You have heard the old saying “almost doesn’t count.” In this case, it counts for everything! As someone who owns a company that helps law firms become less paper-dependent and more efficient, let me just tell you – 100% paperless is HARD.
First, let’s think about what 100% paper-free actually means:
I can’t even go on because it’s too upsetting! The thought of not being able to print or write with a pen gives me nightmares. Yes, I’m being over-dramatic about this, but only because I love a good notepad and writing things on paper helps me remember. However, I am about to give you the 411 on how to let go of some paper and work more efficiently and effectively. Hold on tight and get ready for me to rock your office-ways!
One of the easiest things to start with is mail. Every time you get a piece of mail in, what do you do? You open it, show it to your attorney or leave it in his/her office for review, and possibly calendar a deadline. What happens to it after that? Do you throw it away, file it in a paper file, send it to a client, or put it in your pile of ‘stuff to be filed’? You may do some combination of these, but there’s an easier way. Every important piece of mail that comes in should be scanned. Once its scanned, you can save it in the appropriate file and then email it to your attorney and the client in one shot. You can also calendar any deadline and attach the document to the calendar entry. So, in 10 minutes or less you can scan, save, email, and calendar. Think about the difference in time from paper files. It could take you 20 minutes just to FIND a paper file, let alone file it in the appropriate subfolder.
For those of you that already scan everything, save it in an electronic file, and then file the paper original in a hard file – WHY?! There is no reason for this and you are making more work for yourself. I know some of you are saying “My attorney wants everything in the paper file.” No, he doesn’t, he just doesn’t realize he doesn’t…yet! Start with the little things. If you can eliminate putting emails and correspondence in a paper file, that is a huge step. Next, think about pleadings and other documents that you file electronically with the court. If you can access them through the docket, you can print them whenever you need to and therefore don’t need to print them. I know, LIGHTBULB! And when we get to the blog post about my awesome electronic pleadings index and deadline chart, you’ll be thrilled!
If you don’t have an electronic file system setup yet, please do so. Folders, subfolders, and proper labeling are the basics of what you need. If you are completely lost on where to start, make it easy by just creating a folder for each client and putting everything in there for that client. You’ll want to do this in your email system and on your network or hard drive (depending on what you have). I promise to get way too deep into this subject in a future post, but start here so you get the hang of it and don’t overwhelm yourself. If you make your filing system too complex, you won’t follow it and neither will your attorney.
Estimates show that 50-70% of space in an office is dedicated to the filing and storage of documents. Over 45% of files in those cabinets are duplicated information and 80% is NEVER ACCESSED AGAIN! Save yourself some space – maybe for a couch to nap on?? – and stop filling your filing cabinets with useless information! Ok, rant over :) #proactiveparalegal