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Your law firm wants to go paperless.  Maybe not entirely paperless, but at least moving in that direction.  You already know the reasons why - improving efficiency, reducing costs, protecting the environment, and so on.  How to actually go about this task maybe isn't quite as obvious.

Here are a few ideas that might help.  Chances are you've already considered at least some of these ideas, and put them to good use a long time ago.  But if not, hopefully there  are a few things listed here that will make a real difference at your firm.

Questions, comments or suggestions about this article?  Send an e-mail to Comments@LegalSoftwareSystems.com
 


Don't Eliminate Important Documents
Unless you implement an alternate solution, you can't just stop generating paper and expect your firm to continue operating as normal.  Generally speaking, for every piece of paper you eliminate, you'll be utilizing some other type of technology in its place... which leads me to my next point.

Implement a Suitable Data Backup Process
Regardless of the method used for backing up data, there are a few important things to remember.  First, store backups off site.  In the case of a fire, those backup tapes sitting next to your server won't be of any use.  Fire-proof safes may not even help, as the temperature inside the safe could become high enough to ruin the data on a tape or disk.  Second, backup to a different removable device each day, over a minimum 10-day rotation period.  Third, monitor your backup reports daily, and actually test restore operations on a regular basis.  With these requirements met, you can start thinking about going paperless.

Document Storage and Management
As you read through this article, you will notice that more and more information will need to be stored and managed electronically.  You could do most of this with a well-managed system of network folders - but it may quickly become an overwhelming task.  Consider implementing a good document management system (DMS) before getting too far along with your paperless office plans.  A good DMS will help you keep all of your electronic files organized in ways that will make them more easily accessible later.  For some good informational videos showing a great DMS system in action, I recommend you take a look at the demonstration library at www.LSSe64.com.

Document Production
When legally acceptable, and agreeable by your client, produce documents in PDF format rather than on paper.  You'll need some sort of PDF creation software - like Adobe Acrobat.  Don't share the original word processing document with others, unless it's okay for them to make changes without you knowing it, or possibly viewing some of your comments, notes and formatting techniques (known as metadata).  Create a fresh PDF file instead, and consider password protecting sensitive information before sending via email.  And always retain a copy on your server.

E-mail Storage and Management
As more documents are shared electronically, e-mail storage will probably require some attention.  As with word processing documents, you could create a system of e-mail folders for storing messages and attachments transmitted between you and your clients.  But a good document management system will help you keep this information organized more efficiently.  Also, make sure that e-mail and attachments are stored in their native format without alterations.

Case Management Software
This almost goes without mentioning.  By now, most firms recognize the value of a good case management system.  Being able to manage calendars, case notes, contacts, etc. with efficient software is a must in any paperless environment.

Internal Forms
You may be surprised by the amount of paperwork generated by forms used within your own office.  E-mail can replace many of your internal paper-based forms and requests, but you will need some way of organizing any forms processed via e-mail.  A document management system can help.  However, for many internal processes, like client/matter intake, conflict searches and check requests, a new generation of "workflow management" software is providing an even better solution.  Workflow Management software is definitely worth some research.

Accounting Reports
Most accounting systems will now retain seemingly infinite transaction detail.  Time sheets, cost records, payment details, etc.  But beware - just because detail exists in the system, doesn't mean that you should go without important control and audit reports.  For example, consider the "missing timesheet" scenario.  An attorney claims to have worked for a client on a particular day, but nobody can find a time entry showing the work performed.  Maybe it was accidentally deleted.  Maybe it was never entered.  With a paper-based system, the attorney could produce the original posting edit - showing the time as it was originally entered.  In a paperless environment, the attorney still needs to be able to offer the same type of proof.  In short, your accounting system should continue to generate all the necessary control and audit reports, just not on paper.  Instead, important reports need to be generated electronically, then stored, organized and indexed in much the same way that a document management system functions.

Electronic Billing
There are two generally recognized methods for electronic billing, and your accounting system must be capable of both.  The first method is to simply produce a client invoice in PDF format.  The PDF file can then be e-mailed to the client, or posted on your firm's client portal website.  The second method requires that you produce invoices in special formats that can be imported into other software systems.  Whether or not either method is very efficient for the law firm is open for debate.  However, by offering these electronic billing options, your firm may be able to retain clients that would otherwise go to another firm.  And the more efficiently that you can produce electronic bills, the more profitable these cases will be.

Scanning Documents
By scanning existing documents, and any new documents you receive, physical storage space is reduced, copies can be shared with others without producing additional paper, documents are safer (with good backups) and they can be combined with other files in your document management system.  The key to a successful scanning process is making sure you have an efficient way to get documents from the scanner into your document management system.  Look for a document management system that can be "triggered" by your scanner.  This simple feature can eliminate several intermediate steps that would otherwise waste time and frustrate users.

Vendor Invoices
Consider scanning all of your vendor invoices and receipts.  Some accounting and workflow systems allow you to attach files (such as scanned invoices in PDF format) to check requests and various accounting transactions.  With vendor invoice images attached to accounting transactions, users can quickly access this information on-line via the case management system or billing and accounting system.

Parcel Mail
Many firms are now scanning incoming mail, and delivering it throughout the office via e-mail.  Not only can a single piece of mail be delivered simultaneously to multiple users, but the scanned files can be integrated into your document management system and become part of the electronic client record.

 


With proper planning and the right tools, your firm can help the environment and become more profitable - a win/win situation for everyone.  If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, I'd like to hear from you.  Feel free to drop me an e-mail at: comments@LegalSoftwareSystems.com

Sincerely,

Rob Wardan - President
Legal Software Systems, Inc.
 


About the Author
Rob Wardan is a software developer, technology consultant, President of Legal Software Systems, Inc. and has over twenty years of experience working with hundreds of law firms throughout the United States.

About Legal Software Systems, Inc.
Legal Software Systems, Inc. ("LSS") develops and supports comprehensive management software, designed exclusively for law firms.  Since 1984, LSS has continued to pioneer new and innovative technologies that integrate data and firm processes to help law firms become more efficient, more productive and more profitable.  And for over twenty years, LSS has consistently provided service and support that continues to be the envy of the industry.  For more information, call LSS toll-free at 1-800-331-4122 or visit www.legalsoftwaresystems.com

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