It is no secret that I am a big fan of having a paperless practice. Let me pause for one second to make sure that everyone understands that when I refer to a paperless practice, I am not claiming that there is no paper in my office. Unfortunately there is. However, what it means, at least to me, is that, to the extent possible, I work exclusively with electronic versions of documents, that I convert all documents I receive to electronic copies, and that I do not print documents to paper unless I have to.
I also know that not everyone has jumped on the paperless bandwagon. I recently read a blog post at Paralegalese in which the author asserts that she does not believe that a paperless office is possible. She explains:
Perhaps the first reason I have a hard time envisioning a paperless office is that my own office is very paper-full. We print everything, from the e-filed orders to drafts of motions for review. We make copies of everything that leaves the office. When I am researching case laws, I print out the cases to highlight the pertinent parts. We print emails from clients to place in their files for quick future reference.
Now, I understand that everything we choose to print could actually be saved to file, and we could scan all of our paper documents into the system. But that is impractical for a law firm with one lawyer and one paralegal and, at any given time, fewer than 100 active client matters. I would spend much of my day scanning documents. Some days would be completely shot.
I understand her thoughts on this and they are not different from the thoughts I hear from others. In fact, she goes on to point out two other arguments that I often hear:
First, I must print out research material for the sake of my poor eyes. It is unhealthy to stare at a computer screen for hours of reading. I also have to highlight the relevant parts. Second, since we keep copies of everything that leaves the office, we keep copies of all signed letters. It seems impractical to print a letter, sign it, then rescan it into the system before sending it off. At least, in our office it is.
And if time and effort cannot be saved, then going paperless to save paper seems silly, too. In my office, we would still hit the print button. But without a file in which to save the newly printed paper, we would shred it when we were done.
Each of these arguments could be addressed in turn (for my thoughts about legal research see this article). However, I think the larger issue to be addressed is one of mindset. Going to a paperless office requires someone to be willing to let go of that physical document. It means spending a few dollars to get good quality, large monitors so you can easily read documents on a computer screen without having to print them out. It means learning how to use Adobe Acrobat so that you can highlight and annotate your research on the screen and not on a piece of paper. It means learning that it is ok to not print a copy of every order entered electronically or printing a fax received on your virtual fax number. And for heaven’s sake, it means not printing every email that you receive.
In addition to the post by the author, I encourage you to read the comments, Many of them are insightful and make going points about changing workflow habits, as well as the fact that going paperless improves productivity.