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. . .

Here's One For You: Turn Google Drive Into A Fax Machine

In case you still fax stuff, you can give your faxes the modern edge by leveraging Google Drive and the HelloFax application. HelloFax’s Google Drive integration permits faxing of any document from Google Drive and receive faxes from others in a dedicated HelloFax folder within the drive. It’s just one of the great third-party integrations coming out of the box with GDrive, one that makes tons of sense for business users of the GCloud. The HelloFax app will also allow you to edit and sign PDF documents in the browser – no more printing important documents to sign and then scan back into your computer for printing. This is pretty cool, given that the reason most people still fax is so that they can sign a document and send it back.

 

Go green and go HelloFax and say goodbye to printed documents. And, work with them via Google Drive. Pretty sweet combination.

Digitizing Your Paper Manuals

Trying to go paperless here. While I can definitely see the prize to be won, I am finding the process quite cumbersome. It has been made more difficult by the unanticipated rupture of a main water line and unwanted intrusion of a great deal of water into my basement office where Scan Central previously was located. While I struggle with insurance adjusters (nothing like being on the other side of the fence), my scanning project has hit “hold” status.

So, I of course was attracted to an article over at Apartment Therapy about finding and saving product manuals into the iPad-friendly iBooks format. This is a very cool process that doesn’t require a scanner.

If you have ever lost a manual and needed to recover it, you probably are familiar with the process of searching for the manual online in your favorite search engine of choice. For the most part, I have been successful in finding the manuals I have needed. Expand that effort to include all manuals you may someday need (take a look at that bursting at the seams paper manual file for a decent start on your list). Search, find and download. Then toss the paper.

Open iTunes, hit the File Menu and select Add To Library. Find the documents you have downloaded and select them. Grab the iPad and connect it – make sure you have books selected to sync and check all those manuals you captured. After they hit the iPad, slot them all into a Collection / Category within iBooks on the iPad itself. After you organize within iBooks, sync again and that organization will transfer back into iTunes for easy filing and reference. Because they are already saved on the desktop, you need not keep them all in iBooks, but they are there and available if you want to shift them on or off the iPad for ease of use. And, because I am a search-head, digitizing this way makes it easy to jump right to the section you want with a keyword and a click.

Voila! Instant manual order. Thanks, Apartment Therapy.