‘What is the problem with Paper?’ Paper has served humanity for millennia. It is so durable that we can study the writings of the ancients. It is so portable that we think nothing of bringing hundreds of pages to the beach. It is inexpensive, flexible and you can drop a brief on a marble floor and it will not fragment into a zillion smithereens. None of these things can be said of most modern technology. Apart from anything else, it is quite nice to hold the foldy stuff in or hands.
In a sense the problem is not the paper but the information it contains; or rather the amount of information that we expect to be able to contain on paper. Our world is built around information. The legal profession produces impressive quantities of data – most of it on paper. There are; faxes, letters, reports, affidavits, correspondence, pleadings, briefs, forms and research papers… All of this usually comes in paper form and the result is printed mayhem. The trouble is that paper has not kept pace with our information requirements. It is hard to search. It is hard to share without copying. In the quantities we need, it is expensive to store, heavy to move and environmentally damaging.
The solution is not to take the paper out of your firm. In many cases a document first comes to us in its printed form and we really need to keep that original. But just because we need to keep the original paper copy does not mean we need to refer to it. We can scan our paper documents, resist the urge to print electronic ones, and file the lot electronically. Now, when everything you need is on a network, the computer becomes our window on our documents. Immediately we can banish the clutter of files from our desks. A client calls; we need the file, >Click!< and there it is. We finish our conversation, type a file note and >Click!< the file is gone. Whisked away to some electronic archive, from which it can be retrieved should we ever care for it again. There will still be a paper file. However, we now have the assurance that this valuable store of original documents rest, unmolested in the stacks.
Electronic storage brings instant improvements. The modern document management system not only allows us to annotate our documents with metadata, it will actually read our documents (even the scanned ones) and index them by their contents. Now we can instantly retrieve documents according to the relevance of their contents. Today’s document management systems are integrated with our accounting and billing engines. They talk to our emailing tools and share data with office devices. Putting document management at the heart of this integration means we can leverage fantastic productivity gains through automating workflow. Workflow captures the process knowledge that is assumed within your organisation and makes it explicit. One staff member’s tasks naturally flow into another’s. Matters proceed with a regular rhythm and seasoned heads need only be alerted to those few matters that deviate from the norm. The efficiency gains are immense.
We can’t have completely paper-free legal firms. You wouldn’t want to and it probably wouldn’t even be legal. But moving in that direction saves time, save space, save money, and maybe (just a little bit) saves the planet.