Many lawyers think that it’s impossible to be paperless at trial.
It’s not, but you have to understand that “having a paperless law practice” doesn’t mean you never deal with paper.
So let’s see how this plays out at trial. And, let’s start with an obvious real-world observation.
Most courts aren’t set up to be all digital. They receive exhibits in paper form.
And so guess what? You’re going be dealing with paper.
Does this fact mean that your whole carefully crafted quest to become paperless has now crashed to a halt?
No, because having to use paper at trial does not mean you’re going to be less efficient. And a “paperless law practice” is first and foremost about being efficient, not avoiding having to deal with paper.
Back in the office, you’re efficient. You used to deal with mounds of paper, but now you mostly deal with PDFs.
PDF skills are important
Having your documents in PDF is more efficient. But it gives you options, and if you want paper all you have to do is print out the PDF.
As you got comfortable with PDFs, you quickly started to appreciate how easy it is to search inside a PDF, or group of PDFs, to find a key document or passage. Fast, simple, and easy.
So how does being adept with PDFs and so forth, help you at trial where you now have to deal with paper?
Well, let’s address the paper you will have to deal with. It’s not going to be a big deal, and here’s why.
You’ll print out, however, many sets of paper documents you need at trial. They’ll be in bankers boxes near your counsel table. And mostly you won’t touch them.
When your opponent is offering exhibits, you don’t even look down at the boxes. You are focused on what’s happening with the witness, and occasionally glancing at your computer.
When opposing counsel refers to a document you pull up it on your computer. Takes a few seconds.
Perhaps you made notes on that document at an earlier point in time, say at a deposition. If so you’ll see those notes also. This is good because it reminds you of why your opponent thinks this document is important.
As long as your opponent is introducing documents, you’re not fooling with paper.
The only time you deal with paper is when you are introducing your exhibits.
Paper isn’t a big deal anymore
How much paper are you dealing with then? Depends, but here’s a typical scenario.
For each exhibit, you need one paper copy for the judge, one for the witness, and one for each trial counsel. You hand out the paper as necessary whenever you have to introduce an exhibit.
Otherwise, you’re relying on your computer.
You use it to keep track of notes about exhibits, including whether it was admitted or not. This doesn’t take very long to do, so you’re always hyper-aware of what’s happening (by contrast, your opponent is always fumbling around with paper).
The key thing is: you got comfortable with your paperless system before trial which is fantastic—especially if it’s a jury trial.
Because jurors will pick up on the difference in how you operate (which is smooth and stress-free) and how your opponent operates (fumbling with paper).
Efficiency is practical and powerful
When your opponent tries to hand you a document wave him off with a theatrical sweep of your hand, and say “I don’t need a copy. I’ve got it right here on my computer.”
By the end of the trial, the jury will have had many chances to think “gee, why doesn’t that other lawyer use a computer?”
If your opponent works for a big firm, even better (juries love to root for the little guy, especially if he’s putting up a good fight).
At the end of the trial, you’re free to leave the court. The documents are all on your computer. The banker’s boxes that you brought are empty.
Close your computer, stand up and head out the door. The judge respects you for being efficient and not wasting time, and so does the jury.
Your opponent resents you, but so what? You are proud knowing that you represented your client effectively. You were organized, and it showed.
All the result of shedding your unnecessary dependence on paper.
Oh, but what if you’re not adept at practicing law without paper?
Well, then learn. It’s not that hard.
I promise you, if you can do email and surf the web, you have the requisite skills to be a “paperless lawyer.”
The only thing you need is a proven map showing how to make the transition in a smooth and sensible way.
Quick Action Step
If you want to learn more you can get started right away with our free 1-page guide called 5 Keys to Creating a Paperless Law Office.