Paperless 101 & 102: Written Materials

Paperless Factoids

  • A 64 Gigabyte USB thumb drive costs $30 at office supply stores. You could store the equivalent of 250 boxes of paper (as scanned PDFs), which is equal to 3 tons of paper.
  • 2012 Study finds that 28 percent of law firms are going paperless, or plan to do so within five years. Source link

Recommended Hardware

  • Fujitsu ScanSnap Scanner – the comparison matrix lists the pros and cons of the 3 versions of scanner; but we strongly recommend that lawyers get the iX500 model because: (1) it’s easy to set up and use, (2) it’s robust and reliable (and for Windows users  it comes with a full version of Adobe Acrobat).
  • Dual Monitors – because it makes you more efficient and reduces the temptation to print something out, just so you can look at one document (your printout) while you edit another one on your computer. There are many good monitors out there, but this Dell UltraSharp 24” monitor is less than $300 and has seriously good reviews from Amazon.
  • Swingline Shredder w/ Auto-paper feed – Once you realize how debilitating paper is, you’ll want to get rid of it quickly. Lawyers have a lot of sensitive papers, and simply tossing them out isn’t ethical. Shredding them can be time-consuming, or expensive if you use a commercial service. This shredder has a 100 sheet auto document feeder, which makes shredding a lot easier if you need to get rid of lots of confidential paper.

Recommended Software

  • Adobe Acrobat is the best software for lawyers to use to manipulate PDFs. The Windows version comes in two levels: Standard (~$269) and Professional (~$422). The Mac version only comes in Professional level. Even though the program is expensive it’s the de-facto standard because it’s widely used and does everything a lawyer would need to do. The Professional version does bates-stamping and redaction, so every law office should have at least one copy of Acrobat Professional.

Cloud services

  • Once you have your documents scanned to PDF, the next step is to (1) make sure they’re backed up in a safe offsite location, and (2) available to you from anywhere that has an internet connection.
  • DropBox is the most popular cloud-based service, and many folks are using it as backup, sync, and conduit for documents that need to be opened on an iPad or tablet device.
  • Sugarsync is equivalent to Dropbox, but has more configurability (but is a little harder to manage, and doesn’t work with quite as many third-party apps).
  • provides more security and higher levels of service, but is more expensive.
  • Google and Microsoft also provide cloud storage options worth checking into if you find that the above-listed options don’t quite meet your needs.

Recommended Reading

  • Acrobat in One Hour for Lawyers – Ernie Svenson’s short book for lawyers (and legal professionals) on using PDFs more effectively in a law practice, with Adobe Acrobat.Covers editions X and XI of Acrobat (Adobe no longer supports prior editions, so these are the only two editions lawyers should be using).
  • PDF for Lawyers – Ernie Svenson’s website devoted purely to helping lawyers and legal professionals make better use of PDFs. Lot’s of incredibly useful free tips, forms, and checklists.
  • Customizing the Acrobat Interface – This is the first thing you should do when you first install Acrobat, and this excellent blog post by Adobe’s Rick Borstein is the perfect walk-through explanation. It takes only a few minutes to work through, and the payoff down the road will be huge.
  • How I name files on my Mac – David Sparks’ article for MacWorld magazine on his approach to naming documents. His approach is exactly what we recommend.
  • The Paperless Office Is Easier Than You Think – web article by attorney Aaron Street, of the site.
  • Dane Ciolino’s Electronic Document Management Protocol – Dane’s instructions to clients on how to transmit electronic documents. Great model for the optimal way of processing digital documents.

Ethical Reasons To Be Paperless 

  • Video: The Ethics of Going Paperless – (39:00 mins) Tomasz Stasiuk’s excellent talk before the 2012 Colorado Family Law Conference, and talks about backup, encryption and the cloud. Also talks about file retention rules (law is Colorado, but still instructive to lawyers in other states).
  • Going Paperless? It May Be Your Ethical Obligation – FindLaw blog article which cites the new ABA Model Rule 1.1 comments regarding technology use by lawyers.
  • The rules of ethics require that a lawyer must provide competent representation, reasonably communicate with his client, adequately respond to discovery and properly handle a client’s file upon termination. Digital document management facilitates fulfillment of all of these obligations, and thus implicates the rules listed below.
  • Rule 1.1(a) provides that, “[a] lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
  • The August 2012 update to the Rule 1.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct now makes it clear that lawyers have a duty to keep abreast of the benefits and risks associated with technology. The new admonition is contained in the comments to Rule 1.1.
  • Rule 1.4 provides that, “[a] lawyer shall: (1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(e), is required by these Rules; (2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished; (3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter; (4) promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and (5) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.”
  • Rule 3.4 provides that a lawyer must “make reasonably diligent effort to comply with a legally proper discovery request by an opposing party.”
  • Rule 1.16(d) requires a lawyer to promptly return the client’s file upon termination of the representation. “Upon written request by the client, the lawyer shall promptly release to the client or the client’s new lawyer the entire file relating to the matter. The lawyer may retain a copy of the file but shall not condition release over issues relating to the expense of copying the file or for any other reason. The responsibility for the cost of copying shall be determined in an appropriate proceeding.”

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