Reducing Paper in Your Office

I know I have mentioned this before, but I wanted to make sure that I mentioned it again.

On Tuesday, March 20, 2012, at Noon, I will be presenting, with Catherine Sanders Reach, on the topic of Strategies to Reduce Paper in the Office.

Chicago Bar AssociationIf you have thought about learning to reduce the paper in your office, then this presentation is designed for you.

I have seen Catherine present several times and she always does a great job. I am thrilled to be able to present with her on this topic.

This is a topic that is close to my heart. It is my firm belief going paperless is the one single thing that you can do to most improve the efficiency in your office.

Becoming Paperless: The Process

I have said before that becoming paperless is a mindset. It is not about the technology, though you will need technology to accomplish it. Further, it is not about getting rid of paper in your life. If you are an attorney, there will still be paper in your life. Instead, it is about deciding that you no longer want to be a slave to the paper. It is about deciding that you will handle your documents electronically, rather than as paper.

As I look back on my career, I now see the first baby step that I took toward becoming paperless. I had been practicing for a few years and, like most other attorneys that I knew, I took a copy of the court file with me to each court appearance. Further, unless the case file was exceptionally large, I took a copy of the entire file. One day, while my back was hurting from lugging case files around, I asked myself why I was carrying the entire file. I quickly realized that I had no good reason.

From that day forth, when I went to court, I took with me only the documents that I thought might be necessary for that court appearance. Often, that is only a copy of the last order entered in the case. In doing this, I quickly learned the joy of freedom over my paper. I also realized that I have never once ended up in court wishing that I had my entire case file rather than the documents that I selected to bring with me.

That realization is similar to the same sense of freedom that I had once I decided to create a paperless office. I realized that I could control the paper, not the other way around.

Becoming paperless does take some time, however, it is not rocket science. Anyone who can manage law school and the bar exam can handle converting their office to a paperless office.

Recently, Ernie the Attorney posted a great primer on The 3 Phases of Becoming Paperless. In his post, Ernie takes you through the three phases of becoming paperless: (1) Optimize your digital skills in general; (2) Keep digital information in digital form; and (3) Learn to digitize information.

I cannot argue with anything Ernie says in this post. Instead, what I will say is that the new year is often the time that people make resolutions. This is my suggestion to you: If you do not currently run a paperless office, go read Ernie’s post, find out where you are in his three phases, and commit to taking the next step. Change takes some time. However, don’t be afraid of taking that first step. Except for firing a toxic employee, I can’t think of a single thing that you can do to improve the efficiency of your office more than converting your office to a paperless office.

I believe this and I live this. If you are thinking about going paperless and you still aren’t sure where to start or what to do, shoot me an email or give me a call. I will be happy to answer your questions.

Going Paperless: Another View

Moving my practice to a paperless practice was one of the best things I have ever done. The efficiency has paid off for me many times over. Not only does it allow me to practice from wherever I happen to be, it also allows me to practice without large amounts of overhead in staff salaries.

A recent post at highlights 5 reasons that the author is glad that he went paperless. In reviewing his post, I have to agree with what he says. The reasons he gives are:

  • I hate filing
  • I don’t like carrying around a lot of stuff
  • I save time searching
  • I like to share
  • I have castrophe paranoia.

Read his post for an explanation of each. However, if I were to pick just one of his five that I agree with the most, it would be number 2. I too hate carrying a bunch of things, however, I like having access to all of my information. Being paperless allows me to achieve both goals. As the author explains:

Most lawyers regularly go home with a stack of files. That’s a lot of lifting and carrying for a desk job. If you handle even moderately-complex matters, bringing the file home may require a hand cart or a couple of junior associates.

Not me. I don’t even carry a briefcase most days. My files are digital, and I sync them up in the cloud so I can access them from any computer—my laptop at home, or even my smartphone.

This goes for court, depositions, and other meetings, too. All I need to bring is a laptop, phone, or iPad, and I can get to my entire firm filing cabinet.

I can’t remember the last time that I carried more than just a few pages to court with me. Most of the time, I don’t even have that. I just take my computer.

What Going Paperless Means to Me

One of the problems that I have when describing my paperless practice to others is the fact that my practice is not really paperless. I use plenty of paper. In fact, a couple of days ago, I mailed out close to 100 pages of paper in court filings and courtesy copies. Because of this, I have, at times, had trouble explaining exactly what I am talking about.

Fortunately for me, I have found the answer I have been looking for. I recently checked out the About Page on the Going Paperless blog by Molly DiBianca. In that About Page, she explains:

Although there seems to be a whole lot of chatter about what exactly a “paperless office” is, exactly, I’d suggest it’s not so complicated.  Certainly, I still use paper.  And plenty of it, truth be told.  The “paperless” part is not that paper is not used–it’s that paper is irrelevant.  In a paperless office (at least as I’ve defined it), there is no reliance on a paper file. Everything (and I mean everything) is filed electronically using a document-management system.

This system didn’t come together overnight. It took practice and tweaking.  It also took dedication to build the trust in the system that is necessary before abandoning paper files altogether.  But it does work and, honestly, it’s really easy to use.

I think this encapsulates the idea of a paperless office perfectly. Yes, I have and go through plenty of paper in my office. However, that is because the systems of third parties make me do so. For me, however, the paper is irrelevant.

The more I think about the concept of a paperless office, the more I am starting to believe that it is a state of mind much more than a process. Sure, you have to implement proper processes to make sure that it is working properly. However, a paperless office must first start in your mind.

You must convince yourself that you do not need the paper version of a document to work with it. Once you start down this path, I believe that you will quickly discover that it is, in fact, more efficient to work with an electronic copy of a document than with a paper copy. However, you will never reach that discovery if you do not first shift your state of mind to an understanding that you need not rely on the paper files.

Renumbering Your PDFs

I work with PDFs a lot. I can’t tell you the last time I pulled a paper file to look at a document in it. Instead, I look only at my electronic copy of a file. Navigating in a PDF, however is not always the easiest thing to do, especially if the creator did not include bookmarks or other reference points.

An additional problem can arise when you are working with a document that has different styles of page numbers. An example is a brief, that may include pages i through x for the prefatory matters and Arabic numbers after that.

At her blog Going Paperless, Molly DiBianca, provides a useful, easy to follow, step-by-step tutorial on how to remumber your pages in a PDF.

The process she describes is easy to do and it is post I definitely recommend that you check out.