The Paperless or Virtual Office – It’s a Mindset

There has been much written on Slaw and other places about the paperless office, or the virtual office. 

My personal view is that for the most part, we either already have the tools to accomplish it, or if we don’t have them, they can be acquired at low cost. The barrier is mostly our will to do it. Some people don’t see the need, or have a hard time giving up paper, or just find it hard to change.

Technolawyer points to an article that’s worth a read by New York lawyer Jay Fleishman entitled Being a Virtual Lawyer is all Mindset, not Technology. While the article talks about the virtual office, the same goes for the paperless office, as a paperless office is essentially a virtual office that stays in one place.

For the record, I’m not totally paperless yet, but I’m getting close. Perhaps I just need to take a few minutes to think about the paper that still flows through my office, and decide how to deal with it.

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Comments

  1. Presumably a paperless office does not mean that the lawyer does not see clients in person. A virtual office suggests that contact with clients is also online. One can understand why the former may be more attractive than the latter. (One can also understand that the VLO does not have to mean no in-person contact with clients.)

    I did a little overview of the legalities of paperless government last year (updating some more thorough analysis mentioned in the sources to this slide deck). Basic conclusion: it’s not a legal problem.

  2. I am in-house counsel and about to embark on a full-time virtual office adventure. I think it will be great because I will be more productive as a result. Working in an office with distractions (Starbucks and coworkers) and too much paper around us is what drives us nuts in the first place. Not to mention the health benefits such as being able to go for a run on my lunch hour, not getting high blood pressure from sitting in traffic for hours and eating homemade meals and snacks throughout the day. In my opinion, it just makes sense to achieve that work / life balance we are all seeking at the end of the day.

  3. Stephanie Kimbro

    Aside from the benefits to the legal professional, also consider how virtual law practice and going paperless can benefit your clients. The reduction in office overhead trickles down to the cost of legal fees for your clients. The technology to streamline the document storage and management online allows you to focus more on your clients’ legal needs and less on the administrative aspects of the practice.

    One barrier I’ve heard mentioned is the concern that our clients do not have the hardware or know-how on their end to communicate effectively with the attorney using technology. I simply don’t think this is the case anymore as the applications to communicate and work with them online are primarily developed as SaaS apps. As long as the clients have Internet and browser access, they can take advantage of this.

    Looking at the large number of clients served by online legal services companies, such as Legal Zoom, it’s high time the legal profession stepped up to the plate to provide a safer alternative to online legal services companies by creating virtual law practices – whether completely web-based or as a part of a traditional firm that has made the decision to go paperless and online in addition to in-person representation. Clearly there is a growing consumer demand for the paperless law office.

    Having a wider variety of virtual law practice models and elawyering tools to deliver legal services online creates greater access to justice. Whether you operate a virtual law office or just go paperless in your traditional practice, it’s a step in the right direction towards using technology to benefit our clients and our practices.

  4. Is virtual law office synonymous with paperless? What does paperless mean – zero paper usage (meaning no printers, scanners etc. (would be interested in knowing if anyone has achieved this)) or minimum paper usage? And, if paperless means minimum paper usage, what is the minimum?

  5. @verna A lot of people tend to use the terms synonymously so I like to take it one step further and say web-based office.

    Web-based office is to the now as paperless was to 10 years ago. What I mean by a web based office is an office free from hardware constraints such as servers, remote desktop log-ins and IT heavy offices. The technology is available to have a web based or cloud office, the burden is now on us as professionals to recognize the benefits.

  6. We often have lawyers, notaries and other come by our office to see our “as paperless as possible” law firm. Most expect to find some exotic hardware or software – which we don’t have at all. Just “COTS” (common off the shelf) software and standard hardware. As David says it is mostly attitude.

    Our firm is featured in Chapter 5 of the Adobe book “Paperless” by J. P. Terry

    Ron

    http://www.bellalliance.ca

  7. Couldn’t agree more. When we look at technology in our paperless virtual practice, we see it as an enabler only. The real work in getting ‘there’ are the procedures and culture (the behaviours) required to actually leverage the technology, to then make the virtual goal a reality. For example, if our lawyers and contract paralegals never get into the swing of the flex hours and the work/life balance they’re able to enjoy by working some or most hours at home, they never really benefit; that’s cultural. From a procedural perspective, if the few paper documents that do still exist in our practice are not scanned into appropriately opened and numbered client files in a timely fashion, staff in remote locations are unable to draft documents and collaborate from a distance; that’s a procedure issue. So no question, ‘going virtual’ or ‘going paperless’ is unquestionably a challenge of will.

  8. Thanks for this clarification. Looks like an interesting book.
    Verna

  9. Working in an office with distractions and too much paper around us is what drives us nuts in the first place.