As you read the news, blogs and other information sources these days, the trend is for companies, and law firms specifically, to move towards the "Paperless Office" concept, with all of your important paperwork being converted to electronic format and stored digitally. Despite this supposedly unifying theme, it seems like everyone does it in a different way.
For me, the workflow is simple and I've been slowly working on it for a few years now to the point where almost all of the documents that come across my desk are already in electronic format. Emails? Obviously, already in electronic format and there's no need to print them out. Facsimiles? Using an electronic fax service, I don't have a fax machine, but rather, all of my faxes are converted directly into Adobe .pdf format and are emailed to me. Voicemail messages? No need for those old message pads anymore, voicemails are converted to .mp3 and emailed to me. Sensing a trend yet?
The only real document that comes into the office in a "hard" format are letters or other documents from the client. Those documents are quickly digitized through a Fujitsu scanner (either desktop or portable version) and can be given right back to the client or just shredded if it's a letter from an opposing counsel. When it comes to discovery, all that needs to be done is to take the digitized files, place them on a CD-ROM, and send them off to the opposing attorney.
The motivation for this posting? I was in court the other day with my ipad and was reviewing documents for my case and then sat down with opposing counsel to discuss the matter. Opposing counsel looked at my ipad and then immediately declared that she runs a "Paperless Office" and prefers to work electronically on her cases. Sounds great to me, we're both in the same boat. But then she proceeds to remove a very large file of papers from a very large briefcase and spends a bunch of time looking for a document that she swears is in there somewhere (apparently it wasn't, it was on her secretary's desk according to her).
When we appeared before the judge, the entire courtroom was treated to the elevator music in our heads as we all waited for the attorney to locate a document her client had given her (which, ironically, supported my client's position in the end). After watching my adversary clutter up an entire counsel table and then spend time trying to put everything back together, I'm still wondering what part of her office is actually "Paperless" or virtual.
The largest hurdle to going to a paperless office is the self-confidence to appear in court with your tablet or laptop and trust that it will work and you will have all of your information with you. For me, I still sometimes appear with a "safety net" in the form of my argument notes printed out or copies of the important documents or orders in the case in my bag.
After years of appearing in court, I still cling to this outdated notion that I need them with me, but am hoping to finally conquer that hurdle soon. I take solace knowing that I no longer need to drag a large bag from courthouse to courthouse...