Becoming a paperless law firm has grown in attraction over the last few years and for good reason. Historically, the legal industry has had an issue with the use (and overuse) of paper. But as more law firms adopt remote work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of traditional paper documentation is on a steep decline.

Switching to a paperless law firm can not only accommodate remote working arrangements, but it can also keep documents organized, and secure and has a positive impact on the environment. If your firm is considering pursuing digital documentation, a number of tricks and available resources can provide you with a smooth transition.

How going paperless can benefit your law firm

Many firms across the world are embracing a paper-free system for a number of reasons. Some of the advantages you’ll enjoy by transitioning to a paperless law firm include:

  • Cleared storage space. Without the need to store tens of thousands of sheets of paper, your firm can use your valuable office space for other things. There’s even the potential for the team to work entirely remotely—without a brick-and-mortar firm.
  • Reduced expenses. If you’re paying to store files in an off-site unit, going paperless can help your business save money. You’ll also save funds by not having to constantly buy reams or cases of paper. Not to mention, cutting costs on delivering hard copies of documents to various parties. Through electronic signature capabilities, you can have clients sign documents in seconds.
  • Minimized footprint. By minimizing the amount of paper your firm purchases and uses, you can have a positive impact on the environment. Not only are trees destroyed in the paper-making process (and a tree can absorb up to 2,000 pounds of harmful CO2 over its entire lifetime), but creating paper produces harmful byproducts.

Processing a single tree to create 17 reams of paper emits over 100 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. The chlorine used to turn paper to its iconic bright white shade can pollute the groundwater, not to mention the significant amount of energy paper manufacturers require for all other aspects of the process. By going paperless, you can help lead the change to protect the environment.

  • Organized and secured documents. With the support of law practice management software, you can ensure that your files remain organized and are accessible wherever you are. With digital access to documents, you can password-protect each case and modify the password as needed to ensure optimal security at all times. In the case of a natural disaster, like a hurricane or fire, you can ensure that your files are always safe in electronic form.
  • Improved productivity. Without the need to march down to the basement and then search for hours for a single document, your team can access any file they need with a click of a button. Teams using digital files are arguably more productive than those utilizing traditional methods.

Tips for switching to a paperless law firm

Are you ready for your firm to go paperless? These six tricks can help you smoothly and successfully make the transition:

1. Collect the necessary equipment

Before you can save money by going paperless, you will have to spend a little. But the following equipment shouldn’t put you back too much, and are practically essential to making the switch:

  • A scanner. In order to go completely paperless, you’ll need to digitize all your current files. To do this, you’ll need to scan each and every piece of paper into your online system. Though many firms use an all-purpose printer/copier/scanner, a specialized scanner solely for digitizing purposes may be a worthwhile investment.
  • A paper shredder. After you’ve digitized all your important documentation, you’ll have to destroy them. A paper shredder is your best option for keeping details confidential while still safely recycling the paper so as not to impact the environment negatively. Your shredder doesn’t have to be high-tech—simply get one that’s durable and shreds in confetti to keep information safe.

2. Halt faxing and printing

If you’re dedicated to pursuing a paperless system, your firm will need to stop accepting faxes or printing documents immediately. The more paper documents you accumulate, the longer it will take you to digitize all paper.

Encourage collaborators and clients to email files rather than fax or use a program that converts all faxes into emails. Utilize electronic client intake forms and even pivot your day-to-day printed memos or meeting notes to electronic versions.

3. Begin to digitize documents

Though this is likely the most tedious task, digitizing all existing documents is key to successfully going paperless. You’ll want to scan all legal files into a storage system. You don’t necessarily have to do this yourself—enlist professional help if you have a significant number of existing files.

A cloud storage system like Box or Dropbox will allow you to store files on the cloud (rather than your own server) and share them with colleagues, clients, or collaborators.

4. Protect your firm’s files

Although most cloud storage solutions are secure, it is wise to implement additional security features to protect your legal documents. Use two-factor authentication, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), or additional permissions to ensure confidentiality.

5. Use an automated client intake process

Electronic client forms are an incredibly functional tool, even for those firms who elect not to go completely paperless. By instructing clients to complete electronic forms, you can immediately populate their pertinent information into your workflows and practice management software. If you need clients to sign those forms, think about implementing an eSignature solution.

6. Implement a CRM system

A Client Relationship Management (CRM) system can be instrumental in your paperless journey. These systems streamline the client intake process and provide a secure client portal through which your firm’s clients can securely communicate with your attorneys. In addition, CRMs enable rapid document sharing (remember, all your documents are or will soon be digitized!) and ultimately improve your clients’ experience.

Help the environment and your firm with paperless solutions

Though it may feel like a huge undertaking to immediately transition your law firm to a paperless system, you can take it one step at a time. By first implementing an automated client intake process, halting the accumulation of future paper documents, and beginning to digitize your current files, you can be well on your way to a paperless future. Your planet, your team, and your clients will thank you for your efforts.

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