Going paperless is attractive to law firms for a variety of different reasons. It’s better for the environment, most clients prefer it, it reduces storage costs and it can make your firm more efficient on a day-to-day basis.
While many firms were already in the process of going paperless prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic has sped up many firms’ efforts to eliminate their paper files. With attorneys working from home, and with clients looking to cut costs while improving efficiency, in many respects there has never been a better time for firms to take the paperless plunge.
Yes, for many law firms, paperless really does mean paperless. With the requisite technological resources, and with firm-wide policies that are clear and practical to implement, firms truly can go paperless. Of course, there are some exceptions (more on this below), but it is increasingly becoming not only accepted, but expected, that law firms will send and accept electronic signatures and other electronic records.
Firms have a handful of options when it comes to dealing with their old paper files. One option is to keep them, and essentially “grandfather” them in under a policy that will be phased out over time. Another option is to scan them all and then dispose of them. While this option has costs involved, over time these costs could be significantly outweighed by the costs of paying for storage and maintaining two separate file systems.
While your firm can go paperless, it cannot stop others from sending it paper files. Part of implementing a paperless system involves establishing protocols for scanning and electronically storing documents that are received in hardcopy.
Even in today’s world, some clients still cannot go paperless. From lending documents to estate planning documents, various types of legal instruments still need to have a “wet” signature. Additionally, some clients simply prefer to read on the page. If your firm has a client that can’t (or won’t) go paperless, your firm’s policy probably shouldn’t result in turning the client away. However, you will need to consider the costs involved and ensure that any paper files sent or received are logged or converted as necessary.
These days, there are plenty of options available to law firms that want to go paperless. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, and firms of different sizes and in different practice areas will find particular features to be more or less desirable. When going paperless, the key is to spend enough time evaluating the various options to make an informed decision, and then to fully follow through with implementation on a firm-wide scale.