How to Create a Paperless (Law) Office
Published on October 9, 2014
If you work in a law office, chances are you circulate a massive amount of paper on a daily basis. Signatures are gathered, training cases are reviewed, forms are generated... all in all, the paper trail of your office is most likely higher than desired.
The 21st century brings us a whole arsenal of digital technology to help get the business owner organized. It is now unbelievably easy to do away with the cost of filling paper, rid your office of stored paper, and say goodbye to searching through filing cabinets for the right document.
Here's how your law office can go paperless in a timely and cost-effective manner.
The Benefits of a Paperless Law Practice
Law practices typically involve a high-volume, document intensive work environment. Organization is key, and keeping accurate records is an essential part of the process. How does a paperless environment help? Here are some benefits:
- Filing documents in hard copy becomes obsolete, saving time and energy - and money on rent!
- Paper expense is reduced drastically or eliminated entirely
- No more time delay from getting documents from closed storage
- It's green - the environment will love you
- With a proper backup system, important files are free from office vandalization and other building defects or disaster events
- Every document can easily be individually secured and encrypted
- Lawyers and personnel have instant access to all documents, as governed by permissions assigned to them, in the office or on the road
Like KeyTLaw states in our article of inspiration, this last item is certainly one of the most useful. Finding a specific document in a well-organized paperless system can be done in a snap.
What You'll Need to Go Paperless
One of the most essential investments you'll need for your paperless venture is a personal scanner for every attorney and legal assistant. This creates a simple and convenient way to scan in documents into your Document Management System (which we will discuss in a bit).
What kind of scanner should you get? We recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 Scanner for PC and Mac. It retails around $400-$450 on Amazon. It's a steal for the functions it provides: a 25 page per minute color personal scanner which comes with Adobe Acrobat X software and a 50 page feeder which is good for everything from business cards to color photos. Your scans open automatically as PDF files as well, and it works great with both PCs and Macs.
A cloud-based storage system
You're going to need a shared network to keep all of your documents in one area. Data files should be saved on your server, and set up to back up daily to the cloud. Mozy Pro and Jungle Disk are great secure options for automatic back ups, though we find cloud-based storage solutions like Google Drive, Evernote, Box, Dropbox, and Sugarsync are just as good. If you're worried about document security on and off your computer, we've assisted our clients with document encryption using tools like Boxcryptor, which we cover in a bit more detail below.
Practice management software
A good paperless system best functions alongside a top of the line practice management software. We recommend Clio for law practice management, as it is designed specifically for law practices. [Disclosure: Geek | Chicago is a Clio Certified Consultant and may receive compensation for reselling Clio services and software.]
Clio is a cloud-based law practice management software with reliable security. It maintains a working client database, which can be linked to "matters" which can be used to track hours, log work, and generate billing in PDF format. Client information can seamlessly be imported in from Outlook and Google.
Perhaps its largest benefit is its incredible ability to import and incorporate your digital documents. It integrates with cloud-storage sites (like the aforementioned Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive), which is something that is relatively unheard of with other competing law practice management softwares.
Another bonus is Clio's ability to transform your documents into auto-forms and use document automation. Auto-forms can be used to generate variations on the same type of document - say, a lot of cases which need a similar form - which can be quickly filled in and sent.
It's automation feature is a must-have for any law firm practice management system. It allows you to set up a document that will easily import in client information to fill in the blanks. A summons or agreement form, for example, can be automated directly within Clio to pull in a form/template document and create fields within the document based on your client information. This is a huge time saver.
Using some encryption software is a huge asset to any law firm with a need for elevated security. A good way to protect your cloud-based files is a software called Boxcryptor. It encrypts files housed on major cloud storage providers like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box.
Encryption is a way to protect private data from digital hackers, as it serve as an extra thick wall of defense that a password alone does not have.
I have these tools, but how do I even start going paperless?
It's easy to get overwhelmed with the prospect of going paperless. You're undoubtedly staring at your wall of filing cabinets with a sinking feeling that it will take years to complete. Thankfully, you don't have to waste time getting every scrap of paper from your office into a database.
Focus on files you are actually servicing at the time, and then any inactive files you think you'll be using in the near future. From there, start afresh and use a paperless system moving forward. Don't worry about the documents you aren't using at the moment, unless you have an immediate need for eliminating file storage space. If so, that shiny new Fujitsu scanner can handle 25 pages per minute - front and back!
Questions? Have tips for going paperless? We want to hear from you! Drop a comment below, or send us an email.