Are you in a 20th century or a 21st century law firm? Lawyers produce, review and store massive amounts of paper. If your law firm is not truly paperless its powers that be should be ashamed of themselves. It’s time to move your law firm into the 21st century and use technology to not only save your firm money by doing away with the cost of filing and storing paper, but also allow all law firm personnel to access client and internal firm documents in a matter of seconds. This article describes exactly how my small law firm became a paperless law firm.
My small law firm has been 100% paperless since March 2004. Here are some important facts about our paperless law office:
- We have 190,000+ documents in our paperless system.
- Our lawyers and staff are able to find any client document in 5 – 10 seconds and have the document displayed on a computer monitor.
- All of our documents are viewable over the internet from any where in the world.
- Each attorney can apply security (or not) to restrict access to a document to authorized firm personnel.
In 2004 I practiced law alone with no support staff other than my wife who was also my paralegal, secretary, bookkeeper and file clerk. We went 100% paperless in March of 2004. We do not keep hard copies of any documents.
I have a very high volume, document intensive practice. When I first wrote this article on October 29, 2005, my wife and I had saved 970 documents (46 documents a day excluding weekend days) in the previous month. Most documents we save are documents we create, but we also scan and save a lot of incoming correspondence and other documents. I can easily determine how many documents we save a month by looking at the document number (in my document management system) of the first document we create in any month and the comparing that number to the number of the latest document we create in a month.
For a solo or small firm, it is very easy and relatively inexpensive to create a paperless law office. I am extremely happy I made the switch. I can find any letter, document, notes of a meeting, Excel spreadsheet, .pdf document, Power Point Presentation or piece of paper that relates to a client, matter or contact in a few seconds and have it displayed on my computer monitor. It’s a wonderful thing. All of our six attorneys and our legal assistants and secretaries love our paperless system because it is much easier and less time consuming than filing hard copies in a file in a file cabinet.
My small law firm now has four attorneys and four legal assistants. We continue to create a lot of paper documents – over 1,500 a month.
Why Paperless if Good
There are several reasons why a paperless office is the way to go:
- It saves the time and expense of having people file documents in traditional hard copy files.
- It saves the expense and headaches of file storage.
- It saves the expense and time delay of getting documents from closed storage.
- It’s green and doesn’t adversely affect the environment.
- If your building is destroyed or your office vandalized, your documents are safe and not affected (assuming you have a proper backup system).
- With a good document management system attorneys can attach security to every document so that only authorized people can access the document.
- It allows firm lawyers and personnel to have almost instant access to documents.
My favorite reason for being paperless is the last item. If somebody calls and asks me a question about a document in our system, I can find and open a signed copy of the document in pdf format in a matter of seconds. People who do not know we are paperless are frequently shocked that I can access their document so quickly.
Hardware & Software Needed to Go Paperless
Here’s how we went paperless:
1. In 2004 I bought two Xerox Documate 252 scanners (one for me and one for my wife, my legal assistant) for about $900 each. It’s about the size of a shoe box and sits next to our flat panel computer monitors. It has a very small footprint. Now every attorney and legal assistant has a personal scanner on his or her desk. Personal scanners on people’s desks are absolutely necessary if you truly want to be 100% paperless. You must make it simple and convenient for everybody in the firm to scan documents and input the documents into your document management system (another must have item of law office technology).
Scanner Advice: The scanner I now buy and recommend you buy is the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner for PC and Mac. Amazon sells this scanner for $400 – $450 (Amazon varies the price). This is a smoking deal – you get a 25 page per minute color personal scanner that comes with Adobe Acrobat X standard software. Acrobat is needed so that scans open automatically as pdf files. We love this scanner. It’s the size of a shoe box. It has a 50 page sheet feeder and can scan business cards and color photos. For more about this scanner real my article called “The Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 – A Great Law Office Scanner.”
The scanners you see in computer stores like Best Buy, Staples and Office Depot are slow home use type scanners. When you shop for an office scanner, you want speed (at least 20 pages per minute) and a sheet feeder that takes at least 25 pages. If the scanner on sale doesn’t prominently display its pages per minute scanning speed, it means the scanner is much too slow (a few pages per minute) to use for anything other than infrequent home scanning. Years ago I bought three HP 3380 4 in 1 printer, scanner, fax and copiers for $700 each. They print, fax and copy great, but the fastest I could ever get the HP 3380 to scan was 2 pages per minute in black and white at 300 dpi. Very fast high volume scanners are several thousand dollars and up, but most small offices don’t need that kind of speed (50+ pages per minute). Manufacturers of medium and high speed scanners display the scanner speed because that is one of the main features buyer’s seek.
2. All lawyers and staff have Acrobat XI Standard Win