Is your office "paperless"? Tell me how it works.

I work in a traditional, old-school law firm. Our office manager, dazzled by the thought of all the money we’d save by not having to store files, has deemed that we should go paperless. This involves scanning everything in all our files, storing the scans in the cloud, and disposing of the paper files.

We have a lot of mature attorneys, paralegals and secretaries, and needless to say, we are all unhappy. The attorneys because they’re afraid they won’t be able to find anything in the cloud. The secretaries because there’s literally a warehouse full of files to deal with, and there’s some mention of having each file gone through to make sure it’s in order and everything properly labeled before scanning. Since the files go back decades, the past styles of indexing of them is all over the map.

All this after staff has been cut to the bone, and we secretaries are working for six attorneys each, besides doing double duty as unofficial paralegals.


What’s your experience?

So far in our government office it has saved on file space but doubled our paper usage. We need to take many of our reports and documents out into the field with us. So now, instead of just taking the file, we need to print a copy. Then since there is no where to keep it, we throw it away then done. Need a copy again next week, you print another.

Don’t even get me started on the amount of time us caseworkers have to muck with the scanners to get things uploaded. We make about $24/hour, so an hour a day times 9 workers adds up quick.

I’m not a business manager so I may be missing something, but how does this save us money again?

It sounds like they don’t realize that paper is a necessar tool, not just a medium for information that costs money. As Captain_C already pointed out, the portability of a paper report or document is incredible. A completely paperless office would be devastating to productivity.

It is a very nice concept, but its very hard in application. Much like the “always chew your food 30 times before swallowing” rule.

In my industry, construction, it makes sense to try and keep files scanned in to a central database, and to try and do them electronically. However, in practicality, its a lot easier to print out a piece of paper, walk over to a guy, and show him directly where the error is or what the specifications call for. What takes 10 seconds to do with a piece of paper takes minutes to do when one must open up an electronic document, scroll to the right section, point out where the information is, show it to the guy, have him verify its on their copy, and then accept the change.

Some people might have made it work, but I’ve heard of this “paperless” concept for going on 20 years, and it still hasn’t met realization.

I work for a software company, so it’s pretty easy. Everything is done with email, mailing lists, and our internal apps. Almost everything is originated online to start with, so there’s not even a process to transfer from paper to machine. We can create any software we need, but recently we’ve started to move toward commercial products so we don’t waste resources creating and maintaining software we don’t sell.

But if you’re not in the software business, going paperless takes time. There are plenty of useful apps out there, but every organization has it’s special needs. You need some large servers to hold all that data, backup facilities, communications, training for your employees, and usually new employees to provide technical services. Not every company realizes what these up front costs can amount to.

I can’t even imagine how painful converting a long-established law firm to paperless would be. I’ll bet at least one of your senior partners still dictates things for someone else to type. How many extra secretarial staff will be needed to print documents so they don’t have to be bothered with reading them on screen?

In contrast, my office has no problem with being paperless. We have no physical source documents to be concerned with. Everything is either email or online forms, so I can go weeks without printing anything, and I think the last time I touched a stapler was about five months ago.

I started my law practice about 2 1/2 years ago, and I have tried to be as paperless as possible since the beginning. I would HATE to try to convert a paper file system to a paperless one, much easier to have started that way.

I can’t completely get rid of paper – I’m required by law to keep hard copy originals of certain things. But everything else is paperless. In my line of work (consumer bankruptcy), everything that gets filed is done so electronically. And the bankruptcy trustees would much prefer to get scanned PDFs via e-mail than hard copies.

I have a pretty straightforward and easy to figure out file-naming convention. But I don’t have any staff – so I don’t have to worry about training other people to find documents. I don’t typically have the need to scan anything larger than 50 pages, so I just have a Fujitsu Scansnap scanner on my desk. If it breaks, I’ll get a new one, but it’s been awesome to me so far.

As an example of paperlessness – if I have a declaration to get signed by my client and file with court, I first type it up (I use open office). I have a paid version of Adobe Acrobat, so I’m able to export it to a PDF. If my client is tech savvy, I can e-mail it to them, they print it out themselves, sign it, and e-mail or fax it back to me. If they fax it, I have e-fax so it goes directly to my e-mail in PDF format anyway. If my client doesn’t have e-mail, of course, then I would have to print up a copy.
If they mail me back a hardcopy, I now scan it to PDF, then electronically file it with the court, and e-mail a copy to the trustee. If they were able to print it themselves and fax me a copy, I’ve done the whole process without printing a single sheet of paper.

Not everything is that seamless. But I rarely print out hardcopies of things I’ve scanned – I take a laptop to court with me.

I really can’t see how it could happen. Paper is too important when you need to cover your ass.

That’s funny - I’ve worked for a Chapter 7 Trustee for 15 years, and he and I fight the office manager tooth and nail to avoid paperless systems. We accept no documents via email, even going so far as getting together with two other trustees in our district to have the UST issue a special directive requiring all Schedules, etc., sent via US Mail.

Both of us use paper all the time - we both like the time savings (honed by years of 341s) of flipping between pages versus loading files on a laptop, scrolling around for the right info, then using whatever mechanism available for notes - and there are always lots and lots of notes when acting as Trustee, for the life of the case. Hell, I still miss our old Rolodex cards - its far, far easier to just grab the client’s card from the Rolodex and clip it to whatever I need to call about, so when I inevitably need to follow up an unreturned call, I have it right there. With everything as a contact in the PC, you have to copy it down on a sticky, or, in the true spirit of being paperless, load the damn data every time.

Plus, I think my eyes would melt from staring at screens all day.

Question - how does noting things down work electronically? I know each program has a way to attach notes, but what about ones that don’t? I can’t imagine having to type every detail I need from every phone call somewhere - and how am I tracking my follow ups? Now, I write it on a sticky note, and for anything less than 7 days, I throw it into a stack, and look at that “task stack” every morning. How can that be paperless? When something pops up on my calendar, I pull the file and have instant access to all the data, instead of opening 3-5 programs (Adobe, our financial program and a database I wrote at a minimum) and trying to scroll around and take notes and put everything together for the next step.

I can’t even imagine making that paperless, and I am no technophobe…

On the trustee’s side, here in California, it will not only vary by district, but by division – and not even every trustee in the same division has the same requirements. As of a couple years ago at least, the Bakersfield and Fresno trustees were like you – no e-mail or fax, it had to be paper. (Some) Sacramento trustees use Doclink, (some) Modesto trustees use Epiq Systems, and then some still require paper, or just a direct e-mail, etc etc. And that’s just the California Eastern district, I don’t know what the other districts do. Most trustees (from what I can tell on my side of the table, anyhow) have the petition and docket up on their computer screen, and then somewhere between 3 and 10 pieces of paper in a folder that they take notes on. Sometimes they’ll have a schedule printed out that they have a particular question on.

As for my files, everything gets scanned as a PDF, no other format, and I can make whatever notes I need to directly into a PDF – and I also keep a word doc in each client’s folder, full of my phone notes, etc.

But here’s the catch. My filing rate is pretty low compared to a big firm – I don’t have any employees, so I can get away with only filing a handful of cases each month. I’d like to think my system is scalable, but it’ll only be tested if I get much much busier (and if I’m not the only one working with it). Also, everything I’ve said is best case scenario – at any time, I’ll have a handful of actual folders with post-its and other notes written out, so there’s definitely paper on my desk. I just make sure it all gets scanned in, and then shredded when I’m done working with it.

I also have an advantage at the 341 hearing (this will be meaningless to everyone but you, I suspect) – on my laptop, I have the original PDF of the petition generated by my software, which includes …bookmarks! There’s a huge difference between trying to scroll part-way through the file to approximately where I think Schedule B should be, and hoping to get lucky – versus me just clicking on the Sch. B bookmark and zipping straight there.

Is the office manager going to hire a company to do this, and you have to organize it, or do you have to do everything yourselves (the former would make sense but I’m fearing it’s the latter)?

I (in the US) work for European pharmaceutical companies so most stuff gets sent by email or gets uploaded to an e-room and recipients get sent the link, thus avoiding overburdening the email system and individual inboxes with space-hogging documents.

Back in the olden days when I started (the mid-90s) if a document had to be sent to the HQ in Switzerland we’d send it by diplomatic “pouch”. DHL was heavily used at the time, too.

The studies I work on use paper case report forms, so these are scanned and put on the vendor’s server for us to download. Rarely will we actually print anything.

In my organization e-rooms tend to be more informal. Access is controlled by someone on the project team. IOW I don’t have to complete a generic request form, get it signed by my manager, and send it to an IT support team and then they have to send it to whomever…

Then there are systems where access and document life cycle and promotion (draft, out for review, final, archived, etc.) are more strictly controlled, and more of a pain in the butt to work in.

For our purposes certain (non-scanned) documents can be saved in rich text format (RTF) rather than PDF to save room. We’re always looking to save room. RTF docs also load quicker. If I’m in a meeting and someone needs to see the profile for a patient an RTF opens in seconds where when opening a PDF an uncomfortable silence ensues while it loads. A run of profiles that would be ~95 MB in PDF can be ~18 MB in RTF.

As for people’s working habits, the paperless office thing is encouraged but not strictly enforced. Some people just work better with paper. I’ll only print something out as a last resort.

I did a lot of business with estate and real estate attorneys a couple years ago and was always astonished at how old-tech the documents were or how they were copies of copies of copies. Even court-generated documents looked like they were banged out on a typewriter in courier font.