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Thursday, August 30th, 2012 technology  research  practice

A Practice Tip

  • Practice

We have spoken and consulted with a number of lawyers lately who have called about taking a law firm paperless.  Certainly many lawyers become anxious at the thought of giving up on paper and practising in a paper-less world (there will probably never be a situation where we fully abandon paper).  Often, that concern is rooted in a fear that somewhere the rules of professional responsibility or other regulations governing the firm require that paper files be kept. There are, of course, specific requirements in every jurisdiction regarding retention, maintenance and destruction of client files (check your specific practice and ethics rules)  – but – information is information and the medium that it is stored on is largely irrelevant so long as you can meet the requirements to produce various items from the file.  The typical concerns that we hear can be summed up as follows:

  • There is no paper trail.
  • Computers can go down.
  • No backup exists.
  • You can be hacked.
  • File formats become obsolete.
  • Media becomes degraded.
  • You can lose an e-document.
  • There is no structure to the documents on the system.
  • Documents can be sent outside the office easily.
  • Changes are required to policies, procedures and work routines.
  • There will be increased time costs, including costs of running dual systems.
  • There is the possibility of job elimination or reassignment.
  • A lack of training could lead to a loss of face in not knowing how to work the new system.
  • The firm would face increased costs of transferring a file.
  • What about all the transition issues?
  • How do we go from here to there?
  • What about increased hardware and software costs?
  • What do we do with the original documents?

Of course, there are also many benefits of going paperless:

  • You can search the entire network –and file – easily and quickly, particularly compared to paper files.
  • You can reuse documents easily – and thereby craft a precedent library.
  • Document management software imposes greater organization than in a paper-based office where documents can be left in piles on desks, cabinets and floors.
  • The cost of electronic storage is MUCH less as compared to paper.
  • Paperless offices enable remote access and telecommuting for full and part-time lawyers and staff.
  • Paperless offices are greener.
  • Paperless systems can integrate and share data – thereby saving time and money.
  • The cost of handling files can be faster, cheaper and easier.
  • Offices are neater.
  • There is an increased ability to meet new client needs (Sharepoint extranet portals for example).  Indeed at a recent Corporate Counsel meeting, counsel stated that they preferred electronic war and closing rooms to emailing documents back and forth.  You can better control access, distribution and versioning.
  • There is usually a decrease in photocopy/printing costs.
  • Courts, land title offices and other organizations and tribunals are increasingly accepting paperless filings in many jurisdictions.
  • It is harder to forge or alter a properly secured electronic document.  Moreover, metadata associated with an e-document records a great deal of information about who created it, when it was modified and by whom etc… which is not typically available with paper documents.
  • Your clients’ systems are electronic and they expect you to be able to accept e-discovery electronically.
  • Having a paperless office requires the firm to at least consider a file retention and destruction policy that is consistently applied in accordance with The Sedona (Canada or USA) Principles to avoid any suggestion that files were destroyed in order to eliminate evidence.
  • The Courts are calling on lawyers to be paperless in court (see Justices Turnball’s and Granger’s posts to this effect at www.slaw.ca).

While there are many valid reasons to go paperless (as well as arguments against it), there is no denying that the world is moving in a paperless direction.  Barker, Cobb and Karcher in a 2008 publication entitled “The legal implications of electronic document retention: Changing the rules” stated that 99 per cent of business documents are currently being produced electronically.  At this juncture, it is pointless going against the tide; lawyers need to adjust to the new reality and embrace the possibilities, examine the risks and benefits in moving to a paperless world, and create a plan to move in that direction.  We are headed for a new horizon.

One comment on Take Your Firm Paperless

  1. sheila says:

    I have been researching ways to create a paperless law firm and in the process we have come across companies that offer many document management software solutions but these come with a high price tag. We are searching for a company that will offer advice on digitization of our files that we can do ourselves minus the installation of a document management system. If your company or any that you know of can offer their advice we would like to meet with you. We are located in Marlton NJ. Looking for prices on a phone consultation.

    Thank you
    Sbuckley@consoleandhollawell.com

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