Guest Post! Living in a (Mostly) Paperless World

Chris Hill, Attorney

Christopher G. Hill, LEED AP is Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator, construction lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC.  Chris has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions and is a member of the Virginia Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” for 2011 and 2012. He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals. 

Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals.  Additionally, Chris is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and the Board of Governors of Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.

Thank you to Martha for allowing me to spend a Friday here at the Advocate’s Studio with her audience.  Be sure to head on over to Construction Law Musings to read here great insights into the latest Android based legal applications.

Now, on with the invasion! (insert sound of coconuts knocking together here)

The web is full of references to a “paperless” law practice.  First of all, this is a misnomer.  No such thing exists, except to the extent that an attorney like me does not keep much in a file cabinet.  So long as courts exist and lawyers need to produce paper exhibits for judges to read and rule upon, we attorneys will continue to “kill trees.”  Until every courthouse has the capability and the desire to allow “virtual” exhibits and pleadings and to spend the money to make this type of exhibit easy for the average (read non-huge firm) lawyer to present such exhibits in an easily digestible form, paper will be a necessity.

This is not to say that one cannot go mostly paperless in your practice.  When I went out on my own over three years ago, I bought a two drawer file cabinet.  It started relatively full and now is getting emptier and emptier as the files I brought with me from my old gig are resolved and closed.  I went “paperless” by necessity (I’m the only employee of my solo construction practice).

Essentially, the fact that when I’m not sitting in the office no one is “minding the store” so to speak made cloud based access to most documents and e-mail a necessity.  Be extension, scanning those documents into my computer and sending them to the “cloud” was a requirement.  Couple this with the somewhat fireproof nature of cloud based documents and fact that I hate to look at clutter and you have the motivation to go “paperless.”

So, how to do it?  Well, I started with a Brother MFC printer, scanner, fax and a computer.  I then upgraded my scanning ability to add a ScanSnap s1500 (since updated to the ix500) so I could scan and OCR (make searchable) documents faster and directly upload them to my Clio practice management software.  I also use Acrobat XI to create .pdf letters and pleadings for those cases (luckily most of them) where opposing counsel will accept e-mailed pleadings to avoid having to print and mail the documents.

Of course, the printer gets a workout when I have to prepare deposition or trial exhibit books, but I don’t keep “pleading notebooks” or paper documents.  I prefer to send clients .pdf copies for their records and I scan and return original documents provided by my construction clients.  In truth, most of the time, my clients provide e-copies of documents that don’t need this treatment.

With these three relatively simple tools (along with Google Apps for e-mail and the occasional use of Google Drive) I can access my practice, bill clients and review documents from anywhere that has an internet connection or from my tablet at home or, if I have to, my phone.

Even as an advocate of paperless practice, don’t go paperless just for the sake of doing it.  All of this paperless activity has one primary goal in mind: saving me time on administrative tasks so that I can focus on client service and efficiently provide the type of in person counseling that I like to give my clients.  If a paperless idea doesn’t help with this, I don’t use it.

Now, if only I could talk some of my pals at larger firms to quit sending paper my way. . .

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Legal Tech Thoughts From A Relative Luddite (Guest Post)

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer, Virginia Supreme Court certified General District Court mediator and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC, a LEED AP. Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. Additionally, Chris is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and a member of the Board of Governors for the Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.


First of all, thanks again to my pal Martha Sperry for the great opportunity to post here at The Advocates Studio yet again (this is my fifth guest post and the fourth cross posting between the Studio and Construction Law Musings). Please check out my other posts relating to my solo startup, social media and my use of the cloud once you’re done with this article.

Also, be sure to check out Martha’s great post on the iPhone 5 and productivity at Musings. Martha also adds some great thoughts, practical advice, and a bit of humor to the Guest Post Friday lineup.

Now, on with the show. . .

You are probably wondering about the title of this post. If you’ve read through Musings, or any of my other posts relating to the use of the cloud or tech here and elsewhere, you know that the “cloud” and other computer and web-based practice tools are a big part of my solo construction practice. So, why the “luddite” comment?

Despite the fact that a wise lady once told me that “there’s always someone who knows less than you,” I am constantly surprised by those who come to me for advice on social media, blogging or even tech related stuff. I have never seen myself as a computer or tech whiz by any means. While computers have never been scary to me, I remember when a great home computer was an Apple //e and the mouse was an innovation. In short, like many of us lawyers (particularly those over 40) I’m muddling through just like you are. That said, necessity has been the mother of invention.

You are reading the thoughts of the owner and only employee of my law firm. As such, when I’m not at my desk, no one is. When I went solo over 2 years ago now (who knew time could fly so fast), I needed to simplify, lower overhead and make myself portable. I also didn’t have time to learn a lot of new stuff.

On the marketing side, I sent out announcements by actual snail mail (who knew that the post office could still help out a lawyer?), but to do this I pulled my Outlook and Gmail contacts to send to the mailing service. I was able to “take” my construction blog with me, continued with the blog and social media efforts, and started meeting with folks in real-time (partly because contractors don’t really take to “virtual” meetings).

While my marketing is a seriously blended web/on the ground mix, my practice management is as paperless and cloud based as I can make it. For me, this is where the tech rubber meets the road. When I started my new firm I grabbed a Clio account, imported my contacts and started to store .pdfs of my documents on Clio’s cloud based system. Since then, Clio (among other cloud based systems) has gotten more feature-rich and easy to use, adding online credit card processing and easy one click billing.

The reason I like the cloud for this sort of thing has little to do with my love of gadgets (though that does have something to do with it) but with the need to assure client service by having access to my files from anywhere with a safe internet connection (read, not Starbucks). I can pull up my Blackberry Playbook tablet, hook to Clio through my bridged Blackberry Curve (really, I’m not kidding, I don’t own an iPhone or an iPad) or laptop and review a document while out of the office. I also don’t like to have any more paper than I can help because of the clutter and space issues with my one office setup.

Other tools I use? A ScanSnap S1500 scanner that allows me to scan to both my docked laptop and to Clio directly, Backblaze for offsite backup and, as a second failsafe a GoFlex hard drive that constantly backs all of this stuff up all help keep my practice running. I also use Google Apps for e-mail and occasional collaboration.

In short (yes, I know it’s too late for that), I see no reason to jump into the cloud full force unless it makes your practice easier and makes it easier to keep your clients happy. The telephone (not “smartphone”) is a great tool for actually talking to clients and potential targets. E-mail, Twitter, text messages and other uses for cell phones are great, just don’t forget that all of our clients are real people and that tech for techs sake is not necessarily the best way to serve yourself or your clients.

There are a ton of great tech tools and gadgets out there, just be sure to use the ones that help and jettison those that don’t.

Thanks again to my pal Martha and I’d love to hear your thoughts below.