Yesterday, I saw a somewhat misguided blog post on the risks of moving to a paperless law office. Basically, the author suggested that going paperless would be inherently more risky than sticking with a traditional paper office because you could lose electronic documents in the event of a technological glitch or human error.
But running a successful paperless office is not about just scanning all of your case files to your desktop computer, labeling computer files, throwing all of the originals in a recycling bin and crossing your fingers that your server won’t crash or a virus won’t take over your hard drive.
Setting Up a Successful Paperless Office
It is important to recognize the risks involved in any document storage system that you use in your law firm, but with the right tools, a paperless office can be as safe as (if not safer than) a paper office for managing your documents and case files. Here are a few ways to set up a successful paperless office:
- This one is simple but important: Always back-up your files, and keep your backups somewhere other than in your office next to your main computer. If you lose your laptop or a virus destroys your desktop computer, you will always have another copy that you can easily retrieve. If you are keeping your files strictly in a physical cabinet or in a pile on your desk, there will be no way to retrieve them if something gets lost or destroyed. Better yet, invest in a web-based storage system that allows you and other authorized users to access your files from any computer with an internet connection.
- One argument against a paperless office was the fact that some clients may miss emails, but what happens when the post office loses a letter or your client suddenly moves to a new apartment? In both paperless and paper offices, there is always a chance that your client might miss a message, so be sure to follow up with a phone call or request confirmation upon receipt of important messages.
- If you are worried about confidentiality, a virtual law office platform can provide you and your client with a secure, central location for sending and receiving messages and storing files, client data and case documents. In addition, some virtual law offices allow you to track any changes to the case file and restore pre-edited documents and forms. Both you and your client can view all of these updates and changes, so sharing a centralized, web-based storage and communication system can facilitate transparency and cooperation in the attorney-client relationship.
- Another argument against a paperless office was human error. However, in a paperless office, you can use your search engine to pull up files that have been misplaced. This might not be so easy when you are sifting through boxes in a storage room in your office basement. With a paperless system, you can search files according to dates, names, contents, updates and a variety of other options.
In the end, it is important to choose a legal document management system that works best for your office and your comfort level, but with the right planning for backups, communication, collaboration and file searches, a paperless office can be secure and beneficial way for attorneys and clients to monitor their case files.