Pointers for Going Paperless

Aderant Think Tank

Pointers for Going Paperless

In preparing my remarks about a paper-free legal world for the recent LawTech Atlanta conference, I was determined to practice what I preached. So I’ve largely gone paperless, at least to the extent the rest of the legal community and my clients will accept.

Why go paperless? First, I was tired of shuffling papers on my desk from one spot to another – setting priorities with piles, using them as reminders, and often losing track of the order or importance.

Second, I wanted to reduce the inefficiency of adding and subtracting paper from my out- and in-boxes. We were wasting time and money by having people pick up and deliver papers from one location to another throughout the day.

Third, I thought it would be easy to go paperless. I was wrong! There’s an insatiable desire to hit the “print” key on the keyboard — similar to the urge to reach for more candy from the candy bowl (Note: I’ve given up candy, too).

Preparing to operate in a pure digital world requires a constant and intentional focus; discipline and training are the keys to success. My digital tools of choice are an iPhone, iPad and laptop, but the toolbox of technologies also includes the scanner, wearables such as the forthcoming Apple Watch and even Google Glass.

The journey to achieving the paperless office is a marathon, so take it one digital step at a time. Your goal is to have a clean desk with nothing but a keyboard and monitor. Here are a few techniques and pointers to start converting to a paperless practice:

Throw away your pens: Every attorney’s suit coat, jacket and/or purse likely has three or four pens. I’ve done my best to rid my world of all writing instruments except for one pen to be used to sign documents where required by law or convenience.

Use the scanner and camera: Many short documents can be scanned using the scanner app on an iPhone. I also take photos of notes and business cards. Then email the digitized business card to your assistant for input into your contact database.

Create your nametag database: If a person doesn’t have a business card, take a picture of their name tag and email it to yourself. You can include a digital message with the photo as a reminder of the event. Later, when you read your email, confirm their name on LinkedIn and send a request to connect with them.

Don’t press “Print;” press “Save As:” Before pressing the Print key, ask yourself where you can safely and securely save the file on your computer or in the cloud.

Read the newspaper online: Train yourself to read only the online version and study how to navigate the digital features to view articles of interest. Also, learn how to cut and paste links and articles to send to clients and colleagues. (I miss the photos on the sports page, but not the newsprint on my fingers.)

Use the “dictate” feature:  With an iPhone, many attorneys can dictate faster and more accurately than they can type. Avoid the temptation to make a handwritten note or jot down information on the back of a business card. Instead, use the dictate mode in an open email or the “Notes” feature on your iPhone. Then email the message to yourself or your assistant.

In my quest to go paperless, I’ve reached several conclusions about the future viability of achieving this goal in the legal profession.

First, it will be very difficult to break the old habit of printing documents. Lawyers take comfort in seeing and feeling the printed document. The next generation of partners may turn the tide to a paperless world, driving progress through evolving technologies.

Second, moving to a paperless environment is a long process that requires passing through stages. It’s a minor step to clear the paper from your desk. The greater challenge is for the file room to convert into a digital environment.

Third, mobile technologies are evolving to facilitate the paperless world. As lawyers experience the benefits and cost savings of a paper-free environment, more will become early adopters. And as the younger generation takes over management in the legal world, expect greater adoption from law firm leadership.

The transition from paper to digital is coming – it’s not if, but when.

This column is presented for educational and informational purposes and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

John Yates is chair of the Technology Group at Morris, Manning & Martin in Atlanta. You can follow him on Twitter at @JCYates, on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/johncyates, and on his blog at www.mmmtechlaw.com. Portions of this article originally appeared in the Daily Report and is reprinted with permission.