Law Firms – How NOT to Go Paperless

February 13, 2018In Paperless Law OfficeBy Dennis Dimka
paperless law firm

The Paperless Law Firm – How NOT to Do It

I’ve witnessed and helped many law firms go paperless.This ranges from law firms that were already somewhat paperless looking to complete their journey, to law firms that did everything in paper, and were about to take their first step.And then there is everything in between. Achieving a paperless law firm is a goal for many law firms, big and small.But it doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. We’ve written and spoken about how to achieve a paperless law firm a lot on the past few years. But I realized, that I haven’t enumerated on how not to go paperless.

At least not enough.

If that seems like an odd statement… it’s because for every one law firm I see successfully go paperless in a way that was aligned with the purpose of going paperless (efficiency, organization, data security)… I’ve seen a law firm go paperless the wrong way. In an incredibly disorganized fashion. In a way that puts their client data at more risk.In a disjointed, or inefficient manner.

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Looking for a Legal Document Management System?

LexWorkplace was born in the cloud, and built for law firms. Manage documents, email, matters and more with our award-winning legal DMS. Get in touch with our team to learn more.

Going paperless, and achieving a paperless law firm isn’t just possible. It’s a good idea. Heck, I might even go so far to say it’s your ethical and practical responsibility.

Because (quick recap):

  • Security – Maintaining electronic versions of documents makes them easy to back up and keep safe.
  • Searchability – It’s difficult, or impossible, to effectively search hardcopy documents.
  • Access documents anywhere – You can easily take electronic documents with you on any device and access them remotely in the cloud.
  • Your clients expect it.

Just to name a few reasons.(And just in case you need more, see: 7 Reasons to Implement a Paperless Law Firm.)

But there’s definitely a right and a wrong way to achieve a paperless law firm.

The right ways I’ve enumerated here, How to Achieve a Paperless Law Office.

Let’s explore the wrong ways to go paperless, to make sure you avoid them, and to explain just why they’re the wrong way.

Wrong Way #1: On-Premise File Servers

Yes, you could use your law firm’s G: drive, or on-premise file server as a means to go paperless.

Technically.

I’ve seen this method plenty of times. Create a folder called matters in your law firm’s main network share or mapped drive. Make a folder for each client or matter. Then put documents in each matter folder.Quick and easy, right?

Not so fast.

I’ve worked with hundreds of law firms that have done exactly this, and the problems are many.

  • On-premise servers require constant maintenance, upgrades and repair.
  • Your G: drive isn’t easily accessible form outside your office.
  • Organization (or lack thereof) is left to the discretion and habits of every one of your employees.
  • The G: drive is not easily indexed and searchable.
  • File servers with basic filesystems don’t include sophisticated tools to manage documents, including:
    • Document profiling and tagging
    • Version management
    • Document check-out/in
    • Management of email along with documents
    • OCR
    • File change alerts
    • Scan and fax integration

You may not need every item in this list, but you’ll likely need some of them. The lack of features and lack of real, matter-centric organization will turn into a huge, unorganized mess of documents in your G: drive.

Wrong Way #2:Basic Cloud Storage

So, you’ve heard about the cloud and all the great benefits it brings to businesses and law firms.And you’ve resolved to leverage the cloud to benefit your firm. Hooray!

This leads many law firms, in their early stages of learning about the cloud and legal technology, to take a look at basic, consumer-grade cloud storage solutions. Systems like Dropbox, Box, OneDrive or Google Drive (just to name a few). They seem like a good go-to solution, right? Easy to set up, nice and cheap.

Again–not so fast.

Basic cloud storage solutions are fine for your personal use, to store basic files, photos… but not for your law firm.

Basic cloud storage solutions like these are just that. A simple interface to make folders and put things in them.Nothing more, nothing less. (Really, their your G: drive in a web browser.)

These solutions, similarly, lack true document management functions, features your firm will need.Basic cloud storage:

  • Lacks matter-centric organization of documents
  • Does not allow you to manage documents and email in one system
  • May store data outside of the US
  • Also lacks sophisticated tools to manage documents

While these services do keep you out of the business of managing on-premise servers and do make your data accessible to you from anywhere (and that’s a good thing), they lack any real functionality that a law firm needs. Things like automatic OCR, the ability to search all documents and email, matter-centric organization, document tagging and more.

If you’re a solo lawyer, these might do the trick.Otherwise,look for something more legal-grade as you build your paperless law firm.

Related: Document Management vs Consumer-Grade Cloud Storage

The Right Way: A Cloud-based, Matter-centric Document Management System

So, now you know how not to achieve a paperless law firm.So how should you take your law firm paperless?

With a Document Management System.

But not just any Document Management System.Ideally, a cloud-based, matter-centric document management system.

Your law firm’s Document Management System (which I’ll abbreviate as DMS, and you can too for extra techy points) will act as the digital hub for your paperless law firm.Your DMS will serve as:

  • The warehouse, which stores your documents, and
  • An engine, which provides useful tools for your firm to manage documents.

A Legal DMS goes well beyond simply storing your documents. It actively indexes all documents and email to make all of your firm’s data searchable. It maintains versions of documents each time a document is changed. It allows users to check documents out to keep the locked, and check them in later. It allows your staff to add comments and notes to documents. It allows you to tag and categorize documents as contracts, motions, interrogatories and more.

The DMS you select should be cloud-based, so that you can access it anywhere, and to avoid the on-premise server and onsite IT support that a premise-based DMS requires. You will also never outgrow a cloud-based DMS the way you can (and eventually will) outgrow an on-premise DMS on an onsite server.

Related: How to Achieve a Paperless Law Office

DMS Functionality

While you may not need every trapping that a DMS offers, I recommend evaluating the list below, circulating it within your law firm and getting a sense of what functions your law firm needs. This will help you narrow down your search to a shortlist of best-fit DMS options for your firm.

  • Matter-centric organization and document management.
  • Document version management.
  • Email management / Outlook Integration
  • Microsoft Office / Word Integration.
  • Index and Search.
  • Automatic OCR
  • Document Tagging and Profiling
  • Document Comments, Notes and Metadata
  • Scan and Fax Integration
  • File and Folder Permissions
  • Local Sync / Offline Access
  • Document Deadline Management

While not an exhaustive list of all possible features, these functions make up the “usual suspects” list of things most commercial DMS’s do.

Related: Finding the Best Legal Document Management Software

Closing the Loop

And that’s how not to build a paperless law firm. And–hopefully just enough guidance on how you should go paperless, and what to look for in a DMS, your paperless law firm epicenter.

Hungry for more info? Take a look at our eBook, The Zero-Paper Law Firm, the Ultimate Guide to Going Paperless.

Or download a copy of our Paperless Law Firm Checklist for a great battle-plan on achieving a paperless law firm.

Finally, grab a copy of our Document Management Comparison chart, to find the best fit for your paperless law firm.

Good luck!