Is it possible we’re not wired to run a paperless law office?
There is no doubt that digital archiving is the way to go. Done right, scanning closed client files is both convenient and cost effective. But does it automatically follow that lawyers should adopt a completely paperless work flow for active files?
Goldy has a longer attention span than you
We already know that the lowly goldfish has a longer attention span than humans thanks to our increasingly digital lifestyle. What about processing data? Is our ability to absorb and retain information equivalent in the digital and paper worlds? What does the science say?
This is your brain on paper [and it works better]
Evidence suggests that absorption, understanding, and retention suffer when we attempt to digest information digitally:
- Speed and Retention — Are e-Readers Slower and More Forgetful?
- Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds
- The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens
- Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing
- This Is Your Brain on E-Books: When we read on dead trees, do we retain more?
Consider this excerpt from Ferris Jabr, The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens, Scientific American .
Even so, evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people’s attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.
If you are still with me: what does this mean for you and your law practice?
If you’ve gone completely paperless – accessing, reading, and digesting information digitally – and feel you are getting good results, why not continue? You likely made some adaptations along the way that were perfectly natural and work well for you. Keep up the good work!
For everyone else, the most optimal approach seems to be the following:
- Go paperless at the end of a file’s life cycle. Scan your file. Return original client documents. Shred the paper file OR provide it to the client. Only keep paper if required. For a refresher on that subject, review our File Retention & Destruction Guidelines, available on the PLF website.
- During the course of a case, use paper whenever it works best for you: notes, correspondence, paper-based discovery, materials received from the client.
- Strive to keep information that you create or receive digitally in digital form (pleading documents, memos, emails).
- Whenever you need to print digital information for review and markup, don’t hesitate to do so.
[All Rights Reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis]