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Buried by paper? Time to crawl out and go digital

In a report dated August 9, 2012, Linda A. Halliday, the Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations of the Department of Veterans Affairs, called for immediate action to address the “Risks Associated with Veterans Claims Folder Storage, Building Integrity, and Employee Safety at the Winston-Salem VA Regional Office.”

In her report, Ms. Halliday described thousands of file folders piled on top of filing cabinets in stacks two feet high and two rows deep, rendering the materials inaccessible, susceptible to fire or water damage, and at risk of being lost altogether. She wrote, “File cabinets were placed so closely together that file drawers could not be opened completely. We estimated that approximately 37,000 claims folders were stored on top of file cabinets.”

But the inaccessibility of the folders wasn’t the worst of it. The report went on to say that “the inadequate storage created an unsafe workspace for VARO employees and appeared to have the potential to compromise the integrity of the building … In response, the General Services Administration performed a load bearing study indicating the files, as currently stored, exceeded the capacity of the floor by approximately 39 pounds per square foot.”

It’s about more than clutter

While it’s unlikely that the structural integrity of your office building is compromised by the weight of paper in your office, it is likely that the sheer volume of paperwork is affecting your office’s efficiency.

Despite the growing popularity of the paperless office, a surprising number of law firms have not yet embraced the practice of document imaging, i.e., scanning paper documents and converting them into digital images. But Joe Kashi, a trial lawyer who has been presenting on the benefits and techniques of the digital practice of law to bar groups around the United States for 10 years, believes it’s essential. “Networked imaging is a requirement of any effective office,” he says. “It’s a much more efficient way to practice law because everything should be easily found and digital materials readily reused and repurposed for a variety of litigation document as the case progresses.”

He’d know, too. Kashi, who has his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been striving to run his practice in Soldotna, Alaska, as paper-free as possible for about a decade, even being written up as a case study by Adobe in 2005. And the results of his efforts are tangible. Recently, he purged his firm’s pre-2003 files and sent to the shredder 2,575 pounds of paper. It’s unlikely that subsequent file purges will weigh a fraction of that.

Kashi converts to digital almost every piece of paper that comes his way. While some clients view their lawyers’ office as a safety deposit box for important papers, Kashi rejects that role. “I don’t want the responsibility of having a client’s original documents.” Instead, he scans any documents brought to meetings and returns the originals to the client.

Not only has Kashi’s habit led to considerably less paper in the office, it’s also improved his ability to quickly assemble and deliver requested documents.

“I have found that transitioning to an office where everydocument is imaged and stored as a readily printed and reusable PDF file has been by far thesingle most productive step that I have taken in the past 20 years.”

Some studies suggest that 10 percent of staff’s time is wasted looking for misfiled paper. Kashi believes that by imaging documents, he’s cut down on that productivity killer by at least 75 percent.

“With paper, you can’t find a document that’s been misfiled,” says Kashi. “But if you run the OCR [optical character recognition] function in Acrobat Standard or Professional, the entire contents ofeach document will be directly searchable, enabling you to find that vaguelyremembered material.”

Getting started

Whether we like it or not, the age of the paperless—or rather digital—office is here. With competitive pressures and the federal government moving towards an electronically centered organizational approach, if your office hasn’t yet adopted document imaging, it’s time to start planning the transition.

Fortunately, the task isn’t as daunting as you might think. “There’s no value in going back and scanning the whole office,” Kashi says. “All you need is a computer network and a scanner. Scan new materials as they come in and old stuff as needed; build your file that way. And start today.”

Kashi recommends Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 scanner, with an upgrade to Adobe Acrobat 11 Pro, all of which can be picked up for under $1,000.

What paper in the office is costing your firm

According to the National Technical Information Service, these are the costs associated with a paper-based office:

  • $880 to maintain a five-drawer file cabinet per year.
  • $11 per year, per inch of paper documents.
  • 10 minutes are wasted each time a document is retrieved and then re-filed.
  • 50 trips per week are made by the average office worker to the fax machine, copier and printer.
  • 1 out of every 20 documents (5%) is lost and 3% are misfiled.


Other savings in the paperless office

Going paperless means savings on paper, ink, and office equipment that needs to be replaced on a regular basis, such as printers and fax machines. Sending documents through secure email reduces shipping and courier costs. Some organizations have to send out hundreds, or thousands of documents, so you can imagine the savings. You save money in other ways. Less paper allows for a more efficient workplace.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

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