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Making paper history

18 September 17

A sole principal follows up his article on doing your own cloud computing with his experience of moving to paperless, and the benefits it brings

by Archie Millar

Is paperless, or paper light, really possible?

In principle, it is perfectly simple. Here’s how it worked for us.

First, we committed to dealing by email wherever possible. Letters became the third choice means of communication after email, or phone followed by attendance note. Attendance notes are typed up as an email to self while taking client instructions. The email is then sent to self and stored chronologically in the client file.

The client folder becomes a chronological list of the emails, attendance notes, and incoming mail scanned and appropriately labelled, beginning with the date in yymmdd format to ensure chronological storage. Easier both to keep, store, and use than a paper file.

I have looked at case management systems, but rejected these as being expensive and cumbersome to use, whereas the drop-box system (using your computer system’s file management system) requires little training and is fast, efficient and open to all users at the same time from multiple locations, making team playing easy. File opening consists of opening a new folder and giving it a name.

Everything done, from internal emails to instructions for searches, is saved to the appropriate electronic folder. In practice we have found that the electronic folders are much better kept and far more likely to contain the whole story than paper files, because the item being dealt with on screen can be filed to the correct folder instantly by the person using it.

In conveyancing, land certificates or the relevant titles are scanned to a subfolder and worked on from there. Searches are ordered online and exhibited by email.

Each morning the mail is opened and scanned in to each fee earner. Papers required to be retained as hard copies are passed to the fee earner. Supervisors are copied in from the scanner. The incoming mail is then placed in the shredding basket. Shredding is not done for at least 30 days so items placed there in error can be recovered.

Yes, the system is as easy as that. It will change your life. 

Thinking outside the cabinet

The problem? Mindset. The change requires commitment from the users and therein lies the problem.

What made the change easier for our firm was that we have no typing staff. All fee earners produce their own documents. It is far easier for a fee earner to produce and then save a document than to go through the performance of producing the extra copy and then placing it on a paper file, so there is an immediate incentive to use the digital file.

The most noticeable physical benefit is the improvement in the quality of the workplace.

After a thorough archive by the adequately supervised summer intern, there will be no more files stored in-office other than the fully archived historical files waiting for physical destruction.

Individual offices have no need for filing cabinets, because there are no files. The office can be transformed almost overnight from a nursing home for disabled filing cabinets into a civilised working space.

Think about how much space your firm’s archive takes up. A small firm will produce about one ton of hard copy archive every year. Our last year’s archive was one lever arch file.

New possibilities

As described in my article at Journal, August 2017, 42, we operate a drop-box system using our computer’s own file management system, so there is no need for the purchase of any software. We have a folder on the main menu for each year and subfolders for work types, clients and matters.

Files being worked on over the year-end are cut and pasted into the next year’s folder. When the matter is finished the file is left where it is.

This means that 10 years later the archive consists of the normal checks, then we will simply delete that year’s folder.

Then we have the matter of costs. No, you are not going to be your stationery supplier’s best friend, but that is not what you are in business for. Obviously, your use of stationery will drop dramatically. Our entire stationery supply of all items is now contained in one two-door storage cabinet.

We have reduced the cost of our post to less than £10 per week and have cancelled our LP/DX subscription. When did you last check how much you are paying in a year to DX – not just the subscription, but adding in the extras?

Supervisors can check files from their own desks irrespective of the location of the fee earner.

Document creation, revisions and data handling become oh so simple. And consider the possibilities this opens up for home working!

Speed of working is also a major benefit, but that comes with another major factor which I will address in my next article. 

If you are interested in the concept and would like to discuss, mail me at archie@macraestephen.co.uk
Archie Millar is principal of MacRae, Stephen & Co, Fraserburgh­

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