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May 19, 2006

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» Paper or Digital: Whats Your Fancy? from Legal Andrew
In todays digital age there is quite a bit of debate over the paperless office. On one hand, we have the people who want to digitize everything, leaving no scrap of paper piling up on desks and filling waste baskets. On the other s... [Read More]

» "Do Away With Paper Entirely? Not Me" from Stark County Law Library Blog
Evan Schaeffer posted: “There's been talk for years about paperless offices and paperless courtrooms. The idea is to make life [Read More]

Comments

JR

Evan: I am of the generation that literally grew up around computers. I remember even having one in my kindergarten classroom. But, like you, there are some things I would rather have a paper copy of. I don't even like reading cases on the computer. Sure, if I am doing research and looking for authority, then reading the case on the computer is fine. But, if the time comes to really digest the case, I am a much happier person if I can print it out -- I need to mark it up as I read through it. I can't think without a pencil in my hand!

Robert Williamson (construction law)

I scan everything because it saves so much time. Short documents such as letters are as easy for me to review on the computer as on paper. When I want to re-look at a document already received, I'm usually just looking for a snippet from a document to reference in another document or to refresh my memory. I can locate the document myself on the computer network and see what I need to see without having to hunt or have a staffer hunt through paper files for me then return the paper file to its proper place. My staff and I each have two monitors per computer so we can look at a reference document such as a case or exhibit on one screen while using the other to work on a new document such as a response brief, letter, e-mail, or Casemap entries. Nevertheless, like you, when I really need to study a document of any material length or a large set of documents, I find its easier to do so if I print it out. But since the paper is in the computer, I can discard the documents printed after review rather than keep the copy printed. I recently settled an insurance bad faith case that pre-dated my current "scan-it-all" approach. The "file" amounted to about 25 bankers boxes. But over 50% of those documents in those boxes were duplicates compiled for use at a motion hearing, deposition or meeting. There's no need to keep duplicates if it's been scanned.

Jeremy

I grew up around computers, and I find the idea of a "paperless office" fascinating. I read about one law firm who sends all the original paper copies to storage and keeps an index just in case they ever need the original again. But, like you, I find that when I really want to digest a document, I need to have the paper and pencil in hand. Perhaps the new tablet PCs will change all that, since they have the ability to provide what we wanted before: real time note-taking/doodling capabilities. I'm a student now, but when I get some money and after the technology is a little better known and developed, I plan to invest in a tablet PC.

CM

I'm just a student, but I think Robert Williamson has it right. The beauty of the "paperless office" isn't that there's no paper anywhere -- it's that every single document, from mail to briefs, is stored, backed up, and easily retrievable and searchable. If you want to look at something on paper for convenience, you can always print it out, but you never have to worry about losing, filing, or damaging it. You don't have to pick and choose what you save for later or where you put it.

John Day

Evan, it sounds like our practice works much like yours. Our office scans every document in every case - except medical records and document productions in cases where the total documents produced with be 1000 pages or less.

But we still have not yet freed ourselves of paper. We still maintain a paper file - quite frankly we are afraid to get rid of it for professional liability reasons. I have often thought about going to filing system where we simply keep track of documents by date of generation / receipt - a chronological file, if you will. Has anyone else ever tried that approach?

Jason Lemkin

Evan - when you get a chance, you might want to give our free service a shot, www.echosign.com. It makes one painful piece of the documentation process - getting documents signed - entireless paperless. It turns all your executed documents into .PDFs and e-mails them to any party you want at the time of execution.

M. Sean Fosmire

A point that I have made before, in a couple of different locales: paper is not going away. Indeed, electronic storage and use of documents leads to more use of paper, not less. For all but the talismanic paper documents, we should adopt a mindset that regards electronic files as the definitive documents and paper copies as temporary and disposable versions.

Keith in Tokyo

I scan everything, no exceptions. Then I either throw the paper away or give it back to the person who gave it to me (usually another attorney in our office).

Before going paperless, I was hopelessly disorganized. I never got around to filing stuff, and I was always hunting for papers. This all changed when I made my simple rule to scan everything and to never hold onto any paper at all. Now, people in the office often come to me when they can't find a document. Several times I've printed out copies of my boss's own handwritten notes for him after he lost the originals.

Now I cannot stand reading documents on paper! I hate the folders, with their long metal prongs and first-in-last-out reverse chronological filing, which means that if you want to take a document out you have to lift every document above it. I hate having to spread binders all over the place if I want to compare multiple documents. I hate binders that won't stay open unless I clip them open or weight them down.

Most of all, I cannot stand hunting through paper files for missing or mis-filed documents.

I have three monitors and I mark up documents in Adobe Acrobat instead of with a pencil, so my notes are bookmarked, searchable, and permanently available.

When I must print, it's usually because of a client meeting at which it's impolite or impractical to use a computer. Then I take notes in pencil (I hate pencils!) and when I get back to my computer, I scan the notes and then throw them away.

I back up everything on five hard drives (two at the office, two at home, and one portable) and make permanent back-ups to DVDs every two or three months. I recovered from a hard drive failure two months ago, and another failure last year, each time with no lost data.

