ABA Techshow

Attorneys tout the benefits of having a paperless law practice

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Having a truly paperless office will increase efficiency safeguard important client data–but getting there is often the hardest part.

In a packed conference room at ABA Techshow on Thursday at the Hilton Chicago, Bryan Sims of Sims Law Firm in Naperville, Ill., and Jim Calloway, practice management advisor for the Oklahoma Bar Association, provided some tips for lawyers looking to get out from the never-ending avalanche of papers, file folders and boxes.

Calloway framed the issue as one of legal ethics. “The standards have changed as to what constitutes negligence and due care,” he said. “In today’s world, it’s an inordinate risk to have all this critical information in a file folder that could easily be lost or stolen.” Plus, having a central document management system for your office means that multiple people can work on the same matter from any location without needing access to physical documents.

Sims and Calloway both emphasized that going paperless takes lots of planning and is not something that can be done overnight. “You must have some sort of written plan or strategy dealing with the all the documents you have,” said Sims. “And yes, that can be on paper if you want.”

Among the rules they recommended was to have a strict naming convention for files and to come up with a standardized workflow for every employee in the office. Keeping documents as a backup is fine as a precaution, but both Sims and Calloway recommended against doing it as a practice.

“The danger is to be halfway there,” said Calloway. “If you want to keep some paper backups for a little bit, that’s fine if you’re not comfortable going cold turkey. Ultimately, though, people tend to gravitate towards what’s familiar and what makes them comfortable. Pretty soon, you’ll be back to using paper.”

Calloway conceded that there will be some documents you must keep in their paper form, such as executed wills, documents that require a “wet” signature, and documents that are evidence themselves (like forgeries or bloodstained documents). But even though documents should be scanned, Calloway maintained.

Sims had another solution for what to do with paper documents. “Generally, once I process the document, I dispose of it,” said Sims. “Often, I’ll send it to the client because they might want them for their own files. I’ve also found that my clients like getting mail from me that isn’t a bill.”

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