As a profession, lawyers strive to stay current within their areas of expertise. They whole heartedly embrace research being right at their finger tips and do not spend much time in law libraries anymore. Ah, but the euphoria which document boxes, accordion files and a desk full of paper elicits….that is a luxury they are slow to give up.
The nature of litigation presents unique challenges to the paperless endeavor. A Mobility Metrics study by kCura in collaboration with Ari Kaplan points out that a hurdle to a litigation firm becoming paperless is, “there is a different reality because the court is in one place, your documents are filed in another place, and you take depositions in a third place”. In addition, the court system has been slow to transition to the portable mobile environment. Despite these obvious obstacles, the Mobility Metrics study predicts that most firms will be paperless by 2020. So paper, be warned, there might not be a safe place to land on an attorney’s desk for long!
The following interview with Lincoln Derr founding partner Tricia Derr articulates the thought process, investment, and obstacles to operating a paperless law firm. You will find that the effort to convert was not painless, but jumping on the band wagon early has increased efficiency and enhanced the client experience.
When did Lincoln Derr start the process of transforming to paperless?
TD: Lincoln Derr began its “paper-less” (note – not “paperless”) vision back in 2009. Technology such as cloud-based software makes it easier to migrate towards our “paperless” goal. In 2009, Windows based computer networks dominated the business/legal environment and Macs were not as compatible as they are today. With the advent of Office for Mac, Adobe Pro, DocMoto as well as a secure operating system, Macs in the legal environment are becoming more and more common. The Mac platform lends itself to efficiency and ease in document manipulation. Windows is still a little clunky in this area.
Was there any resistance to becoming a paperless law firm?
TD: As Lincoln Derr expanded and added attorneys and staff, the bigger learning curve was from Windows to Mac. With multiple screens it is much easier to embrace paper-less. One screen can capture the document you are studying while the other can capture your drafting. This is a relatively painless replacement to hard copies lying on your desk while drafting on-screen.
How long did the process to paperless take from start to finish?
TD: It started with the inception of Lincoln Derr and we have not finished yet! However, we get better and more efficient every year. It takes time to adapt to on-screen viewing rather than paper markups. However, this gap becomes increasingly smaller and less difficult as new products become available. For example, we are currently piloting a program utilizing iPad Pros with the Apple Pencil. Using a relatively inexpensive application called GoodNotes, we are now able to download .pdf documents, mark them up or annotate with the Apple Pencil (which is extremely similar to using old fashioned pen and paper with multiple colored pens and highlighters), and distribute the markups electronically. The iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and GoodNotes combination is – by far – the most effective paper saving resource we have seen. We hope to implement this technology firm-wide within the next year.
What technologies did Lincoln Derr have to invest in to make the transition to paperless?
TD: I couldn’t even begin to list the technology options we have explored, purchased, piloted, accepted and/or rejected! A paper-less environment is not static. Instead, it is an evolution of trial and error.
By far, the most expensive purchase (and the most successful change) has been moving from Windows to Mac. Workstations were much more expensive (approximately 3x the cost of a Windows setup). In addition, the learning curve contributed to a loss in billable time. The migration was less than flawless; and for a while, we did “long for the old days.” Today, with the benefit of three years of hindsight bias, the Mac transition was worth it! Our systems are much more reliable, stable and operate with a longer shelf life than any of our Windows systems. For example, while we generally replaced our Windows laptops every two years, our MacBook Pros have been solid now for over three years. The hard drives remain stable and capacity seems to be unlimited. We have no intention of replacing any of them anytime soon.
There is no way to control incoming paper. How do you manage this?
TD: Every workstation includes a desktop scanner. We use the Fujitsu ScanSnap, which includes scanning software. Our Legal Assistant has a heavier duty scanner for bulk scanning daily mail, etc. Once scanned, the documents are securely destroyed or returned to the client. After a document is scanned, it is filed in our secure online document management system, which keeps files in folders similar to a paper system. The online document repository allows us to have access to all file materials from any location (as long as there is web access).
What piece of advice would you give to a peer getting ready to make a transition to a paperless law firm?
TD: BE PATIENT! This is a process and not a switch. Make some mistakes and be resilient enough to implement changes. You won’t know what works for your practice until you know what doesn’t work. Be ready to accept individual preferences. For instance, some may prefer one calendar application over another. The truth is most options sync seamlessly. Make the extra effort to accommodate.
What areas of the practice just have to stay on paper?
TD: Trial work – anything in the courtroom. Judges, clerks, Rules of Evidence, and local custom remain entirely dependent upon paper. Even “online filing” systems require backup paper file-stamped copies. Trials take up a tremendous amount of our “paper” budget. Unfortunately, our judicial system is underfunded and cannot afford to implement the technology needed to become more paper conscious.
What percentage of law firms are paperless in your opinion?
TD: Law firms change very slowly. Lawyers are generally not an adaptable species. We find methods that produce results and cling to them like a four-leaf clover. So, I doubt any law firms – including ours – are “paperless.” However, I can say (with confidence) we are LIGHT YEARS ahead of most.
Stay tuned to the Lincoln Derr website for updates on our “paper-less” journey. Our new “green” home in SouthPark, Capitol Towers, is LEED Gold Certified and we will be spotlighting the buildings amenities in a future edition.