As another example of my aversion to paper, I have 185 novels and other books on my Palm Pilot that I've bought from ereader.com over the past four years, and I only very rarely buy a paper book. Electronic books are so convenient, you can search them and carry your whole library around with you all the time. Just last week I was having a talk with my boss about hedge funds and I was able to pull out my copy of Lowenstein's "When Genius Failed" right there at the restaurant table. The Japanese-English dictionary is of course very useful also.

Evan

These are great comments. For those who scan everything, I'd be really interested to know what their hardware/software set-up is.

Mary Whisner

I use electronic materials AND paper.

Recently I started writing to-do lists on 3x5 cards. I love my PDA for calendar, contacts, and memos, but I found the to-do list feature just didn't work for me. I'm very happy reading books in print and am not tempted to read them on my PDA. For one thing, I find that I get a neck ache when I spend too long hunched over my PDA (for instance, when I'm in a a period of Free Cell obsession.

An intriguing book is:

Abigail J. Sellen & Richard H.R. Harper, The Myth of the Paperless Office (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).

The authors present several case studies of organizations (as diverse as a police department, air traffic controllers, and a candy company) -- that decided to go paperless, only to find some surprising advantages to the paper systems the employees had been using.

Of course, as technology changes, the comparative advantages and disadvantages will shift, too.

Bryan

Scanning is the only way to go. I scan using a networked Sharp "copy center." Every document that I receive is scanned. As other people have said, the great benefit is that it is easy to retreive the document. There is no more digging through the file, wading through multiple documents, etc. Instead, the document is on the computer and can be easily pulled up and reviewed. The time savings is absolutely wonderful.

I started scanning everything a little more than a year ago. I cannot tell you the last time that I pulled the paper file to review anything.

An additional benefit is that, by having an electronic copy of the documents, I can easily take my entire case file with me anywhere that I go. This makes it easy to work on something when I am away from the office (such as traveling for business or at the courthouse).

In my view scanning documents is not about abandoning papering paper for electronic versions. Instead, it is about leveraging technology to allow me to work in the most efficient manner possible.

Taco John

I second everyone who said a paperless tracking of paper documents is both a good baby step and a good finishing point, if that's what's comfortable for you. Like a previous commentor said, the beauty of the paperless office is not in the lack of paper, but the searching, filing, and organization capabilities.

Before abandoning reading on paper, I would consider trying a tablet, if you can make the investment. Being able to highlight, mark-up documents, write on things with your own handwriting, and read in more positions than a desktop or even a laptop will allow might help switch over to not using paper at all, or using minimal paper.

Maybe one version of the paperless office uses more paper than we would traditionally think. Perhaps you read and mark-up a document, then make the changes electronically, and when done, throw out the working copy. You would go through a lot more paper this way. But you could save lots of versions without taking up space.

One final thought: searching isn't quite up to the level we need to throw something in one generic documents file and then find it immediately. Filing electronically will require just as much effort and organization as filing by paper does. It just requires less space.

durendale

A related issue is whether to keep a physical library in a "paperless" law office. Almost everyone that I went to law school with ('02 graduate) begins and ends their legal research with Westlaw or LEXIS. You get an issue, you search for keywords. In my experience you can miss a lot this way even if you are good at composing searches. I find that digest research -- yep, the good old-fashioned (Arkansas) Digest -- inevitably yields additional results. You have to do both paper and electronic research if you want to find everything.

I came around to this way of thinking during my clerkship. My judge had a phenomenal memory for cases but not citations. He told me once to find the case on X. I searched Westlaw for about an hour and a half with no results, totally frustrated. He came in at that point, irritated, and said "where's the case?" He walked over to the digest and found it in less than a minute.

Eh Nonymous

I am surprised that this comment thread doesn't yet include the M word. So here it is.

"Malpractice."

As in, "what have you committed when you lose the only paper version of a contract?" Or of a will? Or other legally significant document?

However, it's not yet malpractice to NOT scan and save. It's also not malpractice to NEVER scan and save - although in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, filings in Federal Court must be PDFs.

I appreciate the compelling story of Keith in Tokyo.

But sometimes multiple paper copies matter. Not that Keith couldn't do it, by scanning each instantiation. But for paper discovery, sometimes there's no good solution. Handwritten pages are hard to search for. Different versions have to be compared. Sometimes the _weight of the paper_, the watermark, the color of ink determine which is an original, and which a copy. Or determine whether something is real or fake.

I know scanning can be done with metadata - when created, by whom, who received from. But I can imagine a worst case scenario where malpractice could be committed by someone scanning a document (one side or two? What was pencilled on the back?) but forgetting to maintain the paper "copy."

Sarah U.

As a new attorney, this discussion is interesting and immediately helpful (I'm learning how to make the best use of my scanner.)

I recently read that paper usage has increased significantly over the last 10 years because of the prevalance of e-mail, the internet, and "paperless" workplaces.

I generally prefer using paper to the computer screen. I focus better with a sheet of paper and am less distracted. I was one of the few people in my law school class who handwrote my notes. I grew up around computers and find them a wonderful and useful tool, but I will never abandon paper.

THOKOZANI

actually it is not a comment is FOUR question
1. what is paperless office
2. advantages of paperless office
3. disadvantages of paperless office
4. what is URL.

beau

Well what is the law then after you scan? Do you still have to keep the orginal papers? Does this include all paper types?

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