Converting to a paperless office is a worthwhile goal for any organization, but the legal industry can benefit more than most. There are specific steps your legal office can take to ensure that nothing gets lost in the shuffle during your conversion to electronic document management. Although the conversion might not be instantaneous, you’ll soon find that it is well worth the effort.
Why Should Your Office Go Paperless in the First Place?
There are lots of good reasons to go paperless. While reducing or eliminating the use of paper is important for the environment, most legal offices are more concerned with saving money, space, and time. Fortunately, document management delivers.
Storing digital files takes up hardly any room. There’s no need for you to upgrade to a bigger office space because your filing cabinets are taking over. Document management also saves money, because you won’t have to pay for paper, toner, files, filing cabinets, and storage space.
But the biggest advantage that going paperless has to offer is workspace efficiency. Instead of running around the office for 3 hours trying to find a certain file, it only takes a few seconds and a few clicks to find it inside your document management system. That’s a big boost for your productivity. And if you’re billing by the hour, the time you save can really add up.
How Can You Eliminate the Use of Paper?
As wonderful as it is to go paperless, you will probably have to make the move gradually. Depending on your current use of paper, it makes sense to take it one step at a time. At the very least, you should plan in advance how you’re going to replace paper, especially if you set a deadline for paper use at your office.
Set Up a Document Management System
If you want to stop using paper, then you need a document management system. Instead of storing your files in filing cabinets inside your office or in a storage room, you’ll use an electronic file manager. In the beginning, you may decide to convert all of your files to electronic documents by scanning them in. You could also just stop creating paper files and put everything in electronic format going forward—that way you only need to scan the documents that are absolutely necessary to make the switch quick and painless.
Scan Incoming Mail Right Away
Even if your office is paperless, you’ll still receive snail mail. In order to avoid a paper overload, your office needs to scan incoming mail right away. Scanning the mail the day it comes in ensures that you have everything you need at your fingertips, so nothing can get hidden or buried.
Print Your Documents to PDF
In order stop using paper, you have to stop using the printer. Whenever you create a document, you should print it to PDF. This allows you to save it in an unalterable format inside of your electronic document management system.
Stop Using Your Fax Machine
It’s astounding that many companies still use fax machines, even though it’s much easier to send an email. The problem with fax machines is that they print out endless pages of paper if you let them. The answer is simple: get rid of your fax machine.
There are many different online services that allow you to send faxes much like you would send an email. You don’t need another phone number, and you never have to print any paper. Incoming faxes come to your email inbox in the form of a PDF document.
Use eSignature Whenever Possible
It’s quite common for legal documents to require signatures. That probably won’t change anytime soon. Fortunately, you don’t have to print out the paper, sign it, scan it in again, and attach it to your email. Now there’s a new way to sign documents, and it’s called eSignature. The best part of using eSignature is that your documents all stay in one file, and the signature even looks good.
Challenges for Paperless Offices
We won’t pretend that going paperless will be easy and effortless. But we know that you can meet the challenges by training your staff, getting your employees on board with the new technology, and communicating with outside agencies.
Training Your Staff
Your staff might not appreciate having to do things differently. Normally, employees resent new technology because they don’t know how to use it properly. Fortunately, you can implement appropriate training for your staff to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.
Getting Employees on Board with the New Technology
You can offer all the training in the world, but if your employees are not on board, then training won’t be enough. In addition to providing your employees with the resources they need to master the document management system, it’s important to acknowledge their concerns. Eventually, they’ll see the benefits, too—especially when they spend less time searching for files.
Communicating with Outside Agencies
Whether you’re communicating with clients, other attorneys, or the court system, not everyone will be used to paperless communications. Fortunately, you can get people on board using emails or electronic faxes fairly quickly, since these methods will save on paper and postage. Just be sure to verify that the outside agencies got the documents you sent electronically.