Paper-lessing and Electronic Archiving
There is no better time than the end of the year to think about how you can run your practice more efficiently, shrink overheads, and provide staff with a better work environment.
Look around your office – Do you see paper files occupying table tops, shelves, expensive floor space?
You may be thinking: we really need to de-clutter, start another round of file closing and send the completed files to the warehouse; and perhaps it’s time again to destroy the stored files which have passed the retention period.
Depending on your firm size. practice area and the age of the firm, you are probably spending $200-$1500 per month on paper warehousing. This is an overhead that yields no value whatsoever, and requires time and effort that can be more productively utilised.
Consider instead –
- Storing the closed files in an electronic form, eliminating all warehousing costs?
- Why even have so many paper files, if you create all your documents electronically, and you receive 90% of incoming documents electronically through email, fax or Dropbox.
Electronic archiving eliminates all warehousing overheads currently borne by law firms, and reduces the time and effort currently spent on physical file retrieval, management and destruction.
Electronic files can be retrieved by Matter No, Client Name or keyword search. There is no need to remember box numbers. Retrieval is instantaneous, hassle-free and incurs no additional charges.
In addition, outsourcing the digitization and storage (to a neutral third party with no interest in the documents) means that your documents enjoy a presumption of authenticity under the Evidence Act. When selecting a service provider, do ensure that the service being provided complies with the Law Society’s Guidance Note on e-archiving.
Creating a paperless law practice will save you a LOT of money, and time. And, there are other huge spin-off benefits.
What is paper-lessing?
Many law firms protest that they “can’t function without paper”.
We are not suggesting you get rid of all paper – that’s impossible.
Paper-lessing is about dispensing with unnecessary paper that leads to inefficiency and higher costs. Paper-lessing is about instantly accessing your client files from anywhere, even if you’re not in the office.
Of course, shifting to a paperless practice will bring some challenges. The transition goes beyond buying a scanner. How will your team function without a paper file, which centralizes and captures all documents and relevant information?
Most of us have honed our skills in a traditional paper-based law practice, and going paperless requires:
- re-engineering workflows,
- acquiring new digital skills, and
- re-tooling with document and email management software.
The benefits of paper-lessing are certainly worth this transformation. Here is a list of potential benefits:
- Automation of core business processes, so lawyers can focus on “lawyering”.
- Improved efficiency and greater turnaround of documents, enabled by search automation, electronic signatures, document assembly, document comparison; in litigation, bundle automation and eHearings.
- Reduced costs including reduced manpower costs, rental, paper, logistics and warehousing.
- The ability to retrieve information and work remotely, from anywhere and on any device.
- Real-time remote back up reduces risk of document loss in event of fire or sprinklers.
- Cloud storage is many times more secure than law firm’s internal IT infrastructure.
- Ease of collaboration and sharing of work/ documents; facilitates the simultaneous co-authoring of documents.
All these benefits combine to help improve profitability of the law firm, increase practice value and enable succession planning.
Paperless law firms will be better placed to respond to clients’ demand for legal services that are good, fast and low cost, and to meet the disruptive threats posed by artificial intelligence and block chain technologies.
The first step to paper-lessing your practice would be to understand how technology can help. What are the pain points in your legal practice? Find out the tech tools that could help address these issues and equip your practice with the necessary hardware and software solutions.
For example, there are document management systems designed to help law firms create virtual files that mirror physical files, in documents and emails are in one centralized electronic matter-centric repository.
With virtual file respository, it is much easier to search for documents by keywords, with the ability to electronically filter using metadata such as document type (e.g. pleading, correspondence, etc), client and/ or matter.
Next, review your working style and adopt practices that allow for paper-less workflows.
Reduce the paper in your office – eliminate snail mail and fax, scan and shred paper documents, eliminate finance related paper documents.
Workflows such as signing documents electronically, eliminating faxes or auto-routing them to emails, apply to all practices. Beyond generic workflows, specialist case management tools for litigation, IP, conveyancing and corporate secretarial case management tools help specialist practices enhance the benefits of paperless workflows. For example, the availability of low cost cloud-based evidence management platforms are helping boutique dispute firms take on cases that traditionally required many hands on deck.
Closed files aside, it’s also possible to create virtual files that mirror physical files – where documents and emails are stored in one centralized matter-centric repository – with the aid of a document management system (DMS). Aside from paper-lessing, a virtual file repository enables electronic search for documents by keyword, filtering by metadata including document type (e.g. pleading, correspondence, client and matter). The choice of system depends on practice area, firm size, lawyers’ needs and tech capabilities of the firm.
For some firms, an online storage repository (e.g. One Drive, Google Drive or Dropbox) may suffice, for others a legal DMS may be a critical platform for successful paper-lessing. For firms using SharePoint (on premise or online), MacroView Case and Matter is a legal document management system designed to work with it and MS Office applications (e.g. Word, PowerPoint, Excel).
It will also be necessary to get buy-in from all the lawyers and staff in the firm. People are often resistant to change, so it is essential to highlight all the benefits and demonstrate what’s in it for them.
At the same time, ensure that you equip staff are equipped to manage the switch to paper-less workflows by providing them with training to fill any skills gaps, e.g. PDF editing, Office 365, etc. On this front, do lookout for relevant training organized by Singapore Academy of Law under their LIFTED Program.
Finally, manage risk and compliance issues. Factors to consider would be ensuring automated backups, whether data will be stored on premise, in a remote location, on the cloud, and contingency planning for loss of internet connectivity, etc. In terms of compliance and best practice considerations, review guidance notes from various governing bodies, such as the Law Society of Singapore, IRAS, as well as legislation, e.g. the Evidence Act.
There are several government grants available that law firms may avail themselves of with regard to paper-lessing and e-archiving. A number of them will be expiring soon, e.g. the IRAS-PIC scheme ends in December 2017 and the SPRING Singapore and Law Society of Singapore Tech Start for Law scheme ends in March 2018. It is also possible to apply for financial support under the SPRING Singapore Capability Development Grant.
Bizibody Technology has been helping law firms adopt technology to improve workflows since 2000.
Contact us at (e) firstname.lastname@example.org or (t) +65 6521 7022 for more information on how we can assist you with your paper-lessing journey. A list of paper-lessing tools offered by Bizibody is available here.