Evolution of Legal Technology: The inevitable transition to paperless

January 29, 2013

Legal TechnologyEditor’s note:  This month we have asked technologically savvy attorneys to share their thoughts on the future of legal technology. Big Data, Mobile, and Cloud Computing are all on the docket, but first a look at how far legal technology has come in the last fifteen years.

Week 1: A Look Back

Week 2: Key Trends

Week 3: Adapting to Today’s New Technologies, Tomorrow

We’ve all been hearing it everywhere for quite awhile now: everything is going “paperless.”

In other words, documents are sent, received, and processed electronically; and the legal industry has not escaped this trend.

Attorneys used to be able to avoid moving and storing client notes and documents electronically.

Nowadays, it is bad practice for even solo practitioners to fail to have an electronic version of every client document and case note.

What makes failing to make electronic backups bad practice?

For one, it’s far more difficult to lose a document or a piece of information if you have it stored electronically – especially if you regularly backup that data.

Secondly, it’s much easier to share information with a client electronically than through snail mail; and even if you opted to send information to a client via snail mail, it’s much easier to find the documents that you want to send and make copies of them if they are all stored electronically.

Third, if you work with other attorneys and have any hope that they will be able to work on a client file when you are on vacation, electronic data storage is an absolute necessity; otherwise, unless they are already intimately familiar with the file, finding the document or information that they need will be a major headache if it isn’t impossible altogether.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, more and more court jurisdictions are requiring electronic filing for attorneys.

That’s right: requiring; so if you haven’t been making electronic versions of every document, filing, correspondence, note, or piece of evidence so far, now is a great time to start.

I’ve never been one to rush headlong into any technological advances, especially this new “paperless” push (since the cynic in me just sees it as a way for corporations to save money).

However, as an attorney, it has been invaluable to have every one of my client files stored electronically.  Instead of trying to sift through a client file for a particular memo or order, I can just look on my desktop, laptop, or my iPad.

It can be somewhat of a chore to manually sync folders between your different digital mediums, so storing your files on the cloud may make a bit more sense, especially when prices have come down so much in recent years.

Actually, along these same lines, I’d recommend transitioning every aspect of your practice possible to an electronic medium.

Aside from all of the benefits already listed above, doing so also helps release you from being chained to a physical office.

One particularly helpful example of this electronic transitioning not already mentioned: electronic fax – sending a receiving faxes via email.

Of course, some aspects of your law practice may not make this electronic transition as smoothly as others, especially if your electronic data is being accessed by multiple parties.

One example of this document review is the discovery process, since most programs and file formats designed for laypeople aren’t conducive to processing the high volume of documents that are produced in many discovery situations.

On the other hand, this is a common enough problem that many solutions are on the market, with Case Logistix being the first that comes to mind.

The “access by multiple parties” conundrum comes up again if several members of your firm or company want to collaborate on a particular file.

Again, there isn’t a sleek way provided by layperson-geared software to accomplish this collaboration electronically, so it may seem that electronic collaboration may not quite make the transition to the digital.

But, again, Thomson Reuters Westlaw also provides a solution to this problem: Case Notebook, which is specifically designed for multiple individuals within an organization to collaborate on a case file, adding in their own notes, facts, documents, evidence, and legal research into the online file, all the while keeping it organized.

Oh, also, Case Logistix integrates into Case Notebook, so that’s kind of neat, too.

Anyhow, my point is that there really isn’t an excuse not to transition your entire practice into the digital realm.

Yes, problems may arise in areas in which traditional electronic storage methods fail to properly address your firm’s needs; but, as the examples above demonstrate, unless your experience is the first time that such a problem has been encountered, there is already a solution on the market.

And any speed bumps posed by these problems are just that: speed bumps.

In the end, making the electronic transition is going to do one thing more than anything else: make your life easier.