The Paperless Law Office: Why to Do It, Issues to be Aware of and an Example in Practice

Why to Do It

Generally speaking, the benefits are:

  • reduced file storage costs;
  • the efficiency of having all firm information reside in once central digital repository. Also, a firm is better positioned to take advantage of new technologies such as document automation if client information is already stored digitally;
  • better risk management as client conflict checks are more comprehensive and automatic;
  • the ability to work remotely, enhancing work life balance (which can be an human resources advantage); and
  • often enhanced client service through increased speed of delivery of legal services.

Issues to Be Aware Of

A firm has to be aware of potential issues of being paperless, including:

  • the importance to regular and secure data back-up
  • security concerns; and
  • potential staff resistance.

How to Do It

At the outset, a firm needs to be dedicated to the paperless goal and implement a well organized plan. It is important to get buy in from all staff, put firm policies in place and ensure adequate time and resources are allotted to planning, implementation and training.

Second, a firm must ensure its hardware is up to the demands of the increased amount of scanning, processing and storage. Network servers need the ability to store up to 5 GB per lawyer per year. Having a reliable backup system and testing it often is critical. A firm should consider installing scanners at every desk and have a central printer/scanner for larger scanning projects.

Third, a firm needs to put the required software in place. Adobe Acrobat is the standard for document exchange and is a good means for converting paper documents to legal files. A document management software program needs to be selected, which serves as an electronic filing cabinet. Many law firms use Worldox. Finally, a firm may want to consider legal practice management software as well. Practice management software allows a law firm to centrally organize client information digitally, including accounting, contact and case data. Practice management programs often have documents management capabilities built in, or you can link a third party document management program such as Worldox. Two popular of practice management programs are Amicus Attorney and Time Matters.

Example in Practice

Heritage Law is an example of a paperless law firm and utilizes practice management software to centrally manage billing, time tracking, matter information, contacts, appointments, documents and document assembly. All staff log into one remote, secure server over the internet which is a repository for all firm data and software applications. We have a VOIP phone system which allows ten staff in ten different locations to use the same phone line and system. We have a remote answering service which answers client calls during the business day if a staff member is out of the office and routes the message to the appropriate person to deal with. All staff have a computer, high speed internet, a VOIP phone and a scanner at their home offices.

With respect to software, we use PCLawPro for billing and time keeping.

We use Time Matters Enterprise for matter management and tracking contacts and appointments. Time Matters has been customized for Heritage Law as follows. There are tabs for matters in the categories of: Corporate, Litigation, Estate Admin, Estate Planning, Family Law, Mediation and by responsible lawyer so every open matter in the firm is categorized and viewable from one central location. Each matter has an electronic client intake sheet so the user can see information including the date the file was opened, the responsible lawyer, the referral source, bring forward dates, relevant limitation dates, conflict check info, retainer letter info, any special billing info and a current status field where a short update is typed as the file progresses.

We use Worldox for document management. No paper is kept except for original client documents. Every document is saved or scanned into the system and saved according to client and matter. Every document saved in Worldox is searchable by client, matter, description and text.

We use HotDocs 2008 Professional Edition for document assembly. All our standard firm documents (memo, fax cover sheet, retainer letters, non-engagement letters, reporting letters and demand letters) are automated. We are currently working on a project to automate our estate planning practice (wills, powers of attorney and representation agreements). Document automation, in addition to the other programs, enables staff to generate client documents in an efficient and high quality manner.

PCLaw, Time Matters, Worldox and HotDocs are all linked together to work as a cohesive whole.

Each member of the firm shares a Microsoft Windows desktop running on a shared server in the Heritage Law IT infrastructure, and every desktop offers all of the core productivity applications previously described. Because all of the desktops reside on the same server, rather than on individually configured and field deployed desktop PCs, all that is required for a staff member to access and begin work for Heritage each day is a Windows PC and an internet connection. The Windows PC does not have to have any special applications installed on it, and might be a home PC, a borrowed PC, a laptop on the road or any other PC to which the staff member has access throughout their work day.

Each staff member has a Polycom SoundPoint IP 560 desk phone with HD Voice technology. Each phone has an ordinary 3 digit extension registered through Iristel, a Canadian internet telephony service provider. The power of the phone system is derived from the fact that the phones can be connected to any ordinary internet connection in any of the staff member’s home offices, and yet all remain reachable through simple 3 digit extensions. Calls to other phones in North America are toll free, and calls within the firm have HD voice quality. There is an automated attendant to greet callers and provides a directory for them to reach the appropriate staff member’s extension.

As the staff all wish to have flexible schedules, we employ a call answering service based in Abbotsford, BC called Re: Messaging Solutions Inc. If a staff member does not pick up a client call directed to their local on our phone system, the call is then automatically forwarded to the answering service. The answering service can then call the staff member directly on their cell phone, email the message to them or forward the message to another staff member, depending on the circumstances. This allows us to be able to maintain a high level of client service while staff are out of the office during regular business hours.

Clients can fill out questionnaire forms online which are emailed to the firm prior to a file being opened. The goal in the future is to populate this information into an answer file in our document automation program for enhanced efficiency. Heritage Law is currently working on www.heritagelawonline.com, where clients will be able to potentially interact with the firm entirely online.

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