Even lawyers with the best intentions still end up with an unnecessary amount of paper in their law firms. Every practicing attorneys understand the challenges of managing these administrative tasks, but it can often be set aside for more pressing matters. But, at some point, every firm must return to the issue because of things like storage limits, office moves, or headcount changes.
Here are a few tips to get back on track to maintaining a paperless law firm:
1. Create Separation
Take the time to identify the files and stacks of paper that need to be addressed. This will create a visual for exactly what needs to be done. A few tips to tackle this project even in the smallest of offices:
- Set aside 10 minutes each day to sort through a stack.
- Identify the client’s status. Use the 6 month rule. If it hasn’t been looked at in 6 months then chances are the matter is done or needs attention.
- Put the stack or boxes in a designated space
- Add unmovable labels to the stack so everyone who encounters them understands the status of the documents in each stack.
- Physically move the documents. Yes, actually move them so they have to be dealt with.
2. Establish a Timeline
Every project needs goals and timelines – no matter how big or small. Failing to set timelines is precisely how the stack will get bigger. Think about the following when establishing benchmarks:
- Assess whether there are any client or legal timelines that apply to the files at issue.
- Identify the scope. The unknown is often what prevents people from getting started.
- Do what you can to reduce the volume.
- Set an end date and put it on your calendar. Nothing gets done unless you begin making commitments – even if it is to yourself.
3. Provide Required Notices
There are some files or documents that will require client consent. In some cases, the lawyer may not have obtained the required consents at the beginning. Consider the following when assessing the status of consents:
- Pull the engagement letters. Best practice is to provide notice of the document retention policies from the outset of the client relationship.
- Review the correspondence if it is not too lengthy to identify what, if any, disclosures about document destruction were previously provided.
- Provide the (former) client with notice of the intention to destroy the documents. Make sure to include a clear date for a response and option for contact to retrieve the items if so desired. Follow-through as notified.
4. Outsource the Project
Time is often the reason why paper starts to seriously stack in any law firm – regardless of whether it has aspirations of being paperless. Attorneys make money by billing time and any staff is there to facilitate the revenue generating activities. Document destruction and information governance can seem like a tedious drain compared to the press of other law firm business. Outsourcing the project can help to keep the focus in the right place. Consider the following when assessing whether the time is right to outsource:
- Are the files costing money to retain? This could be in either the form of paying for additional storage or the time spent in sorting (or stepping over) the files with active client matters.
- Are there any attorney changes on the horizon? This could be a planned lateral, a maternity leave, or a retirement. In all of these cases, someone else will be stepping into client files and will not know the history. Make their lives easier and clean it up.
- Are there staff changes on the horizon? A long term admin or paralegal knows her way around the client files. The same is not true when a new person steps in regardless of whether it is a new person or merely a temporary reassignment. Precious time is wasted when that new person will have to wade through documents that should no longer be around. Save money and time by cleaning it up before they arrive.
The Contingent Plan has a number of candidates available today to help law firms of any size tackle their records management challenges. Our highly skilled candidates are available to work at our office, our clients office, or anywhere else desired. Contact us today to request your free quote.