In a recent article in Legal Tech News, the article’s author reported that more than eighty (80) percent of law firms in 2015 still rely heavily on paper and paper records. Thus, we are still a highly environmental UNFRIENDLY industry and because of our paper clutching behavior, we remain highly inefficient and wasteful.
What most law firms fail to realize is that there is almost always a digital copy of every piece of paper in every file in our office. This author would surmise that over 98% of all documents we receive, review, produce or otherwise rely upon starts digitally. Do you print every document? Do you print E-Mails? Do you print paper only to scan it back in at some point? We continue to cling to the concept that in order to “finish” a document, whether we produce it in our office, or if it comes attached to an email, we must print. In the digital age, printing is no longer an act of finality.
Moving to a less paper reliant environment serves a myriad of positive purposes, the top three of which are:
1. Readily available and easy access;
2. Significant cost savings; and
3. Improved efficiencies for our staff and clients.
Quite frankly, our clients live in the world of instantaneous information and access. And, our clients expect us to have a modicum of proficiency when it comes to technology. In fact, as late as this past summer, the Florida Bar, enhanced CLE requirements of Florida lawyers centered on technology. John Stewart, chair of the Florida Bar’s VISION 2016 Technology Committee stated, "…lawyers cannot practice law competently if they don’t have a basic level of technological competence in their practice area." This writer suggests that you should expect a similar position from most state bar associations in the coming months and years. The time to prepare for same is now. By the end of this decade, technological competence, a large part of which is knowing how to access and store digital content, will be a core part of lawyer competence statements by state bars and provincial law societies.
Think about it this way, would you feel comfortable going to a doctor who didn’t invest in the latest x-ray or pain management technologies? Most of us would refuse to allow a doctor to put us in front of an x-ray machine that was more than 10 years old given the significant safety improvements in x-ray technology in the last decade. The point is that our clients EXPECT us to have the latest and greatest technology to allow us to do our jobs efficiently and productively. And as our industry moves away from traditional hourly billing income collection, competence in technology, access to digital content and the like is the ONLY way we will remain competitive in the future. Firms with basic technology budgeting and investments will take our industry over in as little as five years. Don’t be left behind.
Editor's Note: On this 10th Anniversay of Hurricane Katrina, the iconic photo that accompanies this article shows a law firm drying its paper files in the parking lot after flooding in New Orleans. Paper is fragile, not portable, and hard to share, and difficult to back up. Water-borne destruction aside, Steve's point about your doctor using the latest technology is apt. The medical profession is ahead of law in moving to digital records. I wouldn't have faith in my primary care doctor if he walked into the exam room carrying an old fashioned paper file. Fortunately, all my doctors now carry laptops or tablets with my entire chart on them (and the charts from other physicians I see), or in the case of my primary care doctor, he has a terminal in each exam room to view charts and reports. My GI doctor actually dictates his exam notes into his HP convertible laptop using Dragon and a Philips SpeechMic while I am there so I can hear his summary and offer additions/corrections - which he readily encourages. We have some catching up to do. - Scott Bassett