Towards a paperless office

by Robin Pollak, staff writer

Document management techniques have changed dramatically in recent years. Electronic and digital tools provide efficient alternatives to traditional paper files. There is heightened sensibility for reducing paper waste, reflecting a genuine concern for the environment.

So then, why doesn’t every office make the best use of technologies that exist to reduce paper use? And how much does a paperless office cost?

  Glen Nicholson
  Glen Nicholson shows off his empty file cabinet.

Glen Nicholson, a litigation lawyer at Traxler Haines in Prince George, is a passionate convert to a paperless office. He started using less paper four years ago as an experiment, and has never looked back.

“When I went into this, my main objective was to do something about space and filing,” said Nicholson. “My paper files were exploding and we were renting expensive storage space in the basement of our building.”

Today, Nicholson fits all of his open and closed files on two DVDs. He no longer needs to pay for storage space, although he admits to having a small filing cabinet for some original paper documents required for court.

Nicholson believes every lawyer would enjoy the practical and environmental benefits of having a paper-reduced office.

“The biggest benefit is reduced stress,” he said. “It’s very frustrating when you can’t find things, when paper is stored offsite, documents get lost, or someone else is using them.”

Today, file handling, managing, and locating is much easier. His “micro” office and all files can be accessed everywhere, using a laptop.

Nicholson’s paperless system helps him to provide more efficient client service. “When a client phones, I can access any file in the time pleasantries are exchanged,” he said. “Clients are anxious and they want to know answers quickly. I like to give good service.”

Interactions with other lawyers have also become easier. On-the-spot responses via email and scanned documents not only enhance continuity, they also save time and add efficiency.

At first, some clients and colleagues reacted negatively to his paperless existence. “When people see a bare desk, they sometimes panic and wonder if I have any work. They ask if I am okay, if I need some help!” Nicholson credits a Continuing Legal Education course he took in advanced time management that drove home this reality: There is only one task anyone can focus on at a time, and paper should be out of sight.

Some people are concerned about the cost of shifting to a paperless office, especially in today’s precarious economy. Nicholson says it’s all about priorities. While investing in new technologies and techniques may seem prohibitive at first, the payback is that you build a more efficient office. Administrators have a better system and clients get better service.

It is important to take small steps towards going paperless, if not the “big leap.” Paper “lessened” is a great start. An incremental shift towards using less will help our environment and bring costs down.

As awareness increases, consumption decreases.

Tips to reduce paper consumption
  • Scan documents instead of photocopying them. Most offices have multi-function, high-speed copiers that can email and store files in PDF format.
  • Assess how much paper you use and look at the ways you could reduce, if not entirely eliminate, paper. 
  • Set up your office printer to make double-sided copies.
  • Receive faxes electronically instead of printing them.
  • Tips to maintain a paperless office
  • Establish a clear coding and indexing system for your electronic files and use it to ensure you can find items at a moment’s notice.
  • Back up your electronic files. Automatic, overnight and offsite back-ups ensure files are regularly and securely stored.
  • Set strong passwords to keep documents secure and reduce the likelihood of misuse (see Practice Tips on page 17 for more tips on keeping electronic documents safe).
  • Invest in technology to maximize the benefit of your paperless office. For example, dual computer screens at a single terminal allow you to view a source document and make notes at the same time.