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Since COVID and the need to transition and rely upon technology more than ever, many practice owners and managers have asked about the first steps required in transitioning to a paperless (or paper-light) office, and the preliminary issues they need to consider before doing so.

There are many benefits to going paperless:

  • reduced waste and storage costs
  • filing can be simplified and it is therefore easier to locate information
  • it can be more secure (if you have the right cyber protections in place), and
  • accessibility may be better with the ability for you and your team to access files anywhere at any time.

Even with these advantages, it is a huge undertaking and investment in both time and financial resources to set it up properly.

So here are the first three steps in transitioning to a paperless office.

  1. Update all of your client engagement retainers or client authorities to ensure you have authority to store and retain client records electronically. Set a date (which you should document well) and ensure that all matters opened after this date are using the new template, consider whether you will then issue new authorities to current open matters and/or archived matters.
  2. Establish systems operating procedures for document management, including naming conventions for files and file management. Ideally, the document naming protocol should be firm-wide. A key to the functionality of a paperless office is being able to access documents quickly. This is unlikely to work well if documents are not named or stored consistently.
  3. Source and adopt the proper tools and technology required to ensure your staff and office can function with reduced paper use.

The latter task will include consideration of the documents you will need to convert to digital files and how much storage will for the files will be required. Examples would be:

  • mail, letters and court documents
  • internal office financial records and human resources documentation
  • discovery requests
  • archived files

Other questions to consider include:

Do you have the software you need to transition these files? This may include scanners, scanner apps, a cloud-based document management software (this may be a feature of your practice management software), software to view and edit digital documents and security and malware software.

What accessibility do you want the various people in your team to have and what files do you want to have locked access to?

How do you want your team to function within the file management and what training do you need to set up for the transition, i.e. server access for working from home?

Do you want accessibility remotely and if so what online cloud storage does your software include or is your IT team set up to manage and equip remote server access?

What is your budget for the software you need to purchase and do you have the team to support the software (i.e., IT or an office manager)?

Are you going to be the project manager or will you be assigning someone else in the team to manage this project? Do they have the programs they require such as project management tools/software?

Going paperless is a big transition and it requires consistency and dedication from all staff to follow the process. This can be the most difficult aspect – to explain to your team why you are transitioning and to bring them along with this change. There will be some practitioners who may struggle to accept that they should not print off every document etc. – this may take a little time.

It’s also important to note that going paperless probably won’t mean eliminating paper altogether – particularly if you are a self-assessor for the Queensland Revenue Office or file court documents electronically.

However if you want to dramatically increase productivity and efficiency while reducing waste and overheard, it might be time to make the switch!

Want to further explore what this might look like in your practice? The Practice Advisory Service (PAS) is a complimentary service to members offered by QLS Solicitor Support Pty Ltd (a wholly owned incorporated legal practice of QLS).

Our solicitors have years of experience running their own practices and are able to provide guidance in essential areas such as appropriate management systems for incorporated legal practices, legal project management, records management, costs disclosure, client agreements, and practice management generally. Find out more about the Practice Advisory Service.

If you would like to register your interest for a Practice Advisory Service visit, message ethics@qls.com.au.

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