Going paperless

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Just read a great article by Ralph Losey about the challenge of converting lawyers to a paperless office, or at least an electronic centric office. His article revolves around Plato’s Cave allegory and his argument boils down to,

“Old lawyers have only ever known paper, thus they cannot see all the amazing benefits of e-discovery. Electronic lawyers cannot communicate the benefits to people who are unwilling to change their ways or see the shadows for what they are”.

A great section of the article talks about the bar association made a young lawyer print out his entire website to have it reviewed, it would be funny if it were not so sad. From the article,

For instance, in the 1990s they persecuted electric lawyers who were the first to the Internet and accused them of broadcasting television ads without permission. One electric lawyer was even forced to submit his entire website to his state Bar association for approval as a television ad. His attempts to explain the world outside of the paper cave were futile. They saw the web show for themselves on the televisions sitting on their secretaries’ desks, which were actually computer monitors, but they did not understand the difference. The protodigital lawyer complied and printed out his whole website, disclaimers and all, consisting of thousands of pages of paper when so downgraded into two dimensions. Once the Bar governors saw the television add in the paper they loved and understood, they quibbled with a few terms, required a couple of revisions, and then approved his website,floridalawfirm.com, as a TV broadcast.

A large part of our hesitance to go paperless is old habits; however, a lot of the problem remains in the technology and devices available. Reading long documents on a computer is not pleasant, annotations via keyboard an mouse are still not ideal. With the Kindle, things are getting better and with the mysterious Apple tablet, who knows. Today, devices are still too removed from our natural habits of writing, speaking and interacting with physical objects – but that gap is closing fast.

Our office is pretty much paperless, the only documents we get by mail (not by choice) are bank statements, government letters and cheques – I think that is a statement of who is leading who. We use Basecamp fro manage projects, Highrise to manage business Development, Harvest to manage expenses, DropBox and Google Docs to manage files.

Going paperless is possible, but the two key elements are re-training and making the tools easy to use. Also, try making your employees pay for their own paper, perhaps that might help. When printing seems free, people tend to abuse it.

On a side note, the movie Pirate’s of Silicon Valley contains a scene where the first computer mouse is presented to the board of Xerox, then one of the best companies in the world. The board scoffs at the device, asking, “You want xerox to invest in something called a mouse???”. Xerox nearly went bankrupt in 2000. Youtube clip (jump to minute 3 and 14 seconds):