While putting together the Paperless Law Office E-Book, we thought, who better to learn from than a firm who went through the process? So we interviewed Andrew Kucera who was instrumental in helping move six-person Cuttone & Kucera, PC (now, Cuttone & Associates), a real estate and business law firm in Fresno, California, to a paperless operation.
What is your definition of a paperless practice?
It’s less about going completely paperless and more about minimizing paper. A less paper office is also an effort to adopt technological efficiencies so you can do more.
What led the firm to go paperless?
After founding and building a real estate company, law became a second career for me. I started out at the firm as a law clerk while in law school and witnessed the inefficiencies immediately. My real estate company had adopted the latest in technology to maximize efficiency and productivity so the firm’s deficiency was especially apparent. I observed well compensated personnel spending a lot of time filing documents and moving paper around. For instance: receiving pleading documents, two-hole punching them, putting them in the file, updating the pleading index in Microsoft Word, and printing out a new pleading index. And repeat. We have numerous cases and this took up a good chunk of her day.
Around that time I went to the ABA Techshow for the first time and discovered cloud based legal practice management software, and through observations, attending sessions, and conversations with techies, I was convinced that my firm could go paperless. When I returned to the firm I pitched the paperless idea armed with new, compelling information and got the green light.
How did you get buy-in from the firm?
First, I used information from the ABA “Paperless” book to write a set of procedures or protocols. This took about 30 days. I used this to get the office manager on board. She gave me valuable feedback and we updated the protocols to fit the firm’s unique needs.
Getting buy-in from the managing partner was critical. He often works from home or takes files home to work on and would sometimes take the wrong files or forget to take some files resulting in lost productivity and frustration. Pitching cloud-based practice management software + document management solutions + paperless with access to every document from anywhere was an easy sell and he was immediately on board.
After getting the OK to go paperless, what’s the first step?
Without a doubt, the first step is to get educated on the process. Read articles, buy books, ask questions. Read. Read. Read. I was the firm’s paperless advocate – a must-have. to move such a project forward.
Then draft protocols for naming conventions, workflows, etc. Get feedback and revise. Do this before you do anything.
Definitely don’t start by scanning every file in the office. Set a date and institute protocols for everything after that date. It keep people from being overwhelmed. Then you can go back later (six months after, for us) and scan older files as time permits. Experiencing early incremental benefits will encourage continued participation and compliance.
What tools do you use?
The obvious are scanners. The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 with Dropbox integration is a favorite of ours and seems to be a favorite in the legal industry. Everyone who scans at the firm needs one to avoid bottleneck at one station.
Adobe Acrobat Pro is a must, as is a document management solution like Dropbox or one of its many competitors.
An overlooked but essential tool is a simple stamp that says “scanned” on it so you know which documents have been scanned. Spring for one that includes a date stamp. You’ll be glad you did.
How long does it take for a law firm to go paperless?
It depends on whether you’re starting from scratch and doing it without the help of outside consultants, but it could take as little as one month or even less. After the protocols have been established, it’s on to purchasing hardware and software. Then there’s training – interpreting and implementing protocols and explaining workflows.
How much should a firm budget for the initial process of going paperless?
We didn’t have a budget but including the cost of a scanner, under $1000 for solos. Multiple scanners for larger firms will increase the cost as will additional licenses for software such as Adobe Acrobat Pro. This does not include the cost of digital storage and backup (document management solution) or practice management software, both of which are usually subscription based.
How has going paperless benefited the firm and clients?
We used to spend a lot of time at the office looking for paper files and if one person, such as the office manager, wasn’t there, it would be near impossible to find certain documents. That’s no longer the case. So time saved is a significant benefit.
Access to documents and client files when working remotely is another huge benefit.
With regards to clients, our operation is more efficient so our service is faster and better. Clients also view us as keeping up with technology to better serve them.
Has practice management software been helpful?
A firm can go paperless without practice management software but there are many more things that you can do with such a system, like build reports, automate frequently used documents, exchange files with clients via a portal, and other time, billing, and invoicing functionality. So, although a practice management system is not necessary to go paperless, it adds tremendous value to a paperless firm.
Any final thoughts or advice?
If your firm doesn’t have a paperless advocate become one. Educate yourself, take the time to show why and how the firm should go paperless, and identify who to get on board. If no one at the firm takes the lead and assumes the responsibility it’s pretty much a lost cause.
Remember to update protocols as new processes are discovered and old ones become obsolete. This is important: if you have a protocols document that you can rely on, training is just about interpreting and executing. Put the document in a “Going Paperless” folder in Dropbox so it’s accessible by everyone wherever they might be, and include it in the firms’ policy and procedures manual.