10 steps to becoming a paperless law firm

Forbes estimates that an employee typically spends 30% – 40% of their day organising and searching through printed documents – a costly, time-consuming but easily avoidable admin task when replaced with digital files. By removing reliance on physical documents, all your files can be stored and organised within a centralised case management solution to reduce wasted manual admin time and save up to £400,000 a year.

Transitioning to a paperless firm needs consideration and planning for the new processes, skills, and tools you’ll need to implement.  To make the switch easier, we’ve outlined the ten steps operations managers, practice managers, IT support, or partners can follow to go paperless. These ten steps can be used no matter how big or small your firm is, or if you want to transform your entire operation, or simply start with a department or branch.

The importance of becoming paperless

The core benefit of adopting a paperless operation is you have the freedom to hire employees and collaborate with clients without physical restraints. You can continue to operate no matter your location, with just the reliance on a centralised, digital practice and case management solution (PCMS).

In addition to your ability to hire talent and serve clients regardless of location, a digital operational strategy greatly increases internal efficiencies and effectiveness. With real-time data and documents at your fingertips, you can easily access and manage your cases without time consuming manual processes. In addition, it also enables you to automate and further digitally enhance your processes to speed up your operation and take advantage of legal technology to better meet your goals.

When your operations are efficient, you can provide a competitive and stand out service to your clients that improves convenience and satisfaction helping you to win more five-star reviews and recommendations – that all effects your bottom-line and reputation.

How to become a paperless law firm in 10 steps

These ten steps aim to provide guidance and advice on where to start when looking to go paperless, and how to increase the effectiveness of implementing new processes and tools across your firm.

Step 1: Gain buy-in from leadership

For a successful implementation of any new process or system, it’s important that leadership and management agree on the business goals so, the project plan can be effectively communicated to the wider team. Start by discussing initial ideas and benefits with the management team to help define the overall aim, objectives, and deadlines. This will help to define what will make the project successful, what budget and resource is available, and what needs to be actioned.

Step 2: Communicate plans and goals to employees

With the project scope defined and the management team’s buy-in, it’s important to discuss the aims, objectives, and goals with the wider team. With clear communication you’ll increase the rate of adoption and success of the project. It’s important that the team feel involved in the project rather than feel it’s been imposed on them. If you can, get the team together in person or via a video call as this will enable better collaboration between the team and ensure any initial questions are answered. Be clear their participation in the project is expected because it will be crucial for its success.

Step 3: Review your existing processes

Now you need to assess how your firm currently operates and uses paper in their current processes. It’s recommended to start with a particular department or process to avoid this being a mammoth task of reviewing the entire firm. When reviewing your current processes, don’t assume how the basics are done. Talk to your employees and understand how each task and processes is currently performed.  For example, document how an enquiry is taken and recorded, how a file is opened, and how clients’ details are obtained.

During this step you might realise individuals complete each task differently. This is likely to be a key source of inefficiency and a reason why tasks remain paper-based and manual. Document how the task is completed by all to help you successfully complete future steps.

Step 4: Identify and shortlist the biggest current challenges

Once the analysis of your current processes is complete, we recommend identifying your biggest challenges as that will guide you to know where to start when implementing change.  

Your biggest challenges will be the paper-based and manual tasks or processes that:

  • Cause the most delays
  • Cost you the most money
  • Take the longest to complete
  • Are complained about by your customers
  • Cause the most stress or annoyance to your team

Step 5: Review your current tools & employee skills

With your current processes reviewed and your operational challenges identified, it’s now time to review your current tools and employee skills. Step five will help you to understand if your current digital tools (such as a case management system, web portal, time recording software, client communication solutions etc) are effective for your firm long-term. You’ll need to analyse its performance against your goals and objectives defined in step one to understand if you need to make investments in other solutions that’ll help you operate more effectively.

Your digital tools are only as effective as the people using them, so step five also ensures your team are effectively trained on the solutions you use and identify any skills gaps that require additional training or supervision. If you decide you need to update your legal software solution, it’ll also help you to plan time for additional software training and onboarding.

To help you know whether your current digital tools are effective for your firm, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Firstly, do you have software currently in place that helps you to digitally manage the basics. If you don’t have a case management solution, digital document storage, digital time recording etc then this is the place to start to help you meet your goals.
  • Can you receive and share digital files?
  • Are you rekeying data between separate systems?
  • Can you offer electronic signatures?
  • Do you need to print documents/ information to continue or complete a process?
  • Does your client ever have to come to the office to complete a task?
  • Are you meeting your current goals?
  • Do you receive client complaints?
  • Do you receive complaints from employees?
  • Do you struggle to meet compliance requirements or regularly make mistakes or miss tasks?

Step 6: Gather advice & guidance

By the end of step six you’ll know how you’ll digitalise your processes to reduce paper and reliance on physical restrictions. Before you can start performing initial tests and hosting trial runs, you’ll need to confirm and implement the new process, system, or digital tool.

To help you decide what is best for your firm we recommend seeking advice and guidance from your peers, from your current software suppliers, and from online webinars and resources.

Your peers will be able to provide insight on what has worked well for them and the challenges they’ve experienced. Your current software providers will be able to help you utilise your current tools if you’re not fully already or point you in the direction of additional features or updates that may help. And digital transformation resources will present new concepts and ideas to consider.

You can also register for our four-part Build Better Habits webinar series where we discuss how to utilise technology to improve operational efficiency, client service, and employee satisfaction.

Step 7: Perform initial tests and host trial runs

Now you’re ready to launch trial runs and initial tests of your new paperless method. With any new processes or system, we recommend allowing time for tests and reviews to ensure any unforeseen challenges can be fixed and updated before the new process or tool is launched to the entire firm.

It’s important to keep staff aware of the trials and tests to ensure success and buy-in. This includes scheduling time for employees to test the system and provide feedback. It’ll be impossible to get the feedback you need without the input of your team testing and trailing the process. Your software supplier can also provide support and training at this stage to ensure the new process and tool works for your firm.  

Step 8: Implement new processes

Once you are happy with the results from these tests and your staff are comfortable and trained on the new process, it’s time to fully implement the new paperless process and subsequent systems or digital tools. It’s important to communicate to your team, the importance of fully utilising the new processes or tool for the success of the project. It’s expected for employees not to return to previous manual or paper-based ways and if a challenge or query does arise, for that to be communicated to the team lead or project manager.

Step 9: Expand new processes & tools to other departments

If you started the paperless project by focusing on just a specific team or department, then step nine should involve a wider roll out of the new process or digital tool. Look to standardise the process across your firm so you can maximise the benefits and fully utilise the new software solutions. It’s important to also revisit step four – where you outlined your biggest operational challenges – and continue to work through the current challenges and implement new paperless processes and digital tools that meets all your goals and objectives.

Step 10: Continuous improvement

The final step to becoming paperless is an ongoing review to ensure continuous improvement across your firm. Schedule regular reviews to observe the effects and results that being paperless is having on your firm. Are you spending less? Is your team running a more efficient firm by being paperless? Importantly, are you meeting your goals and objectives?

Your case management system should provide real-time reporting, so you can accurately analyse how your firm is performing. The performance data then can you help you identify your successes and areas for improvement. When you’ve implemented digital foundations into your law firm, continuous improvement becomes easier and quicker to act on, helping you to stay effective and competitive.

Become paperless with practice and case management software

The foundations of any successful law firm rely on a connected and powerful practice and case management software that helps to centralise and digitalise your data, processes, and documents into one platform. Start your paperless project today by implementing a PCMS that makes running a law firm easier. Book a demonstration to see Osprey Approach in action.