Best Practices for a Paperless Law Office

It’s a wee bit early for New Year’s resolutions, but if you’re toying with the idea of going paperless and have your sights set on 2011 as the year to do it, consider the following:

  • Before diving in,  think through the process.  It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it isn’t as simple as buying a scanner and shredding all your paper.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can get by without software as an overlay for working with your electronic documents.  Subfolders alone won’t cut it.  Desktop search engines help.  (I like Copernic).  But document or case management software designed to index, organize, cross-reference, and secure client documents is even better.
  • Learn to be efficient.  Acrobat has terrific batch processing capabilities that allow you to perform multiple steps automatically across folders of scanned documents. See my presentation below for more tips on leveraging efficiency.
  • Redundancy isn’t always your friend.  There is nothing served by keeping parallel electronic and paper files.  If you can’t bring yourself to dispose of the paper, keep it in a generic bucket file by client or chron date – but don’t ask staff to maintain two identical filing systems.  Commit to paper or electronic files.
  • Remember there are exceptions to every rule.  You may store your client files electronically, but some paper cannot be disposed of:
    • Return all client originals – receipts, bills, diaries, photographs, tax returns, etc.  If the client gave you the document or item, give it back.
    • Be mindful of documents with legal significance – original wills, contracts, fee agreements, promissory notes.
      • You cannot convert a signed paper contract to a legally enforceable electronic contract merely by scanning it.
      • In some cases, court rules may require that you retain original paper.  (Statements of Social Security Numbers are an example. See Oregon Local Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure 9037-1 (a)(1).)
    • If authenticity is a potential concern, keep the paper.

Final Thoughts

The most important office system is the one that works for you.  If you find it easier to work with paper files, go with your strength.  You can always scan your files after they are closed and store them electronically.

Read my complete best practice recommendations for going paperless here.

Copyright 2010 Beverly Michaelis

1 thought on “Best Practices for a Paperless Law Office

  1. Pingback: Running a Successful Law Practice « Oregon Law Practice Management

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