Some practical guidance on moving to a “paper-lite” existence

The benefits of moving to Paper-less or Paper-lite business environments

Given just how many documents, files and storage boxes inhabit the average law firm, it’s perhaps not surprising that any mention of moving to a paper-less or paper-lite operating environment is met with nervous gulps or stony stares. It’s a huge challenge, there’s no getting away from it, but the bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward potentially. So before looking at ‘paper-less’ strategies, let’s review what the average firm stands to gain if they can move towards a more digital approach to their work.

The first thing to say is that during this type of transformational project the business is forced to examine everything it does. So this will not only throw up areas where paper can be removed from an organisation, but it will also highlight a variety of less than best-practice processes which can be ‘fixed’ at the same time.

Storing archived paper costs a lot of money and, unless you are prepared to invest resources to sort, filter and destroy the older files each year, the cost does not go away. It compounds. More expensive than the storage costs are the retrieval costs. If you store the paper off-site the expense is obvious and high, but if you store it on-site the cost is more hidden but nonetheless there. Somebody has to wade through the dusty storage rooms to retrieve the boxes, extract the files, and then return them when used.

Storing current files is expensive. Whether a fee earner works in open plan or their own office, there is never enough space to store all their files. They are always clamouring for more cabinets, more lever arch files and book cases, or else their space resembles a paper recycling plant, with files spread on every available surface. By converting some or all of the incoming paper to electronic files, and resisting the urge to print every communication off and store it on a physical spike a lot more office space is freed up for plants, family photo-frames, and empty coffee cups!
By extending the project to include scanning incoming key letters and documents and attaching to an electronic case plan, it is possible to allow the workforce to be more mobile if that would benefit the business. No longer is it necessary for fee earners to cart huge or multiple files from the office to client premises, or home, or branch offices, instead they can access their case plan remotely and pick up the salient information electronically.

File auditing becomes a lot easier. It can be done remotely and without the need to tie up the paper file for any length of time. Outsourcing the file audit process becomes a lot more viable.
By attaching all emails to the case plan and enforcing a discipline of only printing out essential emails that are needed in paper form half a rainforest of paper can be saved. Investing in some inexpensive software to manage your email printing so that only the most recent email and not the whole conversation string is printed, if not needed, will also save a fortune in paper and print costs.

Having everything as an electronic file simplifies disaster recovery and business continuity. You can have all your data backed up and mirrored across geographically disparate locations, so it’s accessible 24/7 whatever happens. Can you really imagine duplicating your entire paper estate and putting it in another warehouse, just in case fire or flood should take out the originals?
You can quickly build a case for a future featuring less paper – a lot less paper. But as you look around you, at the mounds of the stuff in cabinets, on desks, in hallways, in basements, it is tempting to ask ‘But how on earth do we actually DO it?!’

That’s the question I’ll attempt to answer in the next blog!