Article written by Rosemary Bocska
It’s a phrase that we hear more and more often lately, but it’s not one that gets much airtime. The “paperless office” is a concept that may defy intuitive description.
Here at Shulman & Partners LLP, we transitioned to a fully paperless office in 2021. It has been a huge success. This method allows us to use minimal amounts of physical paper. It also reduces our environmental footprint, increases our efficiency, and fit seamlessly into a digital world. We are fully and irrevocably committed to this model. We firmly believe that our clients are among those who truly benefit.
This article will dispel some of the mystery about what the concept entails.
What is a “Paperless Office”?
As odd as it may seem for a busy and thriving law firm, our “paperless office” is exactly that. For incoming new legal matters, we do not create any new physical files, and no client paperwork gets filled out. In terms of documents, absolutely nothing new gets created or stored in our existing file folders or cabinets.
This does not mean that files that existed at our offices before the transition are destroyed or converted. Rather, the related documents naturally get retained for the time being. (If a litigation or legal matter existed before we transitioned to a paperless system.) Individuals will be contacted as to whether they would like to have the files scanned elsewhere, or at the firm. Some may be in-process matters that “straddle” the two systems and are being documented partly electronically and partly by paper. They are specially earmarked as being part of a “blended” file. One consisting of both digital documents, as well as paper-based documents and files.
What are the Benefits?
The benefits of using a paperless office model are numerous. Among them:
· Environmentally friendliness – There is no paper to buy and recycle, no ink or toner cartridges to buy and later dispose of.
· Increased accessibility – There is no longer any need to search through many paper documents, just to find one or two. Searchable databases replace the need to search documents physically.
· Better organization – Since it involves a computer-based filing system, document organization is well-structured and intuitive; it also incorporates the ability to search for files, folders, and contents using concept-based keywords.
· Time savings – Saving and “filing” documents on the computer network is also very simple, and eliminates the need for a physical filing system.
· Currency – Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to access documents remotely has also become a key benefit. Most of our staff have been working remotely since the start of the global crisis, to reduce the health risks; the paperless office has allowed for minimum disruption to their workflow.
· Enhanced security – Especially for sensitive materials and matters, the use of passwords, encryption, backups, cloud storage, and other electronic security measures on various computer devices has improved the safe storage of client and firm documents.
· Reduced costs for supplies – There is no longer any need to buy paper, ink, folders, filing cabinets and other organizational tools. Everything is electronic.
· Reduced need for office space – Since the paperless model eliminates the need to storge boxes of documents, the overall physical space requirements for the Shulman & Partners LLP premises have likewise been reduced. Some of the related cost savings can be passed along to our clients.
I’m Thinking of Switching Firms – What About My Existing File?
In the Shulman & Partners LLP, we are fully committed to the paperless office model, and have found its use to be a resounding success so far. We also have a clear vision of the future; to this end, we have made and formalized many important in-office policy decisions on how to deal with the migration from old system to new. This has also required us to make some key decisions on how to deal with both existing clients and new ones.
For example, if you are thinking of switching to our law firm from elsewhere, then we have a protocol in place for that scenario.
We have a policy for new clients who move to us from elsewhere. We will not take over the boxes of paper materials that get sent to us from the former law firm. (As part of the transition.)
The client may have boxes of existing file materials pertaining to their matter. In this case they can arrange to scan them electronically for use in our internal office records. Or else they can personally store the boxes at their own home or office. We no longer store any physical boxes of documents at the Shulman & Partners LLP premises.
Alternately, the client can agree that we will have all the paperwork scanned for them (using a third-party scanning service), and the cost will be charged to their active file as a disbursement. The client is then given an option of picking up the physical boxes from us (or having them couriered, for a fee), or may choose to have us destroy them.
This strict approach may not be appealing to all new clients. Although, we feel that it is the best way for their matters to be integrated into our existing paperless systems. Ones which have proven to be the most efficient and cost-effective method for going forward. We are confident that even the most reluctant new clients will derive benefit from making the switch!