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How to Create and Run a Paperless Law Office

July 2, 2024

It’s no secret that law firms love paper. It’s also no secret that paper requires extra time to file, store, find, and search through files — a strong contrast to the ease of use offered by digital documents.

But the benefits of going paperless are even bigger than you think.

In this article, we share some of the key advantages of a paperless office, as well as actionable steps you can take to move your firm in a more digital direction. We’ll also showcase some of the best tools to support your paperless initiatives and our top tips for managing your digital workspace.

Why Law Offices Should Go Paperless

Odds are, your firm is operating with amélange of electronic and physical files. But by keeping one foot in the world of paper, you’re missing out on some of the most significant benefits that a digital workspace can provide for your firm. By going paperless, your firm can:

  • Boost efficiency. It’s obvious that working with electronic files is faster and easier than paper documents — whether you’re searching for a specific file, collaborating with colleagues, or sending documents to a client. Everything is easier when it’s digital, which means you can get more done in less time, and spend more of your time focused on high-value work rather than tedious administrative tasks.
  • Access anywhere. As we all now know from hard-earned experience, trying to work normally when you’re outside the office can be extremely challenging — especially if your firm relies on physical documents. On the other hand, if all your documents are digital, you can access everything you need from a laptop or mobile device. That means work is easier whether you’re at home, in the courtroom, or on vacation.
  • Ensure security. Your primary responsibility as an attorney is to protect your client, which includes protecting their data. Having a mix of digital and paper documents means you have to double down on your security policies and procedures. But with a paperless law office, you can gain stronger and more granular security controls to ensure that only authorized users have access to each file. (Not to mention the benefits of cloud-based backups in the event of natural disasters or office theft.) That’s what we call peace of mind.
  • Save money. Let’s face it: storing an electronic file is far less expensive than storing a paper one. From paper and printers to shelving and square footage, physical document storage costs can add up quickly. With digital document management, however, you dramatically reduce your files’ footprint… and when you are pushing the limits of your storage capacity, scaling up only takes a few clicks.
  • Stay sane. Have you ever been on the hunt fora document and started to feel a little crazy? Losing track of a file can be exhausting no matter how you have to search for it — but conducting a digital search is much more efficient than digging through box after box after box of physical files.
  • Enhance clients’ experience. The fact is, our lives are growing more digital each day, and digital-first customer experiences are becoming the norm across nearly every industry. That means many clients come to your firm expecting a modern standard of speed and ease. In addition to all the internal benefits to your firm, having a paperless law office can also help you meet client expectations…which translates to better reviews and more referrals down the road.

Steps to Creating a Paperless Law Office

It’s clear that going paperless offers significant benefits for law firms. But how do you actually get started with going paperless?

  1. Make a commitment.

    To be successful going paperless, you need to have your entire firm on board — and you need to be fully committed. A half-hearted attempt (or dissension among the ranks) will only create confusion and unnecessary delays while depriving your team of all the benefits that digital document management has to offer.

  2. Get equipped.

    Eliminating (or at least, greatly reducing) your dependence on physical documents does require a few tools. Things like scanners, paper shredders, and of course, cloud-based document management software, will all be necessary to make sure that all of your vital information is properly digitally stored. We’ll cover these tools in more detail below.

  3. Design your workflows.

    It’s important to create a clear, consistent process for how you’ll handle the transition from physical to digital document management. For example:

    • How will you deal with internally-created documents?
    • How will you handle new client intake?
    • Does your state require you to keep originals of certain documents?
    • What about files that may be considered evidence?

    Another vital aspect of this process is to define your overall folder structure and file naming conventions. Being consistent in this area will make it much easier to find what you’re looking for down the road, as well as helping everyone in the firm stay on the same page and simplify onboarding for new attorneys and staff.

    Perhaps it goes without saying, but in the process of going paperless, you should prioritize documents that are relevant to active cases.

