The obstacles of a paperless future

The obstacles of a paperless officeA number of law firms now purport to be largely paperless. The technology is certainly available, with a wide range of very effective scanning and OCR solutions now within an affordable price range. Currently, there is still a requirement to retain original court papers and sensitive document such as deeds and wills in paper format. However, one particular Linetime customer, for example, recently reported that this represents a mere 5% of the previous volume of paper being processed and stored by the firm.

One barrier to the paperless aspirations of some firms can be inadequate management of the electronic files. Unless your document management allows effective search and retrieval facilities then the temptation will exist to retain original material. The system should allow deep text searching within documents, including PDF’s. Ideally, this should allow searches using Boolean logic and fuzzy matching.

Another obstacle tends to be staff participation. Old habits do indeed, die hard. A good combination of case and document management software can introduce other efficiencies that can incentify members of staff to “join in”. Once there is realisation of the advantages presented by everything being easy to find and available at the touch of a button then engagement can become self-propelled. However, it is likely that some colleagues may require additional “encouragement”.

The arrival of GDPR in 2018 should certainly affect the attitude of senior management in terms of resistance to a shift to paperless. The penalties for non-compliance are set to be fairly draconian and will target the responsible individuals personally. Without going into detail about GDPR, it basically concerns the protection of data and the rights of the people to whom that data relates. With a non-indexed paper based system, management of that data will be very difficult and therefore costly. Documents that are held electronically are also much easier to protect and control.

Even the essential documents mentioned earlier have the potential to be held elsewhere. Scanned images can represent them locally whilst the original is held somewhere off site. So the paper still exists but expensive office space can be freed up. Obviously, to enable this the case management system must allow records to indicate storage locations and manage checking in and out procedures.

Digital signatures are also a must for consideration. Traditional wet signatures by their very nature will perpetuate the need for paper. The digital method is now widely accepted as legitimate and firms should look to harness the efficiencies it provides.