Paper at Odds With Your Paperless Office?

paper clutter Paper at Odds With Your Paperless Office?

I have yet to run across an attorney who flat out rejects my paperless workflow as tomfoolery. Many will voice fears of losing something in the computer (maybe), or in the cloud (unlikely), but I’ve yet to be deemed a heretic for my choice of firm management. More often than not it’s impressive to my colleagues. One thing’s for sure. My paperless lifestyle is always intriguing.

question mark Paper at Odds With Your Paperless Office?But there is always one nagging question with regards to a digital workflow. What do you do with important documents, those things you can’t shred? I’ve even asked the question myself when I was making the transition to digital files. Juries need to see the evidence in the jury room, and until the jury room of tomorrow arrives we are still chained to introducing paper evidence.

One variation of this time immemorial question was presented as a comment on one of my earlier posts, and I felt compelled to find an answer. So I took her comment and served it up to the Solosez listserv hosted by the American Bar Association. Read on for my colleague’s real-life solutions.

Rebecca Green Thomason, an Alabama divorce lawyer, made the comment that with the necessity of our court system to have paper for evidentiary purposes it seems counterproductive to go paperless. She asks for a good reason to go paperless in light if these circumstances. Below are a handful of solutions by colleagues who’ve made the switch to digital.

lightbulb Paper at Odds With Your Paperless Office?

I scan everything that comes into the office. For my criminal defense clients, I also maintain a physical paper file to bring to court. Scanning everything makes it more convenient to print out what I need as I need it. If I just need a copy of the arrest report to cross the arresting officer, I do not have to take apart the file to copy it, I just print a copy from my computer.

If I need 14 copies of a document for jurors, I just print 14 copies from my computer – no taking apart the file. It also acts as a backup for when a physical file gets lost which will happen from time to time no matter how organized you are.

-R.L.

I don’t keep the original signed notarized documents. I give them to the client. I only keep the scan.

-D.S.

This response from D.S. has hit the key on going paperless. Get the
client involved. It is their case. All originals go to the client – letters
from opposing counsel, notice from the Clerk, verified pleadings, the works.
It is their job to keep it maintain and bring it to court as needed.
Pleadings don’t matter if you have a file stamped copy – the original is in
the court file and the court will take notice of it.

I do mostly criminal defense and family law. I scan everything and then
deliver it to the client. As someone else pointed out, I only need to print
out the documents I need for that hearing. And if I didn’t print it out, I
already have a copy on my netbook that I take to court, so I can refer to
it.

Are you worried about keeping duplicate copies of verified pleadings? That
is just extra paper and is not necessary. What sworn and notarized documents
must you have in your file that aren’t on file with the court? I have been
paperless in family law for over 5 years and never had a problem. Just do it
– as the slogan says.

-D.R.

I scan everything, including notarized or certified documents. Usually for these documents, I’ll make 2 (or 3+) copies, one original (to give to the others) & my copy. With my copy, I use a charcoal pencil or crayon to call out the stamp, if necessary. Then I scan them.

I don’t worry about it after that. We have the best evidence rule, & I tell my client to hold onto the original. I haven’t been challenged on the authenticity of the documents because we usually come to an agreement regarding the documents. If it happens, then it’s just a little leg work for me to get someone to verify the document’s authentication.

-J.T.

As others have noted, we scan everything that comes in the mail. Those documents go directly into the file. Do not pass Go. Rarely do we have a missing document. Before scanning at least twice a week all work in the office would stop to look for a missing file or a missing pleading. The productivity gains from not going to the hard file every time you need to see/print/email something is enormous. Billing increases with productivity increases. As Ross Kodner would say you cannot be paperless, but you can be paper-less.

-M.B.

Notarization does not prevent scanning. I scan everything. Then even if we keep the paper we have a digital file
that’s easier to refer to.
Then question: will there be a circumstance under which I will need the
original (modified: near future need of the paper, which is large)? If not,
out it goes, if yes then keep *that* document.

I have a couple of file drawers of wills (I’m tempted to scan with my
certificate — was never in possession of testator — which is only reason
for retaining original) and next to my desk a quarter-filled file box with
files for current cases containing such things as death certificates and
Letters of Office.

-J.G.

If you would maintain an ink-original document in the days of paper files, then in a paperless world, you scan it, and maintain the original somewhere you can find it.

In the paper-file world, when you go to court with exhibits, you don’t typically hand over your only copy of the thing. You make a copy, and either use the original as the exhibit (keeping the copy for your files), or vice versa. Same in paperless world. When you need an actual document for court, you print out a copy and bring it to court.

We scan every client-related piece of paper that comes into the office. That is our “official” file copy. I often have reason to print out copies, or parts of, documents. For example, for many of my cases, I have a small manila folder with the documents that I typically want with me when I’m in court at a conference on that case. I would do that even in paper-file land, because I wouldn’t want to bring the entire paper file with me to court.

Running a paper-less office is about efficiency and convenience for your office and your operations. The notion that you shouldu’t do it unless or until the whole judicial system abolishes paper (unlikely to happen in our lifetimes), is what’s counterproductive.

-P.B.

And as if you needed another motivator,

I did a trial that was 100 percent paperless. I only brought hard
copies when my co-counsel insisted I do so for fear my computer might
crash. I didn’t touch the exhibit binders even once. Everything was
presented on a screen. I plan to do all my trials this way.

-G.L.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the above professionals who were kind enough to share how the paperless crusade is working out for them. I bow to my masters. Hopefully those of you, like Rebecca, who are still on the fence will join our rebel forces and reap the benefits of saved hours searching for the top of your desk!

kung fu master Paper at Odds With Your Paperless Office?

  • http://Greenthomason@gmail.com Rebecca Green Thomason

    I like the idea of giving it back to the client. I just do not want to have both a paper file and a computer file I want to jump in not just get my feet wet. Thanks you for all of the help you are giving to us. When I started my law office. I had never used a computer and neither had my secretary. I bought two Apples and we learned together. We had never seen anyone use a mouse. Ours was almost square so we did not know which way it went. We both learned to use it upside down. My secretary still does even with a tracking ball. I want to get this right the first time so nothing will be upside down. Thanks again.

  • http://www.morethanbankruptcy.com Mitchell Goldstein

    I scan everything and give it back to the client when I can. I do not want to keep documents. Thankfully, the bankruptcy court is completely electronic. Unfortunately, I cannot bring a computer or tablet to the hearings inside the building.

    • http://www.clarkstewartlaw.com thesoulpractitioner

      It’s ridiculous how the courts set out these arbitrary rules for no other purpose I can see but to hamstring efficiency.