How to Go Paperless and Reduce Footprints
Becoming a paperless law firm has gained in popularity over the past few years, and for good reason. Historically, the legal industry has had a problem with the use (and overuse) of paper. But as more law firms embrace remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of traditional paper documentation is dropping sharply.
The shift to a paperless law firm can not only support remote working arrangements, but it can also keep documents organized, secure, and positively impact the environment. If your business is considering pursuing digital documentation, there are a number of tips and resources available that can help you transition smoothly.
How dematerialization can benefit your law firm
Many businesses around the world are adopting a paperless system for a number of reasons. Some of the benefits you will experience by switching to a paperless law firm include:
Clear storage space. Without needing to store tens of thousands of sheets of paper, your business can use your precious office space for other things. It is even possible that the team is working entirely remotely, without a physical company.
Reduced expenses. If you’re paying to store files in an offsite unit, paperless can help your business save money. You’ll also save money by not having to constantly buy reams or crates of paper. Not to mention reducing the costs of delivering hard copies of documents to various parties. With electronic signature capabilities, you can ask customers to sign documents in seconds.
Small footprint. By minimizing the amount of paper your business buys and uses, you can have a positive impact on the environment. Not only are trees destroyed in the papermaking process (and a tree can absorb up to 2,000 pounds of harmful CO2 over its lifetime), the creation of 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 transform paper to its iconic crisp white hue can pollute groundwater, not to mention the significant amount of energy paper makers need for all other aspects of the process. By getting rid of paper, you can help lead the change to protect the environment.
Organized and secure documents. With the help of law firm management software, you can ensure that your records stay organized and accessible wherever you are. With digital access to documents, you can password protect each case and change the password as needed to ensure optimal security at all times. In the event of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or fire, you can ensure that your files are always safe in electronic form.
Improved productivity. Without having to go down to the basement and then search for hours on end for a single document, your team can access any file they need with a single click. Teams using digital files are arguably more productive than those using traditional methods.
Tips for moving to a paperless law firm
Are you ready for your business to go digital? These six tips can help you make the transition smoothly and successfully:
1. Gather the necessary materials
Before you can save money by going paperless, you’ll need to spend a little. But the following gear shouldn’t set you back too far, and is pretty much a must-have for the transition:
A scanner. In order to go completely paperless, you will need to scan all of your current files. To do this, you will need to scan every piece of paper in your online system. While many businesses use an all-purpose printer / copy / scanner, a specialized scanner just for scanning purposes can be a worthwhile investment.
A paper shredder. After scanning all your important documents, you will need to destroy them. A shredder is your best option for keeping details private while recycling paper safely so you don’t have a negative impact on the environment. Your shredder doesn’t have to be high-tech – just get a durable, confetti-shredder shredder to protect information.
2. Stop faxing and printing
If you are determined to pursue a paperless system, your business should immediately stop accepting faxes or printing documents. The more paper documents you accumulate, the longer it will take you to scan all the paper.
Encourage employees and clients to email files rather than faxes, or use a program that converts all faxes to email. Use electronic client intake forms and even rotate your day-to-day printed memos or meeting notes to electronic versions.
3. Start scanning documents
While this is probably the most tedious task, digitizing all existing documents is essential for successful dematerialization. You will want to scan all legal files into a storage system. You don’t have to do it yourself: seek professional help if you have a large number of existing files.
A cloud storage system like Box or Dropbox will allow you to store files in the cloud (rather than on your own server) and share them with colleagues, clients or collaborators.
4. Protect your business files
Although most cloud storage solutions are secure, it is a good idea to implement additional security features to protect your legal documents. Use two-factor authentication, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), or additional permissions to ensure privacy.
5. Use an automated client intake process
Electronic customer forms are an incredibly functional tool, even for businesses that choose not to go completely paperless. By asking clients to fill out electronic forms, you can immediately fill in their relevant information into your workflows and practice management software. If you need customers to sign these forms, consider setting up an electronic signature solution.
6. Set up a CRM system
A customer 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 lawyers. In addition, CRMs allow rapid document sharing (remember, all your documents are or will soon be digitized!) And ultimately improve the experience of your customers.
Help the environment and your business with paperless solutions
While the immediate transition of your law firm to a paperless system may seem like a huge undertaking, you can take it step by step. By first implementing an automated client intake process, stopping the build-up of future paper documents, and starting to scan your current files, you can be on your way to a paperless future. Your planet, your team and your customers will thank you for your efforts.