  4. Leverage templates.

    One of the biggest benefits of digital documents and workflows is the ability to use templates. Using a template can greatly reduce the amount of time required to complete a task and prevent you from having to reinvent the wheel with each new matter. Here are a few of the best ways to leverage templates for your firm:

    • Produce templates for the top 10 documents your firm creates on a regular basis.
    • Make standardized checklists for common processes, projects, or matter types.
    • Templatize your folder structure to help you stay consistent as new matters come in.
  5. Take it firm-wide.

    Although actual legal work accounts for the majority of your firm’s paper, it’s not the only source. Other departments such as finance/accounting, billing and collections, and human resources may also deal with large amounts of paper and would benefit from going paperless. In fact, giving these teams modern tools can come with added perks, like improving analytics and getting invoices paid faster.

Best Tools to Support a Paperless Law Office

As previously mentioned, you need to have the right tools in place for your firm to truly go paperless. And while it might require a decent investment upfront, the long-term benefits will more than makeup for the costs. Here’s what you need to help take your firm digital:

Document Management System (DMS)

A cloud-based document and email management platform is the most critical component of your firm’s paperless strategy. In addition to providing secure storage for your digital files, a DMS can offer additional tools to make document-based work more productive (and secure!) than ever — including collaboration functions, advanced security, and more.

One important feature to look for is OCR, or optical character recognition. This tool enables you to digitize documents and images to turn them into searchable, usable files — whether it’s a PDF or a scanned legacy document.

Electronic Signature Solution

While there may still be some cases where you need a wet signature, electronic signing carries the same weight and legal effect in many (if not most) situations. Adopting a digital signature tool can help your firm further reduce the need for paper — while also accelerating the signature collection process with clients, vendors, and other parties. Additionally, these tools are becoming increasingly simple to adopt as more vendors are building tighter (and free) integrations with companies like DocuSign.

Hardware Needs

When you take your firm paperless, there are a few essential (and nice-to-have) pieces of hardware to consider. Here are our top recommendations:

  • Document scanner. Firms that have been most successful with going paperless make it as convenient as possible. It’s up to you whether that means providing each team member with a document scanner or simply increasing their general availability. The compact size of a portable scanner may also appeal to many attorneys, with the added ability to easily transport it as needed (such as when working remotely).
  • Paper shredder. As you convert your paper files to digital, you’ll need a way to securely destroy the physical copies. During the initial stages of going paperless, it may make more sense to hire a shredding service due to the vast quantities of paper you’ll be disposing of.
  • Extra monitor. If you’re accustomed to referencing a physical copy of a document while working on a computer, you’ll quickly tire of jumping between tabs or trying to make multiple documents visible on a single screen. To help ease the transition (and ensure you get all the benefits of going paperless), get an additional monitor.

Managing a Digital Workspace

While it’s true that making the paperless transition can require some heavy lifting, the ongoing upkeep is really quite simple. Of course, that’s the whole goal, right? To make it easier for you to store, find, and use your documents.

The most important principle of managing a digital workspace is to be consistent. Stick to the same process every time you receive incoming paper documents, maintain an easy-to-use structure with your digital folders, and always follow the established naming conventions. This will ensure that your digital workspace stays organized and make it easy for your team to find what they need.  

Remember, people are also more likely to follow protocol if you make it easy for them — especially at the beginning. While most people will understand the benefits of consistency in theory, they may still be reluctant to change their ways. The simpler you can make it, the more likely they’ll be to adopt the new process.

Security and Data Governance

There’s one last thing we should cover relating to digital document management: security and governance. While news stories about high-profile cybersecurity threats are no laughing matter, they can also be misleading.

The truth is that storing your documents in the cloud can be far more secure than storing them on-site — either physically or digitally. Furthermore, a DMS can offer advanced security controls for user access and actions, so you can be confident that your documents and data are protected from either unintentional or malicious data breaches.

Let Us Help Your Firm Go Paperless

If you want to truly take advantage of all digital document management has to offer, NetDocuments can help.

As the leading cloud-based DMS, our platform is specifically designed to support legal work — enabling attorneys to create, edit, store, locate, and collaborate on documents from anywhere and on any device. In addition to the core platform, we offer a variety of tools to enhance your productivity and drive better results for your firm.

To see how NetDocuments can help your firm claim the full benefits of going paperless, request a demo today!

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