Whatever happened to the paperless office?

August 31, 2010

stack of file foldersWe’ve been hearing about this “paperless office” thing for decades now. Take a look at this BusinessWeek article from 1975. Here’s an excerpt:

Some believe that the paperless office is not that far off. Vincent E. Giuliano of Arthur D. Little, Inc., figures that the use of paper in business for records and correspondence should be declining by 1980, “and by 1990, most record-handling will be electronic.”

Of course, it’s easy to poke fun at predictions that don’t quite hit the mark, but… Well, it’s been more than 35 years since this article came out, and we’re still waiting for our paperless offices, along with our jet packs and robot housemaids.

Why do our offices and cubicles still resemble mausoleums for dead trees? The copier and computer printer came along, of course – but so did tree-friendly technologies like the scanner, the office network, email and the Internet.

For a more complete answer, consider this familiar scenario: You’re rummaging through a case file, and you pull out an important document that you hadn’t noticed before. You make a copy and return the original to the Bankers Box you found it in. As you read your copy, you mark it up with your trusty highlighter and scrawl notes in the margins. Then you ask the secretary to make three more copies of your annotated version to place in various case folders and share with your team.

What just happened? In order to analyze and collaborate with your colleagues, you’ve turned one document into five – because aside from getting everyone together in a conference room, there’s no other way to do it.

Or is there? In fact, a new generation of online collaboration tools is changing the way legal teams work together, which is especially good news if you’re a tree. One example is West Case Notebook, which provides a central repository for sharing all of your case files, along with annotations and other information added by your team. Just think: Even though the paperless office may still be years away, your case files could be 99% pulp-free today.

The scenario above was adapted from this West Case Notebook Case Study, which tells the story of how Grodsky & Olecki, a small firm in Santa Monica, improved efficiency while reducing reliance on paper. You can see additional case studies, customer testimonials, videos and more at west.thomson.com/casenotebook.