s that? There are three ways going paperless saves you money:
- First, you’ll obviously, spend less on paper, printer ink, and printer maintenance.
- Second, storage costs are reduced. Typically, office space is second only to salaries in terms of cost. As the volume of paper you store increases, so do your office costs. Scanning and storing all of your files digitally allows you to release that space or put it to more productive use. Be sure to check your state’s ethics rules on retaining physical copies of certain documents in areas such as Trusts and Estates or Real Estate, though.
- Finally, as more courts and attorneys enter the paperless era, you’ll save significant sums by filing court documents electronically (eFiling) and sharing papers during the course of litigation via secure email (eService) rather than delivering hard copies. At One Legal, for example, a single eFiling order costs at least 65% less than a physical one.
#2 You’ll be able to deliver improved client service
Have you ever had a client in the office or on the phone and had to retrieve some papers? In a paper-based office that can sometimes take a while, presenting a poor image.
Imagine if you could just pull those papers up immediately on-screen! Furthermore, once documents are digitized (so long as they’re prepared and saved correctly) they’ll be fully bookmarked and text searchable, meaning you’ll be able to pull up the relevant section in moments.
Finally, sharing documents with clients becomes a much easier process — if you use a case management system that includes a secure client portal, you can simply upload and share any necessary papers with your client with just a few clicks.
#3 You’ll be protecting the environment
It often surprises people to hear that the environmental impact of paper is significant.
As National Geographic explains, paper production leads to deforestation (since most U.S. paper is still sourced from endangered forests). Less well known, it also contributes to groundwater pollution because of the large amounts of chlorine needed to make the paper bright white, and anthropogenic global warming via the large amounts of energy required to produce and transport reams of paper.
Moreover, economists have studied purchase decisions and found that buyers are more likely to choose an environmentally conscious company over one that pays scant regard to environmental protection.
#4 Your ability to collaborate will be vastly improved
Once you fully embrace the possibilities of working digitally, you’ll enjoy numerous productivity benefits. The biggest benefit is likely to be the ability to collaborate rapidly with colleagues.
For instance, if you want the input of a colleague from the New York office on a document, you can just share it securely in Google Drive, Dropbox or similar applications, and exchange edits together in real time. Or perhaps you’re an attorney at court and you’d like your paralegal to further research a particular citation before the afternoon session — just flag it with a comment and share it securely via the cloud.
The time savings and efficiency improvements from rapid document collaboration are sizeable. Make sure you’ve got the right tools in place, though. Here are our top five recommendations for small firms starting out with document sharing.
#5 You’ll be much more organized, so you’ll save time
Although less easily quantified than savings in office stationery and storage space, the switch to a paperless office frees up staff time by making everyday law office tasks faster and easier to complete.
Consider the very simple example of sharing correspondence with clients. On paper, the letter must be typed, printed, signed, scanned, and one version mailed and one stored. If that correspondence were sent digitally, the letter need only be typed, digitally signed, and then sent and stored simultaneously.
Other tasks, from document retrieval, case preparation, court filing, and service of process, are all made much faster when the process is fully digitized. If you’re using a cloud-based system, you’ll also benefit from being able to work from any location, making flexible and remote working a genuine possibility.
Has your law firm considered reaping the benefits of going paperless yet?
Learn how to transform your business into a lean and efficient paperless law office with our free 32-page guide: