The Paperless Law Firm

The Paperless Law Firm: Your Complete Guide

Law firms generate a ton of paper, from contracts to client intake documents to court documents. It’s common to walk into any firm and see stacks upon stacks of paper on any desk.

Unfortunately, this much paper leads to serious inefficiencies within your firm. First, you must spend precious time filing the documents. If the filing process isn’t streamlined, you’ll spend hours searching for the documents you need for each case (if you find them at all).

There’s a solution: going paperless. While it may seem like an impossible task, it isn’t. Technology enables us to do everything a filing cabinet and pen can do, from storing your documents to signing them. But before you crumple and slam dunk that document into your trash can, there are some things you should know.

In this guide, we’ll deliver everything you need to go paperless, including the steps you and your team must take for success.

Why Your Law Firm Should Go Paperless

How much time are you spending on “work about work”? According to project management leader Asana, teams spend 30% more time on duplicate work. Indeed, nearly 6.5 hours a week are wasted on this type of work.

Filing documents, searching through stacks of paper documents, organizing documents, weeding out duplicate documents…all of these tasks result in time wasted that could be spent on the more important tasks on your to-do list. You can recover a lot of that time by going paperless.

The Benefits of Moving to a Paperless Law Firm

Going paperless is about more than just having fewer boxes in storage. There are so many additional benefits from becoming better organized to improving client service. Eliminating paper will result in:

  • Improved organization: Hard copy documents can be spread over multiple boxes and filing cabinets. They may even be spread across different storage locations. By going paperless, you can organize your documents by matter and maintain storage consistency within your team.
  • Simplified search and replication: Paperless storage enables you to search your firm’s entire document repository in just a single click. This includes fast access to every document you’ve ever saved or created. With the right tools, It’s as easy as searching Google. You can also replicate documents such as contracts with just a couple of clicks—no copy machine required.
  • Enhanced security: Law firm documents always contain critical information that must be kept secure. Unfortunately, paper documents are susceptible to everything from natural disasters to theft. A paperless system protects your documents from loss through features such as automatic backups and encryption.
  • More accessibility: All of your documents, all in one place? That’s one of the key benefits of going paperless. Anyone on your team can access documents from any device connected to your software, whether in the courtroom or the office.
  • Improved collaboration: Going paperless improves collaboration by allowing you to easily send and share documents with your team or anyone externally. For example, outside counsel can send documents via email and they can be saved into your system instantly.
  • Enhanced client experience: Clients expect you to be paperless. They expect to be able to quickly pull up a document you sent or fill out their intake forms electronically. If you can’t meet these expectations, your clients will likely see you as behind the times. That may lead them to move on to one of your competitors.

Paperless or Paper-Lite?

In your search for answers, you’ve probably come across the term “paper-lite” in addition to paperless. While one means going without paper completely, the other means using minimal paper only where it’s required. Which option is best?

Going completely paperless is an admirable and worthwhile goal, however we also acknowledge that for law firms, certain documents simply must also exist in paper format (originals, signatures, and so forth).

If a purist approach to going paperless isn’t practical, a paper-lite strategy is likely the better outcome.

Philosophically, going paper-lite means using or maintaining physical paper documents only when necessary, for a clear, intentional reasons.  For instance, you may institute a policy where your firm will maintain paper copies of documents that meet (only) the following deliberately explicit criteria:


  • Original Signature(s) Required
  • Court Issued Documents
  • Explicit Client Request

How Not to Go Paperless Within Your Law Firm

We’ve assisted hundreds of law firms in their quest for the Cloud and have learned so much along the way, including what firms should avoid during the process. If you’re ready to take the plunge, you’ll want to avoid these mistakes.

Mistake #1: Using an On-Premise File Server

Going paperless means embracing cloud technology (more on this later). Now, we know what you might be thinking:

“Why can’t we just use our (G:\) drive?”

We get it. New tech and software often come with a hefty price tag. Why would you purchase new stuff when you can just use the file server you have? While using a server is an option when going paperless, it can cause more issues than solutions.

For example, on-premise servers require constant and costly maintenance, upgrades, and repair. And your (G:\) drive isn’t accessible from anywhere outside of your office. File server document organization is left to the discretion of your team which can quickly become chaotic.

These servers also fail to deliver the robust capabilities your firm needs, including version management, OCR, and scan and fax integration. All of this and more are available in the cloud. Upgrading to a cloud-based solution is well worth the investment.

Mistake #2: Thinking Basic Cloud Storage Is Enough

When we say cloud, we mean robust cloud-based tools built for law firms, not basic cloud storage. Tools such as Google Drive and OneDrive are great for storing personal documents, but that’s about it. They’re simply your (G:\) drive in browser form.

Basic cloud storage lacks matter-centric organization of your documents as well as email management. Additionally, the same tools on-premise servers lack are also not available inside of these tools.

If you’re a solo attorney, a simple cloud tool might work for you, for now. Even still, we recommend moving forward with a legal-grade tool to get a jumpstart on your paperless goals.

Related Video:

Mistake #3: Not Having a “Paperless Plan” in Place First

Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Going paperless is a major move for your law firm and you shouldn’t move forward without a plan in place.

For example, you’ll need to take stock of the documents you have and which ones you plan on migrating. You’ll also need to come up with a paperless workflow that everyone on your team can follow. For example, what will happen with new documents? Where will they go when they hit your new system?

We recommend that you assign someone to lead and champion the paperless migration process. This way, everyone knows who to go to when questions and concerns arise.

Mistake #4: Trashing Your Paper Documents All at Once

Don’t. Do. It. We know you’re probably excited to finally know what your desk looks like, but you shouldn’t just start trashing your documents. You’ll want to ensure you keep mission-critical documents that pertain to your cases and your firm. These files will need to be migrated to your new system.

You’ll also want to test your paperless system and workflow to ensure it works properly before you start cleaning house.

Mistake #5: Allowing Paper to Pile Up

Even though you may stop using paper in your firm, this won’t stop incoming paper files completely. You may still receive paper documents from colleagues and even clients. You’ll want to have a process in place for dealing with those files to avoid another pile-up.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Will you scan documents as soon as they come in? Or, will you choose a day each week for scanning?
  • Will all the files received from your entire team go in one place until they’re scanned? Or, will each team member be responsible for scanning their own docs?
  • How will you handle requests from clients who prefer paper and continue to send paper documents?

How to Go Paperless: 7 Steps to Take for Success

Now that you know what not to do, it’s time to dive into what you should do. The following seven steps will help you implement a successful paperless system for your law firm.

1. Develop a Paperless Law Firm Workflow

First things first, you’ll want to outline your paperless document workflow. This means digging deep into how documents enter your firm and how they’re processed so you can create a new workflow map.

  • Document Source  >  Process  >  Save  >  File

This is a simple workflow you should develop for each new document source. For example, say you receive a new document via mail. It should then be scanned and OCR’d and then saved to your DMS under the specific matter it belongs to.

You’ll want to outline this process for all other document sources such as incoming electronic documents, emails, and new documents created by your team. We recommend generating a document that includes the workflow that you can then share with your team. If someone gets stuck, they can refer to the workflow.

Here’s a sample workflow policy your firm can adopt or alter.

File Naming Conventions

At this point, you’ll also want to define a standard file naming convention for your documents that your entire team can stick to. For example, you could include the date of the document, a description of the document (an abbreviation is best such as JMT for judgment), and the author.

The key is to determine what’s most useful for your team and document it so that everyone uses the same naming convention each time.

2. Set-Up Your Paperless Hardware

How do you plan on ensuring your paper documents enter your paperless system? For this, you’ll need some additional hardware.

Scanners

Your law firm’s scanners will be doing the heavy lifting. While some law firms have one, industrial-strength scanner located centrally in the office, other offices have personal scanners for each firm member. Which route you choose depends on your needs and budget.

We recommend personal scanners if all team members do a high volume of scanning that would result in traveling to the middle of the office being a waste of time. Otherwise, a large scanner may save you when it comes to your investment.

For large, central scanners, we recommend brands such as Kyocera, Konica-Minolta, or Ricoh. For personal scanners, we often see and recommend Fujitsu ScanSnap and Xerox.

scansnap review

Related Review:

The ScanSnap series of scanners – a review for law firms.

Mobile Scanners

One of the benefits of being paperless is that your team can work on the go. If you plan to take advantage of this benefit, you’ll need to implement a mobile scanning app. These apps use a mobile device’s camera to scan documents. Plus, they offer tools such as document cropping, trimming, and saving to PDF.

There are many mobile scanning apps out there. Some of our recommendations include:

Additional Considerations

There are some additional options for hardware you might need, especially if you plan to take your work mobile. For example, you may choose to invest in some office tablets to use in the courtroom or when traveling.

You may also want to invest in some extra computer monitors for easy document viewing. After all, you’ll be viewing all files via computer now instead of paper.

3. Outline Your Hard-Copy Retention Policy

New clients mean new hard copies. As such, you’ll want to define your retention policy in your retainer agreement. We recommend saving hard copies for 30 days after a matter is closed. Then, allow your clients to pick up their hard copies if they wish. If not, you can always deliver them electronically via your paperless system.

After those 30 days are up, you can then shred the hard copies as they’re saved within your electronic system.

4. Choose & Implement Paperless Software

Now for the bread and butter of your new paperless workflow: the software. A true paperless law firm will have three key software solutions in place: an electronic signature tool, OCR software, and a document management system (DMS).

Electronic Signature Tools

Electronic signature tools enable you to send documents to others for a signature without using pen and paper. You can also sign off on documents sent to you in this way. These tools are fast and easy to use as they allow you to save your signature and simply insert it where applicable.

There are various e-signature tools out there to choose from, including:

Important Note: E-signatures hold the same weight as physical signatures in most cases. Certain legal documents still require a physical signature, however. Make sure you and your team get to know these limitations before embracing e-signatures within your firm.

OCR Software

OCR or Optical Character Recognition, converts scanned documents from image-based files to text-based files. This way, those files can be indexed and searched. OCR is critical for law offices that frequently deal with PDFs and other image-based documents.

While there are various OCR tools out there, we recommend OCR be completed by your document management software.

Document Management System

If there’s one thing you hear from this guide, it’s this: you can’t go paperless without a document management system (DMS). A DMS enables you to store, organize, view, search, and edit your documents, all in one place. To put it simply, a DMS is the hub of your paperless law office. We dive much deeper into the DMS below.

5. Migrate Your Legal Documents to the Cloud

With all of your hardware and software in place, it’s time to migrate. This step consists of “back-filling” your legacy documents and matters by scanning and filing them into your new DMS.

This step should be completed by someone that understands the DMS and what tagging and file naming conventions you wish to use. It’s also important to note that this process will take time. After all, every document within your firm should be uploaded for safekeeping.

We recommend that you start by scanning the documents that you need access to right away. This may include documents about current cases or those that your firm uses daily. Then, you can get started on your backlog.

The goal during this time is to refrain from adding more paper to your backlog. Start creating new documents via your DMS. Add notes and make revisions to digitized files instead of paper files. Otherwise, your backlog will continue to grow. Set a realistic deadline for when paper documents will no longer be used in your practice.

6. Train Your Legal Team

Your team will be in the trenches each day, scanning, filing, sharing, editing, searching, and more. They must be comfortable with your paperless processes, hardware, and software.

Plan and perform firm-wide training for all of your new tools and policies. You should cover everything from using the DMS and scanners to detailing what happens when paper enters the office.

Don’t forget to remain open when it comes to questions and concerns from your team. Everyone should feel comfortable asking for help. After all, this will be a brand new process for everyone involved.

7. Communicate Your Paperless Plan With Your Clients

Finally, you should communicate your paperless plan with those who matter most: your clients. You should ensure they understand your new policies such as the 30-day retention rules, how their documents are stored electronically, and how they should send new documents in the future.

While some clients will take to the paperless methods well, others may struggle. After all, not everyone is a tech guru. Be patient and offer help to those clients. Remember, it isn’t the end of the world if a client is more comfortable dropping off paper copies of documents to your office. Scan them and move on.

Paperless Law Firm Checklist

Get the Checklist

Want a simple step-by-step checklist for going paperless within your law firm? We’ve got you covered. Download this free checklist for paper-free success.

Document Management for Your Law Firm

As we mentioned earlier, your firm requires a complete document management system or DMS for the proper management and storage of your documents. A simple cloud-based storage tool isn’t enough.

What Is a Document Management System?

A DMS is a system that stores your legal documents and emails and provides a comprehensive set of tools to organize and manage them. For example, a DMS enables you to search through all of your documents at once, lock documents to prevent editing, share documents with others, and so much more using one simple interface.

Sidebar: Document Management Isn’t Practice Management

Thinking you can use your practice management software to manage your documents too? You might want to think again. Practice management and document management aren’t the same. While PM software is dedicated to your practice, a DMS is dedicated to your documents and emails.

While your PM software may offer some simple document management features, they’re typically not enough for true control. We recommend having both PM software and a DMS.

Related:  Learn the important differences (and overlap) between Practice Management software and Document Management software.

Features of a Law Firm DMS

A DMS is so much more than file storage. It also provides the critical tools you need to properly manage your files. Most solutions will provide plenty of features, including (but not limited to):

  • Full-text search capabilities: A solid DMS will enable you to search all of your documents, files, and emails quickly, including those you’ve scanned into your system.
  • Simple integrations with Office 365: Do you use Word or Excel often? You can integrate those tools with a DMS so you can save and edit documents and files instantly.
  • Document version management: A DMS allows you to easily review both current and previous document versions so you can see who changed what and when.
  • Document tagging and check-in/out: Document tagging enables you to place tags on your files for more advanced search. And a check-in/out option allows you to check out a document when it’s in use to deter others from editing it at the same time you do.
  • Permission control: You can share documents with those who need them and restrict access for those who don’t. It’s a great tool for additional security for your sensitive files.
  • Prioritization of recent and favorite documents: A DMS will keep track of your recent documents in one place for easy access. Plus, you can select documents to add to your favorites so they’re readily available at all times.
  • Unique document IDs for tracking: Some DMS tools will offer document IDs for each file. This enables you to track documents, especially when multiple versions exist in storage.

Cost of a Law Firm DMS

How much will a law firm DMS cost? We’ll give you the typical attorney answer: it depends. Costs will vary depending on the solution you choose. For example, some vendors will ask you to pay monthly and per user. Others will charge you annually.

As an example, the LexWorkplace document management base package is $395 per month. This includes up to 5 users with 1TB of storage. Other vendors will be different in their pricing structures. So, do your research before deciding which DMS is best for you.

Important Note: Never make a software choice based on price. Instead, choose what fits your firm the best. Otherwise, any investment will be in vain. You’ll wind up with a tool that doesn’t work for your firm and that will result in plenty of headaches later.

7 Tips for Selecting the Right DMS for your Law Firm

Many DMS solutions exist on the market today. They’re not all created equal, however. To select the right DMS for your law firm:

  1. Choose a law-centric DMS: You’ll want a law-centric DMS built for law firms in mind. After all, law firms are unique and require so many additional tools that other businesses don’t. Bonus points if the DMS organizes files by legal matter automatically.
  2. Determine which features you need for work: Make a list of the critical features your firm needs from a DMS so that during your search, you can quickly see which tools may fit the bill.
  3. Get your team involved: Your team will use the DMS all day, every day. You’ll want to get their opinions on what features are critical and which ones they can do without. Choosing a tool that doesn’t truly support your team will result in wasted time and cash.
  4. Test drive multiple solutions: Once you have a list of a few tools, you’ll want to demo each one. Make sure your team can test them as well. This allows you to get a feel for the software and see how it would fit within your workflow.
  5. Choose a vendor who assists with migration: Migrating from paper, a file server, or basic cloud storage can be a challenge. The DMS vendor you choose should have support available to you during this process.
  6. Check for the proper integrations: Do you use Microsoft 365? Other tools? The DMS you choose should integrate seamlessly with the other software and apps you use daily. Otherwise, you’ll spend precious time switching between tools.
  7. Prioritize ease of use: You’ll want a DMS with a simple interface that’s easy to use for everyone on your team. To ensure a new tool doesn't derail your work, pick a tool with a short learning curve.

Looking for Document Management Software?

LexWorkplace:

Modern Document Management for Law Firms

LexWorkplace is document & email management software, born in the cloud and built for law firms.

Organize by Client & Matter

Organize documents, email and notes by client or matter. Store and manage all data for a case or project in one place.

Go Beyond Basic Files & Folders

Supercharge your firm’s productivity with true DMS functions.

  • Version Management
  • Document Tagging & Profiling
  • Document Check-Out / Check-In
  • Microsoft Office Integration

Search Everything

LexWorkplace is like Google for your law firm.  Search across millions of pages, documents, folder email and notes in seconds. Refine your search by matter, document type, author and more.

Seamless Outlook Integration

Save emails to a matter without leaving Outlook. Saved emails are accessible to your entire team.

Organize Email With Folders & Notes

Organize matter-related emails into subfolders. Add notes to call out important emails.

Works with Windows and Macs

LexWorkplace is 100% compatible with Mac OS and Windows.

LexWorkplace Features

The legal industry has had to put up with dated, clunky document management systems for too long.

No more.

With LexWorkplace, you’ll have access to a wide range of features, including:

  • A Terabyte of Storage: LexWorkplace starts with 1TB of storage for your firm, giving you plenty of room to grow.
  • Advanced security: LexWorkplace encrypts your data in transit and at rest. It also includes enhanced security measures such as permission setting capabilities and two-factor authentication.
  • Geographic redundancy: We have multiple independent data centers across North America. This means we can securely back up your data, so you can trust your data is available to you no matter what happens next.
  • Document tracking IDs: Each file you save to LexWorkplace has a unique ID for easy document tracking.
  • One-click functionality: LexWorkplace can help you move faster. View, edit, and save your documents with a single click, no re-upload required.
  • Document check-in/out: Want to make changes to a document without others doing so at the same time? By checking out a document, you can make the changes you need to make without others on your team interfering. Then, just check the document back in when you’re finished.
  • Version management: LexWorkplace will automatically track each version of your documents, so you can see when changes were made and by whom.
  • Profiling and tagging: You can easily set document types and statuses for each of your files. Plus, you can create tags to keep documents organized based on your firm’s needs.
  • Recent file prioritization: LexWorkplace will place your recent files front and center, so you can easily return to your work. Or, you can set certain documents as important for easy access.
  • Email management capabilities: Easily save emails to each matter file straight from Outlook. Plus, LexWorkplace will provide instant deduplication, so you can avoid saving multiples of the same email. It’s a time-consuming process that LexWorkplace automates on your behalf.

Get in Touch

Want to learn more?  Watch the demo below, or get in touch with our team to learn more about LexWorkplace for your firm.

Watch the Demo