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5 Practical Tips Lawyers Can Use To Move to a Paperless Office

Today most attorneys still have archaic organizational methods. Every email they send and receive is printed out and placed manually in a folder. Unfortunately, these firms are still living in the 20th century, with an office buried in piles of books crowding the entryway. This is inconceivable in a wireless modern world.

Most law firms are still operating on practice management systems designed before email became ubiquitous. A paperless office cannot be achieved by using those systems. Our work habits have changed dramatically. The Smartphone (and tablets) are having a profound impact on how we work, just as the PC did a generation ago.

You need a software that allows you to access all client information, including all case documents, wherever you are. It is what the 21st century client expects.
I don’t run a law firm, but I have visited many over the years, and there are paperless law firms running today. These firms take advantage of advanced technology and adapt to the challenges of the modern age.

Changing from paper to paperless takes courage, and the understanding that properly stored electronic data is far more secure, safe and accessible than documents in a paper folder. You need to also have awareness of the issues facing small law firms and know how to differentiate between an efficient project management system.

If you have the determination to move your firm into the 21st century, read below to gain 5 practical tips for your transformation to paperless.

Incoming Documents

Today most correspondence takes place electronically. It should be easy for you to associate every incoming document with the correct case. Some systems even remember the case that the email thread belongs to and will automatically route them to the correct one. If it does not do so, you can locate the needed information simply and add the email and attachments to the right case in a single, easy workflow.

The next conundrum you will probably face is what to do with incoming paper documents. From observation of clients, the solutions are the following:

• The letters and other documents in which the existence of the original is unimportant – scan to the case and destroy the original.

• If the documents are important, but you do not need to keep the original document for any reason – scan them to the case and immediately mail the original back to the person who sent it to you.

• Documents in which the original is important and you need to keep it permanently or for a time – scan to a Safe Custody Register, linking the document to a client or a case and store the documents in an organized Safe Custody facility.

If you deal with incoming documents in this manner, there will never be a need to manually open a folder for a case. The huge bonus is that everyone in the firm knows where the document is, and there is no time spent trying to find it under piles of folders.

Note that a good scanning system is critical to enable this to happen and you should be able to scan conveniently to a case directly from a flatbed scanner next to your desk or from a multifunction device specifically setup for that purpose. It is easy!

2. Outgoing documents

Every document in every form including emails and attachments should have its original stored against the case. If you do this, you are almost (but not quite) halfway to achieving your objectives. You are probably doing this already. If not your system is very deficient. With a good system, whenever you create a piece of correspondence or other document, the new document will automatically be associated with the case you are working on. If not, you should be able to easily and quickly add it to the case. If you produce documents and then have to scan them to add them to your document management system, well, it is time for an upgrade.

3. Letters, forms, document templates and complex documents

Whether a simple letter, a complex family court form or a deed of trust, you should be able to access these immediately. A good system will provide you with a library of forms and template documents, as well as a way to easily and economically incorporate your own templates into the system.
If there is only one place to store the document, then there is only one way to find them! The old tendency to keep ‘a good one’ in the bottom drawer is comforting, but the problem is no-one else knows it is there. By adding them into the system and associating them with the correct case type, you will be able to find the template easily and so will your colleagues.

4. Invoices, bills and reports

Are you still struggling with a system where all bills are sent to the accounting department and you must search for a paper copy to find a previous bill? I know this is still the case for many. But, it need not be and should not be.

There is no longer any need for a bookkeeper to be involved with a bill. A system where legal costs are always automatically up-to-date does not require a bookkeeper to complete the entries – software has been doing that work for many years.

With a good system, you can easily find, view, re-create and email (or print if you must) a bill – all without any bookkeeper involvement and without any paper records needed.

If you can, as you should be able to, recreate any report at any time for any time period, then there is clearly no need to keep reports in paper form at all. You might print them for a meeting and then throw the print-out away. The data is safe.

Some firms even keep paper copies of receipts “for the file.” In a modern world, this is ridiculous. Your system should make it easy for you to provide a duplicate of a receipt or any other document.

5. Time records and contemporaneous notes

Recording your time manually or even on a specially created paper ‘timesheet’ is inefficient and inaccurate. Written records need to be read (interpreted?) re-keyed and edited. The margins for error are high. The cost of double handling enormous.

If you just record time on your Smartphone or Desktop Timesheet instantly, accuracy goes through the roof and so will your billings. You will make more money and enjoy practicing more. And there is no paper involved at all.

Every lawyer has the professional obligation to always make a contemporaneous record of all hours spent practicing. With good time recording you will not need this, but from time to time you need to make a lengthier comment or file note.

Whether recording time or merely making a comment on the file, having these notes electronically recorded contemporaneously, protects you in the event of client disputes and will also ensure that you provide a very high level of service.

A yellow Post-it note or an attendance scribbled on a letter in a paper file is inadequate today.
If you have the right technology in place and have the leadership determination to make the change, by following these 5 points you will succeed. You will impress your clients, enjoy practicing law more, and lower your costs simultaneously. Why wait?

From LEAP.us – Legal software for small law firms

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