A quick internet search tells us that predictions about the paperless office were first made way back in 1975, and today, google will return pages of results promoting the benefits of removing paper from the workplace:
We all know there are huge savings to be made, the consumption of ink, stamps, envelopes, labels, folders (and of course paper) will reduce; as will staff time in preparing post and document bundles. Large filing cabinets and off site storage won’t be needed – so office space can be reduced and storage costs removed. It’s more efficient; electronically stored documents are held more securely, can be retrieved quickly (without the need to search through a filing cabinet or call back files from storage) and then shared more easily. And of course there’s the positive impact on the environment.
So why, in today’s technology enabled society are so many law firms struggling to embrace the paperless office? There are lots of barriers: the perceived cost of the equipment required to facilitate paperless working, a lack of trust in technology and fear of what will happen if the system crashes and ‘I lose my work’, the comfort of being able to print things out to read and mark-up amends are just some of the challenges that need to be overcome. But, they can be overcome and in truth, the only thing preventing us from achieving the paperless office is our own willingness to change our ways of working.
Recently, I met a firm who have achieved the reality of the digital case file. Linda Heald & Co began their journey four years ago by ensuring they had adequate back-up services, both on and off site – so that documents can be efficiently stored and retrieved, and will always be accessible – even if disaster strikes.
They scan post immediately and save it in the appropriate file on their case management system. All incoming paper post is then kept in a small file whilst the matter is live (outgoing letters are not printed), but as soon as the file is closed, the paper is sent for confidential shredding (and is collected for free by the shredding company). Original mortgage deeds have to be retained for Land Registry applications, they are kept in a central place – filed according to lender and date.
Linda Heald, principal of Linda Heald & Co says she would never go back to a paper based working environment. The benefits they have achieved in terms of storage costs, efficient working and the ability to retrieve documents (even closed files) instantly are enormous. This is turn enables them to provide a top class service to their clients. Linda offers a few words of wisdom for anyone wanting to achieve the digital case file, “Invest in good quality scanners and back-up systems. Use a good quality case management system (such as Redbrick Practice Management), train your staff to change their ways of working and go for it! You could even reward staff with a pay rise when the bills start to come down!”
It sounds good to me, so what are we all waiting for?!
According to Linda, firms are failing to grasp the paperless bull by the horn for a number of reasons. “I believe that as a profession we still have not embraced technology and what it can do to speed up transactions. I also think that firms are scared that they will lose data if they go paperless, but, if some careful thought is put into comprehensive back up systems it is perfectly safe, safer than paper files in fact.”
Linda is leading the way in paperless working, and no doubt there is a lot other firms can learn from her. Being four years down the line now, I wonder if she would have done anything differently? “The only thing I would have done differently is perhaps to have invested in better quality scanners from the outset, but at the time I couldn’t afford it.”
For more information please contact Jo Hodges at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0845 166 2629.