Going paperless is not something you should strive for just to stop killing trees and benefit the environment (although that’s a nice side effect). The reason you should try to be paperless is because it will make your life easier and help improve your firm’s efficiency. This post will explain why and provide some tips for how to become a paperless law firm by utilizing technology.
The Perks of a Paperless Law Firm
Why go paperless? Well, it would be great if we stopped killing so many trees, for one. But, here are a few excellent reasons why going paperless can actually save you time and help increase law firm efficiency:
1. Better organization
Does your desk look like the one in the photo above? Going paperless is the best way to reduce clutter and keep your office neat and organized. Plus, when all your files are stored and organized digitally, they are easier to locate later on because you can search or click to navigate through your folders, as opposed to browsing through filing cabinets.
2. Productivity and efficiency
When your desk is a sea of cluttered papers, old business cards, pens, sticky notes, and to-do lists, and you can hardly find room for your computer, you feel totally overwhelmed and it’s difficult to get anything done. Staying organized leads to increased productivity and focus. Plus when you’re not constantly trying to clean up and organize your life, you’ll have more time to spend on actual work.
3. Accessibility anywhere
Last but not least is the fact that digital files are accessible anywhere. Out meeting with clients or on your way to the courtroom? No problem. When your files are stored in the cloud, you can look up anything you need on-the-go from your laptop or smartphone. You no longer have to be physically present like you do to access hardcopies. Heck, you’re halfway to having a virtual law firm.
How to Go Paperless Using Technology
So now that you know why going paperless is a good idea, how can you actually accomplish it? Here are 4 ways you can use technology to go paperless in your law firm:
1. Scan and shred
It’s inevitable that there will still be some paper in your life. You receive physical mail; you get faxes; you deal with clients who aren’t tech savvy and insist on using paper documents, etc. Going paperless does not mean eliminating all paper. It means not relying on paper to run your practice.
In other words, you should establish a routine for scanning anything paper as soon as it comes in, classifying it accordingly, and organizing into a cloud storage system. Then, unless you need to retain a physical copy for some reason, shred it to eliminate the paper.
Technology you need: a high quality scanner.
2. Store everything in the cloud
In a paperless law firm, the primary copy for almost all your files should be a digital one. So you should strive to send and receive most of your files as digital copies. And for the paper files that you do have to deal with, establish a scan and shred routine as discussed above.
Cloud storage is extremely affordable these days, and with big companies like Google entering the space, you can feel pretty comfortable that your data will be safe and secure. Best of all, when your files are in the cloud, you can access them anywhere, including from your mobile device when you’re out of the office.
3. Use email for all communications
In order to be paperless in your law office, you should avoid using paper yourself. To achieve this, email must be your primary means of communicating and sending documents.
Unless absolutely necessary, you should always send digital files rather than paper ones. Before asking someone to send you a file, notify them that you are paperless and you would prefer to receive it digitally. Encourage your colleagues and clients to do the same.
Technology you need: an email account, like Google Apps for Businesses.
4. Handle your intake paperwork online
At the simplest level, the practice of law requires 2 basic processes: 1) collect the necessary information from the client, 2) based on that information, take the appropriate actions to represent the client and resolve the matter.
For many firms, the information collection part involves utilizing a lot of paper. Firms will send out intake forms and engagement letters by email, and then ask the clients to print and fill them out so they can be returned. This inevitably contradicts a state of “paperlessness.” If you’re trying to go paperless, you’ll do yourself a favor by discouraging the use of paper by others however possible.
Technology you need: an online intake form builder and e-signature solution, such those provided by Lexicata 😉
5. Track time and send invoices online
Finally, the last step in the process of delivering legal services is getting paid. In order to really go paperless, you need a way to send bills and get paid without having to mail out paper invoices. Luckily there are quite a few convenient tools for this.
You may want to try an online time tracking and invoicing service, or maybe you just want to track time manually and send invoices on PayPal. For larger firms, you may need a more comprehensive practice management system. Any of these options will make it easy to go paperless when it comes to sending bills and getting paid.
Any other tips you can add for a paperless law firm? Add them below in the comments!
Photo Credit: Carl Malamud via Flickr (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)