Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 12 seconds

In the year 2000, when New Orleans lawyer Ernest Svenson was handling a case requiring an abundance of discovery -- meaning paper documents -- a friend offered use of his scanner. A somewhat novel piece of office equipment at the time, using the scanner allowed Svenson to organize the discovery on his laptop so he could access it easily and quickly. “It was an epiphany,” he says.


While he was thrilled with the ease with which he could access his scanned documents, Svenson was not sure whether a paperless work environment was realistic. “The hard part for me was figuring out if this was a useful tool or a fluke,” he says. 


So what started as a way to organize one case led Svenson to rethink the way attorneys do business overall.


Defining the paperless law office

Svenson, who authors the blog Paperlesschase defines a paperless law office as one where an attorney and his or her team “actively seek to limit the use of paper by using technology and other methods.”


According to Svenson, defining the paper-free work environment is tricky. “If you define it the wrong way, it’s unrealistic,” he says. It does not mean the use of paper is completely outlawed, but it is severely diminished, he explains.


The process of transforming the stereotypical law office into a paperless one can be daunting if the lawyer attempts to do it in one fell swoop. First, it’s important to realize that in 2014, using digital documents is not a new concept. Many courts, including all Federal courthouses, require electronic filing.


“People have been using digital documents for years but they didn’t know how to organize them,” says Svenson.


Useful tools for going paperless

Going paperless means more than merely scanning and saving written communications and discovery documents. It also goes beyond owning a laptop, scanner and printer. It extends into tapping into useful web sites and apps designed to help a person organize their thoughts, notes, papers and research.


Svenson himself relies on several apps, each designed to help him lessen his dependence on paper in different ways. For example, he uses the app Evernote to store people’s business cards and type notes. The app also features plug-ins that allow the user to store web pages and Google searches. While those offerings are free, the memory is limited, so Svenson pays an annual fee for additional storage.


“I use Evernote as my black hole,” he says. So, whenever he comes across information he thinks he will want to revisit in the future, he saves it to Evernote. That way, he can refer back to it anytime.


Another useful app is Uberconference, a free conference call service. For additional suggestions, check out Svenson’s blog, where he recently posted on the topic.


Pros of going paperless

Svenson cites at least three benefits for taking a law office paperless. They include:


* Helping with organization

* Improving an attorney’s research efficiency

* Supporting a the professional’s ability to work from anywhere, at any time and on practically any device


Going paperless also saves money. There’s less ink to buy for printing opposing counsel’s unwieldy briefs. Less strain on the copier means fewer repairs, a reduced need for toner and paper purchased. Less paper means fewer file folders and a diminished need for file cabinets.


Going paperless also means an increased reliance on technology, such as cloud storage. There are also costs involved in buying virtual storage space for all the documents being scanned, and remote storage at an off-site location is also encouraged.


Svenson offers some advice if several people will need to access the digitized content. “If more than five users [need to access the documents], you need a formal document management system,” he says.


A paperless proponent speaks

For Al Thompson, a general practitioner in New Orleans, adapting Svenson’s paperless approach has changed not only his law practice, but his personal life, as well.


“I like to take home a lot of work over the weekend. As a solo practitioner, I don’t have to be at my office at any specific time. Then I realized having access to my documents at any time, from anywhere, sounded fantastic to me,” says Thompson, who has been practicing law since 1985.


But Thompson’s turning point occurred in January 2013. He was involved in a two-day civil trial that involved a wealth of discovery and a lot of paper. Having attended law school with Svenson and being an avid reader of his blog, Thompson thought the case presented the ideal opportunity to determine if going paperless would help him be more organized. He scanned and saved all his documents into his iPad, walking into court with just his small briefcase while opposing counsel pushed in a large cart overflowing with files, papers and dog-eared books.


After two days of deliberation, the jury came back deadlocked. When that case came back for retrial in May 2013, Thompson just clicked his way through his iPad to refresh his memory. The jury for the retrial deliberated only 30 minutes before returning a verdict for Thompson’s client.


“It was then I realized paperless was the way to go,” says Thompson.


In addition to the decreased need for paper, storage supplies and postage stamps, Thompson emails opposing counsel as often as possible rather than sending a formal letter. 


Going paperless has also saved Thompson money in another way. “I buy digital code books for far less than the hard copies cost and I don’t have to store those big books. I have a law library on my phone. Set up is easy and I refer to it often, and that saves me time,” he says.


On a personal level, Thompson says that since going paperless, he is far more efficient and relaxed. “It doesn’t take as much time to get the same amount of work done,” he says. “Going paperless has made me a better lawyer."


Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer. 

Last modified on Saturday, 12 July 2014
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