I’ve read a lot of blogs and white papers about having a paperless law office. It is overwhelming. The amount of information out there is abundant. And there is really good stuff out there. In fact, there are many people who sell you courses on how to take your law office paperless.
I’m not here to sell you a course, although there is some value in that if you will actually do it that way. I’m just here to tell you how I did it.
I decided five years ago that I would work more efficiently if all my files were electronic. The only question was how do I do that? I already had a full caseload and court, appointments, deadlines to meet that required all of my attention and effort. My secretary was also slammed with work that needed to be done. When would we find time to scan a bunch of a paper? At the end of the day, I had to ask myself how much I wanted a paperless law office. The answer was, really bad.
So I committed to going paperless. I didn’t spend a bunch of money to do it either. I just created a system, or a process, that put what I wanted, where I wanted it. And it was automatic.
You can do it too.
How To Set Up Your Paperless Law Office:
1. Create a standard file with folders and sub-folders.
I have a NEW FOLDER folder. This is the folder that all client folders are based on. When you have a new client and need to set up a new electronic file, all you have to do is copy the NEW FOLDER, and paste it among your open matters. Your open matters should be your client’s last name, first name (File # XXXXXX). Within the NEW FOLDER folder, I have sub folders as follows:
Medical Records and Bills
So for example, if I receive a letter from an opposing attorney noting her avoid dates for a hearing I want to schedule, my assistant will scan the document and file it electronically as follows:
Brandon/Brandon’s Cases/Smith, John (File #XXXXXXX)/Correspondence/PDF Documents/160710 Ltr from opp. counsel re hearing avoid dates
You will notice the actual documents name starts with the date and follows with a description of the document itself: YR/MO/DAY Description of document
By labeling your documents this way, whatever system you work in will automatically sort the document by the date on its face. You don’t want to rely on the date the document was created because if, for some reason, you scan a later document first, your files will be out of order. Sort them by name and name them consistently with the YEAR/MONTH/DAY. Here is an example:
160614 Defendant’s Motion in Limine
160614 Defendant’s Brief in Support of Motion In Limine
160621 Plaintiffs Brief in Opposition to Defendants Motion In Limine
160710 Court’s Order on Defendant’s Motion In Limine
This is a great way to store files because the electronic file is set up just like the paper file. I have an accordion folder with Manila folders inside for correspondence, pleadings, notes, exhibits, discovery, etc. If I have a paper sub-folder, then I have an electronic sub-folder. As I said in the last post, I still have a paper file organized this same way. My Correspondence file has all letters organized by date in chronological order. In other words, it is intuitive because it needs to be. While I still have the paper, I rarely pull it out.
2. Develop a paper-flow system you can trust with your life.
Nothing happens on its own and a paperless law office is no exception to that rule. It will only happen if you do something. And that something is to create a process that runs itself. The more responsibility you can delegate to trusted staff, the better your life as a whole will be. What does this system look like? First you have to answer several questions:
What happens to paper that comes into your office?
What happens to paper that is created in your office and stays there (i.e. notes)?
What happens to paper that goes out of your office?
Once you answer these questions, you will start to find your system for your paperless law office. The answers have to include scanning each piece of paper into a PDF at some point close in time to the receipt or creation of that document. If you let it sit, it will not get done.
So let’s answer these questions:
A. What happens to paper that comes into your office?
Before I see correspondence, pleadings, or anything that arrives in my office via mail, FedEx, UPS, or hand delivery, it gets scanned. Then, that document is saved on our office server. The location of that document depends on what it is, but to use a letter as an example, the file path could be as follows:
Brandon/Brandon’s Cases/Smith, John (File #XXXXXXX)/Correspondence/PDF Documents/160710 Ltr from opp. counsel re hearing avoid dates.
Once the document is saved there it is uploaded to my case management system: MyCase. You may have a different case management system like Clio, RocketMatter, etc., but the concept is the same. You have to start somewhere, so start now. Upload each new document to your case management system. Share the document with your clients so they know what is going on in their case.
This last step is what alerts me to this document’s existence. I see a little red bubble with the number of newly uploaded documents in my MyCase app. That red bubble will be there staring you in the face until you put your eyes on that document.
B. What happens to paper that is created in your office and stays there (i.e. Notes)?
Just like paper that comes into my office, any document that is created in my office, whether it be a note on a yellow pad of paper, a spreadsheet, a diagram, or anything else, I put that document on the corner of my desk and my secretary knows to pick it up, scan it, upload it, then file it as described above.
This system is not one that an attorney can do alone. You need the help of qualified personnel, and you need to sit down with the person on your team who will be responsible for this and explain the system in intricate detail. You essentially need an assistant who will read your mind, but not really.
In a fast paced practice where time is money, you need an unspoken language with your team that gets things done. This “corner spot” on my desk is the only spot that I like to see paper. If you use paper as a reminder that you need to complete a task, then you should pick up the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (GTD for short) by . This resource should be required reading for every lawyer everywhere. I’ll share my thoughts on how the GTD method works (or should work) for a lawyer in another post.
C. What happens to paper that goes out of your office?
Do you know the answer to this question yet? When I draft a document, I save it on our server under the appropriate folder but it will be under Correspondence/Word Documents. After I’m done drafting the letter, pleading, discovery, etc. my assistant will print it on our letterhead or pleading paper and bring it to me for my signature. She will then take it to the scanner/copier, and make a copy for the file, and whoever else the letter should be copied to, and then scan it. If it is a pleading with a cover letter, the entire package gets scanned to correspondence, and the pleading itself gets scanned to pleadings.
If I am not in the office to physically sign, my assistant will email the PDF to me and, if it meets my approval, I will sign it on my iPad or iPhone in the Mail App using the markup feature. Then, she will print it on our letterhead/pleading paper and send it out after making the appropriate copies and scanning it to the appropriate folder.
3. Don’t waiver from your system
Now that you have a paperless law office system, DON’T WAIVER! If you have a bad day and you don’t stick to your system, you will have trouble finding that document that you were looking for. Don’t waiver and don’t let your team waiver from your system. You have to trust your system. If you cannot trust your system, then it isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. The moment you allow yourself or your team to waiver, you will stop relying on your PDF documents, you will go back to the old search and find mentality that was taking up so much of your time to begin with. Let’s not go back there. Let’s start anew. Let’s create something beautiful!
Have you tried to go to a paperless law office before and failed? Does this step by step information help? Leave a comment below and let’s have a conversation about how we can help you go paperless.