So, you have decided you want to become the paper to digital or less paper law firm of the future. But you are not sure where to start. Getting started in the right way is a key success factor. Through our experience, we have defined five over-arching questions for you to consider with care. Answering these questions will help you create a project framework to guide your paper to digital effort.
Implementing the paper to digital law firm means establishing policies and practices at the institutional level. You must study the various areas of your firm (administrative departments and practice areas) to determine what policies and practices can be implemented across the board, and where exceptions must be made. The give-and-take between individual preferences and institutional needs can sometimes be epic.
Question 1 – The Big WHY
Not all ideas are good ideas. Converting paper into electronic format has tremendous benefits, but those benefits only come with effort. A very clear understanding of the big WHY is essential. Let’s step back and ask;
“Why are we doing this?”
Objectives like more efficient operations, access to documents anytime from anywhere, improved information governance, or reduce off-site storage costs are typical tactical answers.
What about strategic benefits? Do you want to be a more agile law practice, or deliver better client services, or simply be the innovative law firm of the future?
Understanding the big WHY, or WHYs plural, means being honest about the burden that paper places on your business. Paper makes an organization sluggish. Think about it… You move it around, you store it, you retrieve it, you even lose track of it sometimes.
In today’s competitive market, there is no room for a sluggish law firm. Recognizing the costs, risks and inefficiencies of paper in your legal practice is how you and your colleagues will come to realize and articulate your big WHY.
Question 2 – Paper Paper Everywhere, but what’s the most important?
Your paper to digital effort will grow and eventually you will consume the entire paper monster. But you cannot begin there… First, you should decide which paper you will focus on when beginning your paper to digital project.
Let’s start with a hard look at which paper makes your firm sluggish. Paper can generally be divided into a back-file, which is paper that you are keeping but not actively working with, and active files, which is the paper used to conduct day-to-day business. Back-file paper typically will not make your firm sluggish unless it is constantly retrieved from storage. If that is the case, it probably means the paper was moved into storage too soon.
The paper that makes your firm sluggish is the paper you deal with day-to-day. It exists in the practice and it exists in the back office for administrative purposes. It is the paper received by mail or courier and it is also the paper printed from files received electronically. It is paper that is read, filed, retrieved, marked up, delivered to clients, and more. The paper you will focus on for your paper to digital initiative is related to active files.
Question 3 – Will your people change their habits?
The habits around paper-handling usually start in preschool. The method users apply to managing the paper in an active file are just as permanent and will vary from attorney to attorney, and practice area to practice area. The desire to have the a physical document in-hand, or at-hand, is very strong indeed.
One of the biggest challenges with the digital transformation of a law firm is getting folks to change their habits. Firms must move from a collection of fastidious paper filers, to a consortium of filers who all agree to follow the rules that institutionalize how the firm manages paper. To become both digital centric and paper smart requires everyone to work towards that shared objective. Three ingredients are essential: Senior partner/executive endorsement, Initial training at rollout, Ongoing communication/reinforcement. We will delve into those topics further in other posts.
Question 4 – Will your people use the technology?
The habits around technology are similar to the challenges around paper-handling. Some users embrace technology, while others choose to avoid it and have as little contact as possible. Implementing a paper to digital initiative in a law firm means implementing technology which moves the firm from individual process and practice to institutional forms of the same. This assumes all participants achieve the same baseline of technology fluency. It will be easy for some users to achieve the required fluency, while others will simply need more help.
Question 5 – Will your firm adopt new policies to support new practices?
A successful less paper effort must be supported by policies that drive paper to digital practices. A key example is your firm’s policy around shredding of paper. Will the firm sanction shredding? Will it be mandatory? Will it occur immediately after scanning? Will the electronic matter record be the “official record” for all matters?
The polices are not the hard part. Gaining consensus and the promise to support new policies is the challenge. It means that custodians of the paper must commit to new methods, new technology, and new attitudes towards the work they do every day.