Moving to a completely paperless law office might seem like an insurmountable task. Look around now and you’ll likely see paper everywhere: case notes, client letters, filings for the court, documents to be shared with other parties, and more. It doesn’t need to be this way.
You’re possibly thinking, “what’s the point? What’s the trouble with a bit of paper? We’ve always worked this way and things are just fine.”
Leaving aside the environmental benefits (which, important though they are, are far less motivating than factors affecting the bottom line) there are many other positive reasons for using less paper that boil down to saving both time and money, as well as being able to deliver better service.
If you’re convinced there are benefits of going paperless, you’re probably wondering next whether it’s actually possible. Yes, there’ll be times when you have to print something because a judge or a client has insisted on it, but that won’t always be the case. Here, we discuss some significant changes in technology and industry trends that will help to get you as close as possible to 100% freedom from paper.
File and serve documents electronically
It used to be that one of the most paper-intensive processes in a law office (at least those involved in litigation) was the preparation of court filings and the sharing of those filings with other parties to the case.
Typically, this involved printing, binding and delivering thick stacks of paper. That’s not the case anymore, though. Many courts are now requiring electronic filing and service, enabling documents to be transmitted directly to the court’s case management system and distributed to the other parties. eFiling service providers like One Legal make this process possible.
Not only does eFiling markedly reduce the amount of paper and printing you need to undertake, but it’s also lower cost, faster, and more reliable, because there’s less opportunity for human error.
Sign documents digitally
At One Legal, we often see law firms filing clean, crisp documents that have been written directly to PDF — that is, until we see messily printed, ink-signed, and scanned signature page tacked on at the end.
California Rules of Court, rule 2.257 outlines requirements for signatures on documents submitted electronically to the court. In many cases a digital signature or no signature at all is acceptable if the document has been eFiled.
While digital signing has been a little slow to take off, perhaps because of concerns about authenticity, the rules are evolving, and it’s only a matter of time before they become the norm. Most PDF software, such as Adobe Acrobat, come with secure electronic signature features.
Send paperless faxes
According to a recent survey, the fax machine, that most paper-intensive of communication technologies, is still going strong. Just 3.9% of office workers in the U.S. claim to have never sent a fax, while 39% claim to do so regularly.
Of course, email and scanning technology (not to mention digital signatures) should have made the fax obsolete. Since it’s still around and popular with some, though, are there ways to reduce its paper requirements? Of course there are!
A range of services — like HelloFax, eFax, and MyFax — have emerged in recent years. These allow incoming faxes to be routed to the recipient’s email rather than being printed and outgoing faxes to be sent online as PDFs, no printing required.
Store and share documents using the cloud
Another typical paper-intensive process in many law firms is printing and collating case files for long-term storage, or even simply printing documents for use outside the office or to share with others. Cloud-based storage and sharing services, like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box, make these completely unnecessary.
Store all your documents online with one of these secure services and they can be accessible wherever there’s an internet connection, securely shared with others, and — crucially — they’ll be safely backed up.
The last point is one of the most crucial. Whether you’re aiming to go paperless or not, chances are, you’re storing crucial files digitally. Do you have a plan if those files become inaccessible because of an office fire, natural disaster, or similar scenario? Cloud storage goes a long way to solving this problem, while also cutting down on your need to print.
For everything else… outsource it!
Inevitably, there will still be a handful of instances where a large amount of printing is required. For instance, a judge insisting on a paper courtesy copy of your filing, an in-person process serving, or a court that has yet to move to electronic filing. Fortunately, these tasks can be easily outsourced to a full-service legal support provider like One Legal.
Services like these mean that you can simply upload your documents securely online, and the printing, binding, and delivery will all be dealt with seamlessly on your behalf. Okay, these are still paper-based services, but for you, the process will be paperless.
Learn how to transform your business into a lean and efficient paperless law office with our free 32-page guide: