Lawyers are all likely aware of the benefits of converting to a paperless law office. Yet the paper shredder industry continues to profit greatly off of the millions of legal documents being destroyed every year.
Did you know the average office employee uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper annually? However, according to the Paperless Project, 45% of the paper printed inside offices ends up in the trash each day. Based on those figures, that means that the average associate, paralegal or staff member in your firm may be throwing away 4,500 sheets of copy paper annually. When you consider the substantial amount of money spent on copy paper, ink cartridges and toners by the average law firm each year, it is not surprising why so many offices and law firms are shifting their focus towards creating paperless work environments.
With the vast amount of legal correspondence, documentation and case file paperwork created, handled and managed within your firm each year, becoming a 100% paperless law office is unrealistic and nearly impossible. However, there are still some steps that you can take within Microsoft Word to access, review and even edit your documents without falling victim to excessive printing and paper usage.
Assess Past Usage to Create a Plan
You can make significant reductions to your firm’s overall paper usage by closely examining the firm’s past usage and inventory. Document how much is printed on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. Using those calculations will allow you to determine your firm’s overall annual expenses related to copy paper, ink cartridges, toners, and the overall maintenance of your printers and fax machines.
Make sure that you are thorough to include all the documents you print – including client correspondence, case files, fax cover sheets, demand letters and court paperwork. Not only will you be able to see just how much money you spend (and lose) each year, but you may also be able to immediately identify areas in which printing is not necessary, pushing you one step closer to becoming a paperless law firm.
Share and Collaborate via Online Storage
Think about the vast number of times when you print a document simply to share it with a fellow associate, paralegal, partner or even a client. It is true that you may not be able to get away with a paperless approach to submitting case-related documents. However, you can make a substantial dent in the firm’s copy paper usage and annual expense by sharing and collaborating on inter-office documents and correspondence through Microsoft Word and online paperless office software storage solutions.
Within Microsoft Word, you can collaborate on a wide array of documents, marketing materials and even presentations, while marking your edits and tracking any changes made either by you or your fellow colleagues. Instead of printing numerous drafts, this online collaboration can be used to make the necessary revisions so that you will only need to print when the finalized and edited versions are ready. This will also save a considerable amount of office and desk space, especially since you will no longer have to worry about a stack of inter-office correspondence growing on your desk and in your file cabinets.
Related article: 5 Simple Rules for Sending Legal Correspondence Over Mobile Devices.
Save Finalized Word Documents as PDFs
Once your legal documents, correspondence and case-related documents have been edited and finalized within Microsoft Word, another helpful tip is to save them as PDF files. Legal professionals who are unfamiliar with the advanced functions of Microsoft Word may not know that saving documents as PDF files is possible. In those cases, they may spend more time printing and then scanning these documents to convert them into PDFs.
Save a few steps (and a lot of time) by simply saving them as PDFs within Microsoft Word. To do this, you must change the “Print” settings for each specific document – especially if you already have a default printer set up with your software. A “Print to PDF” option is typically found in the “Print To…” dropdown menu where you normally see the name of your printer. You will then select the “Print” option. Instead of transmitting that data to your printer, Microsoft Word will then prompt you to enter the file name and folder to which the PDF file will be saved.
Please note that this step should not be completed until after the document is finalized. It is much easier to edit Microsoft Word documents than PDFs. While PDFs are ready to print and properly formatted for viewing, you are not able to edit these files as easily or efficiently.
Invest in Dual Monitors and Scanners
To improve your efforts in becoming a paperless law office, you should also consider investing in desktop scanners and dual monitors. With desktop scanners, each staff member will be able to scan in court paperwork – such as summonses, subpoenas and other case-related documents – as well as incoming mail, client invoices, utility bills, mileage receipts, etc. Those scanned files can then be saved to a shared server that all of the firm’s employees can access without compromising their security.
Using dual monitor setups for all computers (including laptops) increases the overall efficiency when working on legal documents and other administrative tasks. However, it also makes it much easier to work on editing documents, collecting research and performing other tasks simultaneously without having to work with physical, printed copies.
Educate and Train the Staff
Transitioning from a “printed paper environment” to a fully paperless law firm may seem like a daunting task. However, as long as everyone is on the same page, it is much easier than it seems.
The key is training! Keep in mind that your firm’s associates, paralegals and even office staff members may have been creating, editing and printing legal documents and correspondence the same way for many years. Those patterns may have become habits deeply instilled and ingrained into their daily work routines. This does not mean, however, that trying to change is a lost cause that should not even be attempted.
Like any habit, this particular one can be broken over time so that your firm will eventually be able to reap the benefits in efficiency and expense-savings that come with reducing printer and paper usage just by tweaking the way that you use Microsoft Word.
Training staff isn’t easy, but once everyone is on board with a new idea, it can be very lucrative. Read this article on training your law firm: “Why Training Is Like Brussel Sprouts.”
For more insight into how you can increase productivity in your law office, stay tuned to the Infoware Blog.