Litigators, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners, Technology

Is It Possible To Go Completely Paperless In A Law Office?

The argument in favor of going paperless.

Let me start out with some harsh truth. When I talk about going paperless, it has almost nothing to do with the environment. There are maybe five lawyers in the whole country who really feel that their printing of exhibits is destroying Mother Gaia and are therefore motivated to go paperless.

For the rest of us, it is a matter of two things: (1) convenience, and (2) efficiency/billable hours. I know it’s weird to see efficiency and billable hours used in the same sentence without a negative in there somewhere, but if you have ever had three hours of time written off for looking all over the whole office for that one document that was dropped on the file clerk’s desk last week, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes when you charge by the hour, it is good to work efficiently. So, I want to discuss whether it’s possible to go almost completely paperless and what steps we can take to get there.

Why Go Paperless?

I am mostly paperless and it’s great. I know where all of my things are and I can find them instantly. My desk has no clutter. I don’t have to get nervous when I put client medical records in the trash or worry about shredding. My office is not paralyzed when the toner waste drum breaks or when the machine tells me there is a jam in tray 3, but I’m looking there and there is no jam. I have a significantly reduced file storage area and paper/printer supply closet. In short, my office looks like Captain Picard’s ready room, only with less Earl Grey.

There are some times when you are going to have to print things on paper because you go to trial and have to make exhibit binders, or you live in a village that does not have e-filing for state courts yet, but we can’t fix that. Instead, I am only discussing here what we can do to get as close as possible to going paperless.

Bates Stamping the Old Way

I worked for a firm that did all of its Bates stamping by hand with printable mailing labels. All Bates-stamped documents would have an “Original” file, the “Bates stamp” copy, and the “Produced” copy. The Bates copy looked ridiculous because the bottom right corner was twice as thick because of the sticker label. It made the file fan out and it would never stack right on the shelf.

Bates Stamping the New Way

Adobe Acrobat comes with a Bates-stamping tool:

Aside from the clear advantages it has with labeling a 10,000-page document in about 1 minute, it also gives you the option of slightly shrinking a document so that your Bates labels do not overlap:

Adobe even has a blog for all of its legal features called Acrobat for Legal Professionals.

Facsimile Machines the Old Way

Fax machines are just the worst. The technology has only barely evolved in the last 30 years, yet it remains a staple of law office technology.

Facsimile Machines the New Way

Although fax technology has been completely replaced by scanning and emailing, there are still clients that insist on using faxes. Electronic fax providers such as RingCentral or Nextiva issue you a virtual number (meaning you don’t need another phone line installed) that can send and receive faxes electronically like you would an email. You design a fax cover sheet and attach the scanned documents you want to send and email the documents to the client’s fax machine. Incoming faxes come in as PDFs to your email account.

Signing Documents the Old Way

Occasionally, in federal cases filed electronically through PACER or in complex state-court cases with a case management order that requires documents to be served electronically, I get documents where everything is neat and crisp because it was printed to PDF from a Word document, but then the last page is ugly because the lawyer signed and scanned the signature page. I see this even at big firms and it drives me crazy. It seems that printing and signing the last page is something that tether people to their printers.

Signing Documents the New Way

Prepare an e-signature if your state or local rules allow. Sign your name to a blank piece of paper, scan it, and crop the page to just the signature. If you know how, create a transparent background so your stamp doesn’t overlap with the signature line. Open Adobe Acrobat and create a custom stamp from the scanned signature.

Tips for Going Paperless

Scan your documents as black and white, not color or grayscale. Scanning as color or grayscale will give you an unwieldy file size, but, more importantly, it gives your documents a grey background with all of the imperfections and grains of the paper. If your scanner is not picking up light strokes or if it is picking up too much black, the setting you are looking for is called threshold.

Try to enter into a stipulation with opposing counsel to accept service by email. You’ll cut down on process-server costs and reduce paper waste.

In Part 2, I’m going to discuss how to go paperless at depos.

Ed. note: This column has been brought to you by our friends at MyCase, web-based practice management software for lawyers. Click here to learn more about MyCase and their happy customers.

Please note that the views expressed in the column are those of the writer alone.

Jeff Bennion is a solo practitioner from San Diego. When not handling his own cases, he’s consulting lawyers on how to use technology to not be boring in trial or managing e-discovery projects in mass torts/complex litigation cases. If you want to be disappointed in a lack of posts, you can follow him on twitter or on Facebook. If you have any ideas of things you want him to cover, email Jeff at

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