You’re hardly the last lawyer to go paperless. But you probably aren’t an early adopter like Donna Neff, either — her estates and trusts practice has been paperless for years. Like most, you’re probably parked somewhere between the all-digital and all-paper camps — dreading change, but knowing it’s inevitable. So we asked Donna, co-author of the brand-new book “Paperless in One Hour for Lawyers,” for tips on getting started — the right way.
Going paperless has quickly gone from a matter of “if” to a matter of “when.” Are you thinking of taking the plunge? Do the tasks seem so monumental you don’t even know where to start? Or maybe you’ve begun the transition but aren’t sure what to do next? Here are three easy tips to get you on the paperless bandwagon, and fast.
1. Get buy-in. You can have the fanciest paperless processes going, but if they aren’t embraced by those responsible for their practical, day-to-day implementation, well, you will go nowhere fast. It’s essential that you have 100 percent support from your staff and colleagues. I’m not exaggerating — resistance from even one person can throw the entire project off the rails. Here are a few ways to help get buy-in:
- Be a positive role model — enthusiasm is infectious.
- Involve the whole team at every step with regular meetings.
- Keep it fun. For example, you could have a contest for the best paperless tip of the week.
2. Invest in a fantastic scanner. This will be the workhorse of your paperless office, so don’t skimp. You don’t have to break the bank but do consider speed, ease of use, scanning quality and connectivity (including Wi-Fi). Above all, do your research before purchasing and talk to others about what they use. My recommended list for a solo or small firm is very short: Fujitsu’s ScanSnap iX500. Its speed, quality and wireless capability are top-notch, and the setup is quick and easy.
3. Create a document management system (DMS). If your budget is limited and you aren’t keen to lock into the subscription service required by some commercial DMS software programs, don’t dismay. Small offices (less than 10 people) can go DIY. If you want to go the DIY DMS route, your system should include the following:
- A process for converting documents (physical and electronic) to PDF. Consider when a document is to be converted (scanned), by whom and what to do with the original. My advice is to convert documents immediately upon receipt. When starting out, you want to “scan forward” with new files and leave archived files as they are.
- A detailed and logical file-naming system. File naming needs to be standardized and used consistently by everyone. Drive home to staff that a misfiled or badly named e-document is basically lost if no one can find it.
- A series of procedures for how e-documents are to be organized and stored. Think of this as your system of electronic filing cabinets. Set out exactly how files, folders and sub-folders are to be named and structured. Work within each broad area, such as client work, firm accounting, administration. Then create predefined folders and sub-folders for each type of matter commonly handled by your firm. We call them “folder templates” so that when a new matter is opened, the appropriate folder template can be copied, pasted and renamed.
Be warned: Going the DIY DMS route will require a significant investment of time up-front to develop, but the cost drops dramatically once your system is running.
Donna Neff is a lawyer, a Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law and a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. She is co-author with Sheila E. Blackford of the new book “Paperless in One Hour for Lawyers,” available from the ABA bookstore. Donna has frequently presented at ABA TECHSHOW and served on its Planning Board from 2010 to 2012. She blogs weekly at www.nefflawoffice.com/blog.
More Tips for Going Paperless
- Five Moves Toward Paperless Perfection by Joan Feldman
- Ditching Paper? MacSparky to the Rescue by Heidi Alexander
- Step Right Up to the Paperless Office by John Gilbert
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