Transitioning to Paperless: Strategies for Legal Document Management

Legal Document Management

The term ‘paperless office’ is a slight misnomer, as the office still uses paper for some functions. It’s hard to be completely free of something that humanity has used for over two millennia, if not much longer. On top of that, technology is prone to failure; producing and disseminating digital files without physical backups is a good way to grind work to a halt.

The legal industry is one of several that aren’t ready to bid farewell to paper just yet. Lawyers can expend tens of thousands of letter-size sheets annually, depending on their practice. While law firms spend a small fraction of their annual revenue on printing and document management, when considering that they can make billions, that expense can get hefty.

Saving costs wherever possible is always a good idea, whether for a law office or any business. Reducing paper consumption is a good start, and there are ways to achieve this.

Digitize current documents

Nothing screams traditional workplace more than shelves of overly thick binders and dozens of oversized file cabinets. But these storage solutions are falling out of favor amid increasing office space prices and pressure on businesses to minimize their carbon footprints.

A single hard drive, whose capacity is measurable in gigabytes, can store cabinets and shelves’ worth of documents. Even more impressive is its portability relative to any form of traditional file storage. Whether a single drive hooked up to a computer or multiple units connected via a dock station, these gadgets would serve a lawyer’s immense document needs more efficiently.

One of the first steps to a paperless law firm entails turning its existing documents into electronic form. Such a system can consist of three pieces of hardware: legal document scanners, in-house or cloud-based electronic storage, and searchable PDF converter software. Getting used to this setup may take some time, but the potential long-term savings will be worth the investment.

In addition, it’s worth noting that most courts today allow digital file submissions. For example, federal courts manage the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system to accept motions, petitions, and other judicial forms in digital format. There’s also the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), with over a billion documents stored.

Shred hard copies once scanned

Naturally, there’s little point in keeping paper files around after scanning them and turning them into searchable PDFs. Run these documents through a paper shredder or get a certified shredding service to do the job.

That said, it pays to be mindful of the choice of documents to go through the shredder. State and federal laws may require law offices to keep original copies for a period before destroying them. Even if the timeframe has long passed, experts advise against disposing of some files, such as wills and real estate transactions.

Ensure the scanned copy is legible and contains the same details as the original. Law firms can’t afford to produce copies of an electronic document that differs vastly from the original, more so for conveyancing purposes. It’s also a good reason not to sacrifice performance for cost savings when in the market for a quality scanner.

Design a paperless workflow

Going paperless will introduce sweeping changes to a law firm’s workflow, namely in document management. Incorporating state-of-the-art hardware and software is only the start. For instance, how should the office handle paper files received from clients or institutions? Should it be kept in physical storage or destroyed after digitizing?

A paperless workflow provides the answers to such questions and more. Sweating the small stuff is highly encouraged when drafting one to standardize how the firm’s staff will handle incoming documents. Besides the examples earlier, other aspects include:

  • File retention policies
  • Naming conventions
  • Save locations
  • Disposal procedures
  • Client notification procedures
  • Key performance indicators

Any attempt to introduce change to a tried-and-tested workflow will likely face status quo bias, even more when introducing new tech stacks. It falls on the firm’s lead decision-makers to sell the benefits of, in this case, a paperless workflow for their staff.


Invest in robust cybersecurity

For all the talk about being an effective cost-cutting measure, going paperless isn’t without its share of drawbacks. The most egregious is that the digitized files become more vulnerable to breaches and other sophisticated cyberattacks.

The sensitive information that law firms handle makes them a prime target. According to a 2022 survey by the American Bar Association, the number of firms that have faced security breaches has increased by 2% from 2021. Don’t let this measly figure lull you; another quarter said they had no idea if their office had been breached, which is more dangerous.

With laws mandating businesses to enact stronger data protection, investing in security solutions should be a priority in a paperless law office. Apart from cybersecurity software, this also entails training staff in best document handling practices. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news to clients when a breach happens.


Opportunities to transition to a paperless workplace are aplenty, thanks to the current technology available. And while paper isn’t going away from law firms for the foreseeable future, reducing its consumption is in their best interest. The savings in operational costs can be too tempting to pass up.

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