Everyone talks about a paperless office but very few people actually have one, particularly in legal circles. We love our paper. Records going back into the mists of time, files, journals, publications, the list goes on and on … and every piece of paper needs to be recorded, actioned, filed and stored. An onerous and time-consuming task and, once you take into account the cost of stationery, staff to process the paper, rent for space to have it on hand in the office and later the on-going costs of archival (and retrieval, which invariably happens), each sheet of paper that comes in your front door is costing you so much they may as well be sheets of gold leaf.
So why do so few of us in the legal profession have, or even are attempting to implement, paperless or low-paper offices? Sometimes, the reason is nothing more solid than tradition – “the firm has operated this way for over 100 years and it isn’t about to change now”. Some firms believe it just can’t be done; some paper will still have to come in and out of the office and they cannot understand that a paperless workplace is a goal and not an absolute. Most often, however, the reason given is “we tried it but we couldn’t make it work”.
It is truly amazing how many companies took up the mantra of working in a more environmentally friendly office over the last decade and “couldn’t make it work”. A large part of why not is simply because being ‘green’ is a by-product of a well-designed paperless environment, not the cause. Admittedly, working for a young agency that
began free of the shackles of parchment, it has been easy to minimise the amount of paper we have to deal with every day. Not that we’re anti-paper … like the Telex and Cassette Walkman we remember it fondly; we just don’t want to own it in 2011.
What does it take to make an office work without paper? The same thing it does to work with paper – the correct tools, effective processes and committed people.
There are two foundations that need to work in harmony for a paperless office to succeed. The first is an IT system that takes full advantage of current technologies such as larger monitors, high quality scanners, smart phones, wireless networks and data storage mediums such as portable hard drives and USB memory sticks.
Secondly, you need people who are well trained and understand how to make the most effective use of these new tools; people who see everyone, from senior management down, using the same tools and procedures. People who think that not handling paper is the ‘norm’ and not the exception. In short, you need to have everyone ‘reading from the same iPad’.
In the last twelve months we have learnt that clients will happily pay an invoice sent by email, that it is easier to keep files safe and secure when they are electronic rather than in manila folders that you are constantly misplacing (or spilling coffee on) and that stationery can be merely a petty cash issue, not a capital expenditure.
Operating in a paperless environment – it’s a mindset. We’re already there, when are you taking the first steps?
by Andrew Hunter and Pauline Delaney