My office uses plenty of paper. Consumer bankruptcy, our specialty, requires — at a minimum — a signed forty page petition. Added to the intake forms, reaffirmation documents, and errata, most of our clients have paper files exceeding 100 pages. Because all law firms have some documents like these, going paperless simply cannot mean getting rid of paper.
What paperless means to us, and what I believe it means for lawyers generally, is that the paper you have remains static. The hundred or so pages in each client’s file do not travel to my desk, to court, and certainly do not travel home with me at night. Rather, these hard copies reside in their filing cabinets, where they remain untouched absent the most exceptional circumstances. In other words, we have paper. We just don’t use it.
Instead, we scan everything into our firm’s cloud drive. If the document has a client’s signature, it gets filed. Otherwise, the document is either returned to the client on the spot or pitched per our engagement letter, which makes it clear that any documents left with us will be destroyed. When we need to access any information, we pull it from our cloud drive.
By solely relying on the cloud, we eliminate most of the risk associated with misplacing papers. The paper itself is static, and the electronic files are readily searchable. For example, our staff emails notes to the file — meaning that we spend far less time looking for stray, but important, post-its that have absented themselves without leave.
Our move to a paperless space has also dramatically curtailed our clients’ collective urge to treat our filing cabinets as the repository for all things lost. Prior to being paperless, we received routine requests for “that [blank] that I gave you a week — or was it a month? — ago with that other thing.” (I even had one client ask me if we had a copy of his dog’s vet records.) Now, by virtue of our system, we can explain that we don’t have this document. But if he or she did give it to us, we returned it.
For all of these reasons, going paperless has been good for us. It lets our staff work from home or on the road, has reduced our printing costs dramatically, and has left us with better files that are cheaper to store.