What is a paperless law office?
Many lawyers are bewildered about what it means to have a paperless law practice. Here is some sensible information that debunks the a big myth, and answers some common questions.
Big Myth: You use no paper – the notion that anyone could somehow completely eliminate the use of paper is ridiculous. You’re not joining an extremist cult where you’re required to take a vow to abstain from paper at all costs. Besides, it’s impossible to avoid paper altogether.
A paperless law office is about obtaining some powerful new benefits —namely, the ability to instantly access your client files anytime, even if you’re out of the office. If you’re in a place that has an Internet connection then you should be able to access your most important information. That’s the power that a paperless law office gives you.
What papers do you have to keep? – Sometimes you’ll be required to keep information in paper format. For example, wills and promissory notes are probably something you have to preserve in paper form. Maybe your practice area, or your jurisdiction, requires some documents to be in paper format.
If you’re required by law to keep information in paper format then obviously you’re going to comply with the law. But, odds are, you won’t often run into this kind of requirement. And keeping track of the few documents that have to be in paper form isn’t a burden.
What documents should you keep in paper form? – Suppose you’re a criminal court attorney who takes pro bono cases where you’re basically handed a file as you go into court. It wouldn’t make sense to get the file, run back to your office to scan it, and then come back into court.
Here’s the simple question that leads to a sensible answer: does having the information in digital format make you more efficient, or make it easier for you work on your client matter? If so, then leaving the document in paper form is probably the best choice.
Client consent to digitize files – You may not have to get your client’s permission to manage their information in digital form, but it might be a good idea. With your client’s written permission, you know for certain that you can shred all the paper that you receive.
You probably want to update your client engagement letter to make it clear that you have a policy of not keeping paper. Disclose that you’ll only be keeping the file in digital format, usually PDF. Tell your clients that, if they want to have paper documents preserved, they need to inform you in writing of that desire, and arrange to have the paper picked up. Your clients will never choose to deal with paper, trust us.
Finally, inform the clients that you will provide a digital copy of their file upon written request at any time. And specify how long you will keep the digital file. You’ll probably keep the file for longer, but it’s nice to have the option to delete the digital file if you want to, or have to.