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9 Shameless, Uncensored Tips to Boost Your Paperless Office

paperless officeIt seems like the concept of the Paperless Office has been around for quite a while. There have been whispers about it ever since email gained wide use in the 90s, and a few daring individuals like Ernie Svenson demonstrated it was possible back in the 2000s. However, in the two years since I started this blog, there has been remarkable progress.

Not remarkable enough, though, to allow Paperless Office advocates to quiet their gospel. Unfortunately, one byproduct of this situation is that there are only limited attempts to define Paperless 2.0 (in the event nobody has claimed that, DIBS! – although I doubt I’m first) really is.

Most law firms aren’t really ready for Paperless 2.0. Too many of us are willing to achieve a business-development goal, and then bury our heads back in our case files for a few years, assuming the problem to be solved.

But some are ready. Some technology-adopting lawyers are hungry for the next advantage, and seek out the new and untested. For you, here is my challenge: Take your Paperless Office to the next level!

Will you accept my Paperless 2.0 Challenge?

1) Your Paperless Office began with purchasing the right equipment…

You knew that a Paperless Office was going to be digital-heavy, and you planned ahead. You purchased new computers, and if you were smart, you got those high-speed terminals without expensive hard drives. You replaced your many printers with one multi-purpose machine – but you use it mostly for scanning.

You put desktop scanners at every workstation, and you use them. If you’re like me, it’s one of your favorite office tools.

… so now add some monitors, and ditch the fax machine.

Let’s pimp out this office now, shall we? No office can be effectively “pimped out,” however, if it includes a fax machine. Plus, e-fax software handles everything you’ll need. It’s time your fax machine got a proper Office Space-style exit:

Now that you’ve lost the fax machine, lets add a monitor or two. On each desk.

Yes, some of you may already operate with multiple monitors. To you I say huzzah! But, for the vast majority that do not, you really need to try it. Two monitors will dramatically improve your Paperless Office’s efficiency.

2) You’ve digitized all your documents…

It was a painstaking process, turning all of your paper files into digital documents. But you did it. You started with your new cases, because everyone told you – correctly, in my opinion – that you shouldn’t jeopardize existing cases. It took a while, but you did it.

Now, you have a snow cone machine where the filing cabinet used to be. You used to be lost in a blizzard of paper. A blizzard that you’re so happy to be free of.

Paperless office

“Office parties rock,” you chant to yourself, slowly.

… now it’s time to minimize the digital.

So why do you allow your email Inbox to do the same thing? That’s right, you’ve conquered the biggest demon – your file cabinet. Your Inbox shouldn’t be that hard! The only serious problem is that it happens to replenish at an inhuman rate.

Paperless Office

Photo by iosphere. Freedigitalphotos.net

Don’t let that stop you. You got to “File Cabinet: Zero,” now get to that most fabled of conditions – “Inbox: Zero.”

3) You’ve implemented a law practice management system…

When the idea of a Paperless Office was proposed, you heard your colleagues grumble.

“Where will I keep my Case Info page if not in the case’s paper file?!?”

“There’s not a calendar system on earth that beats the one my secretary created using a shorthand even I don’t understand!”

And…

“Deadlines. Deadlines! DEADLINES, I TELL YOU!!!”

paperless office

You dove in anyway. You realized that most of these services offer free trials, and you used them. You found the service that most closely fit your needs, and like any reasonable human being does, realized that although it wasn’t absolutely perfect in all respects, you could give a little. You understood that your system as it existed was SO FAR from perfect, that any electronic system would be a big improvement.

You now have access to your case information and calendar while on the go, something you never had before. You’ve even managed to set up your client portal so you don’t risk ethical violations by talking to your client.

… now use it to automate your documents.

Law Firms waste SO much time creating documents nearly identical to documents they’ve created hundreds of times in the past. I’m not going to cite a source for that, because it’s pretty much as universally accepted a fact as global wa… wait, no, bad example.

Most of your law practice management systems have amazing document automation systems. What makes them even more powerful is that, unlike your system of templates on your computer, all of the important case information you enter into each document is already in the system! So you save a ton of time by automating those documents.

You also save yourself the risk of errors. That’s right, no more incorrect court file numbers, no more incorrect case names, no more accidentally sending threatening letters to blood relatives instead of opposing counsel.

4) The heart of your Paperless Office Operation was digital organization…

Over the years, your law firm built up a massive system to organize paper documents. Either that, or (in the majority of cases, IMO), your paper organizational system was like that when you got there, and you got used to it.

paperless office

Either way, you had one! So a big challenge was making the shift from knowing where to look in the paper files (and not finding it half the time), to knowing where to look in the electronic file. You created an entire system in your server, with folders for each case, and within each case, folders for pleadings, correspondence, and the like.

… now make it mobile.

You went to that trouble to adapt, why stop now? We live in a mobile world, so your digital files better be mobile too. Make sure that they’re easily put on, or accessible by, your tablet and smartphone. Need some tips, try this!

Or, what I would really recommend, get a cloud-based document management system like Net Documents. Not interested in a full-service system like that? Great, check out Box and Dropbox. Once all of your now meticulously organized digital files are online, connect your new document management system with your practice management system, and…

… Nirvana.

paperless office

Close enough.

5) You set up a detailed, intricate system of document naming conventions…

There’s no way your Paperless Office was going to stay as organized as you wanted it once it was all digitized. You want your correspondence listed in chronological order. You need to be able to tell motions and orders apart.

And don’t even get me started on the Motion to Amend the Amended Scheduling Order I received today. (Seriously, that happened.)

