Paper past, digital destiny

This blog post was also featured as a column in the May 2015 issue of Legal Practice Management magazine. To read the issue in full, download LPM magazine.

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I've often pondered whether the paperless office is a dream or a reality - especially in the legal sector where the processes are so document-intensive. On average our clients' firms' hard copy storage grows between 8 to 12% per month, which makes us all wonder if we're ever going to achieve a paperless office environment.

Many of our clients' legal practice managers are given the command by the managing partner to make moves towards the end.

The task can be utterly overwhelming, and I have heard the same questions: How do we do this? Where do we start? Can we use our practice management software? How am I going to get all the partners on board with these changes? Can I pull this off?

Over the next three LPM columns, the File Queen will be guiding you through these questions as well as giving you some handy, free-of-charge tools to download from our website to aid you. As I often say, it's a long journey, but it's achievable at your business. I'll also be giving you links to some great white papers written on the subject.

Before we get started, I'd like to tell you that we've worked on a number of these projects with legal sector customers and here are some facts:

  • I have yet to witness a completely paper-free office in our SME legal sector market. Many larger law firms have greatly succeeded in moving many processes paperless, but paper is still very much part of the process. Even if you manage to stamp out the use of paper completely, you still have documents that need to be signed and original copies that need to be archived, such as wills and deeds.
  • The mission during these columns will be to focus on paper-less, not paperless. We will give you ideas and techniques for turning your practice into a paper-lighter operation.
  • No two legal practices work the same way. Different process, software and people make sure that each practice has to adjust for their own environment. 

The tools and ideas we give during these columns will give you a great starting point, but they need to be altered for your firm.

Be warned: it will be hard work. But it will be worth it. Any change of process will take a lot of planning, training and handholding.

So where do we start File Queen, I hear you shout? We start with your law firm's information management process (IMP). 

What is an IMP? This is the process of how your practice's information is created, used, shared, stored and accessed. The best example of this would be a matter file. How is it created? Who creates it? Who is it passed to? Where is the client information stored? Is there a physical and electronic file? How is this processed? When is this closed/archived? What happed to the archived files? How are they opened for access again? These are all considerations firms should be making.

Within your legal business you have a number of departments. Each department will have a different IMPs for their files, and you need to document this with an IMP flow chart so you can see the process each department uses. This is where we will start.

Over the next few months join me as we run through an IMP from start to finish. An example for a HR department is our website: www.archivestorage.net/IMP

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