So you came up with a system for identifying your files by date and type. Four digit year, two digit month, two digit day, followed by the document’s title. Oh, and that title wasn’t just anything, you have an intricate system for that too.

… so use the same skills to establish your firm’s Knowledge Management.

Now that you’ve gotten so good at categorizing your documents, you might want to start keeping track of that information somewhere it can do your law firm some good!

Your law firm has a lot of collective “knowledge.” It exists in the memories and experiences of your attorneys and staff, it exists in the contents of your library, and, most importantly for today’s purposes, it exists in your law firm’s massive database of documents.

Make them searchable! You gave them names, now give them Tags so that they can be found by type of document (i.e. motion, pleading, email), type of case, or identity of the parties or attorneys. Make sure that when you’re researching for a court appearance against Judge Whatshisface, you’re able to type his name into your document system and pull up every order he’s written in any case your firm’s had with him!

6) You put the right Paperless Office Workflows in place for document scanning…

When you decided that a Paperless Office was a good idea, you immediately understood that there was a huge obstacle to your professional happiness. Other lawyers. Other lawyers who can’t bring themselves to stop sending you paper documents.

paperless office

Your only solution? Establish a system by which anything that comes into or goes out of your office gets scanned. And if possible, shredded immediately thereafter (for the stuff coming in – it would seem quite silly to shred something, then send it to the judge). Your system has been in place for months or years now, and you love it!

New mail gets sent to you by email from your scanner. Big documents? Immediately put into the database. Even many of your colleagues have agreed to only exchange correspondence by email.

… now add contact management to the Workflow.

Yet you still can’t find their freaking address or phone number when you need it, can you?

It’s been my experience that businesses have the same problem keeping track of up-to-date contact information that we have in our personal lives. Check your phone’s address book now, and I’ll bet at least 20% are out of date. Check your work contacts against LinkedIn, and it’s probably worse!

Most law firms make really poor use of office-wide contact management systems, even though they’re a big part of those law practice management services. So… be different and use it!

Every letter that comes in gets checked against its corresponding contact entry in the system. If no entry exists, add one. You put together this marvelous workflow to make sure your Paperless Office was an efficient machine. Make it work for you.

7) You actually took the time to learn how to use Adobe Acrobat…

I know, you surprised us all, mate. When you told us that you’d scheduled software training as part of implementing this new system, we assumed it was one of those “lunch-and-learn-and-drink-and-learn-and-forget” CLE classes. But you impressed us all.

paperless office

… and THEN you learned how to use Acrobat!

Now you brag about how your clients don’t pay anything to get documents Bates stamped. I’ve seen you pull relevant documents out of thousand-page discovery by looking up two keywords. I even watched you make corrections to your client intake form… right in front of the client!

… just in time to start learning Acrobat DC.

Oh yeah, that’s the thing about software, there’s always a new version.

Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t easy in the tech world, but it’s necessary. Know everything there is to know about what you can do in Adobe Acrobat? Well, there’s a new one. There are amazing new tools, sure. But I’d bet a significant sum that you’re going to have to re-learn how to do some old tricks, too.

How about just Windows in general? Got that one down, have you? So, Windows 10 is being launched soon.

Training is a new way of life. Accept it, and keep on accepting it!

8) Your Paperless Office wouldn’t work without electronic signatures…

Even after you implemented most of your Paperless Office procedures, you hated printing out pleadings and letters just to sign them, then scan and email them. It was wasteful, and your newly efficiency-conscious self hated it.

Then a miracle cure came along, amazingly enough as part of the software training we discussed a minute ago: signature stamps in Acrobat! Now you can save an electronic version of your signature and stamp it on all outgoing mail. You’ve even set up secure digital signatures for when the courts require it.

(You’ve also noticed that, on the rare occasions you actually do have to sign your name, it’s starting to look a little like a 10 year-old’s handwriting. Side effects are unavoidable I guess.)

… but can it survive with electronic legal pads?

The legal pad. There is no closer thing in the battle for the Paperless Office to a dragon than the old legal pad. It’s the unclimbable wall, the impassable river. It’s Ivan Drago:

But you can’t be defeated that easily. You beat signatures, for Pete’s sake!

So regroup, and check out some of the amazing new note-taking apps available. To me, legal pads are the largest obstacle in the search for the Paperless Office. It’s as if the Paperless Office were the Holy Grail, legal pads would be:

9) You have implemented your Paperless Office…

You overcame the odds (and the objections of other attorneys), and put together an efficient system. You no longer worry about losing files and documents, you’ve minimized the errors that routinely plagues law firm document creation, and you’ve saved your clients some money.

There’s more room in your office, and you’re even able to access all of your files from home. Inside the (digital) confines of your office, there is a peace and harmony that Yoga instructors and Hippies search for.

… so now take it out into the “real world.”

Unfortunately, all that comes to a screeching halt once you have to involve another law firm or a court. File a motion in front of any but the one judge who likes his iPad, and you’d better have all of your exhibits available in paper (and in triplicate). The clerk still really likes date-and-time stamping documents.

Oh, and those pesky things called “depositions?” Well, they can get positively unruly if any of the attorneys who prefer paper don’t have complete copies of the 1,500 page exhibit that was just entered!

Well, if this was going to be easy, I’d have put this as something you’ve already accomplished!

It won’t be easy to win converts, but be persistent! Many will relent over time, and the rest will retire.

Especially once your state bar requires attorneys to be competent in e-Discovery.

paperless office