Imagine walking into your office to find your desk completely bare, with the exception of a laptop. Your bookshelves, file cabinets, and that stack of papers that had begun to accumulate on the floor because they didn’t fit on your desk anymore—that’s all gone too. It’s just you, your desk and chair, your computer, and whatever office decorations you brought from home (or lack thereof in my case). This is the world I live in, because I work for a paperless firm.
This article is not about the environmental implications or money-saving opportunities associated with a paperless office. It is about how I function on a day-to-day basis with only my computer.
To start, I am a domestic relations attorney and I work in a largely technology based firm. We do not have traditional office-sized printers/scanners/copiers. We do have two printers, both of which would typically be purchased for home use; one scanner—also typically purchased for home use; and NO copiers. Every attorney in the firm is issued a laptop and every laptop has software that connects us to a remote desktop via the Internet. The remote desktop is where we access everything.
If you remembered to bring your computer home with you, then you have remembered to bring your entire office home.
Obviously, we have just hit on the first positive and negative aspect of the paperless office. If you were planning on drafting that response while waiting for the mechanic to fix your breaks, no problem. If you were planning on enjoying your vacation at the beach when opposing counsel files an emergency motion, too bad because you have everything you need to draft the response. You also have all the necessary contact information for your client so you can call and spend the next hour on the phone with him/her explaining what is happening and how you will be addressing this new turn of events.
We do not have physical client files or red wells; we have electronic client files, which have everything. There are tabs for client information, tabs that list every related party along with their information, folders for pleadings, folders for discovery, a notes section, correspondence, and client documents. The electronic client folder has everything a traditional paper file would have and then some. There is no such thing as misplacing a document or not being able to find your notes from last month. Every piece of paper that comes into the office is scanned into the system, shredded, and recycled.
Just like we do not have paper files, we also do not have paper books.
I never arrive at court with a physical copy of the Rules of Evidence or the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure, because all my reference materials (and all my legal research resources) are on my computer. This also has its pluses and minuses. There are no cumbersome books to cram in my briefcase and my briefcase does not have rollers because it is never too heavy to carry. If opposing counsel cites a case I am not familiar with, I can quickly look it up. The unfortunate aspect is that my reference materials (and legal research engine) run off of the Internet. When the Internet is nonexistent, so are my books. However, with Wi-Fi, 4G, LTE and all the other acronyms out there, this is rarely a concern. The more problematic issue is when the Internet is running slow. Every time you want to pull up a rule, you must click on the rule and load a new page. If that page loads exasperatingly slow, you are left stalling for time when you wish to argue that opposing counsel has misstated the rule. And yes, while at a hearing and in the middle of debating with opposing counsel I have been forced to cite the law as “C.R.S. 14-10-114 something, ummm, maybe (4), yes your Honor, I believe it is subparagraph four.” (And yes, I was guessing.)
I came from a firm that used paper, so it was difficult to transition to 100% paperless. I admit I still prefer to take notes on a legal pad and have our clerk scan them into the electronic file when I’m done. Sometimes, autocorrect can drive a person insane when it comes to legalese. But now I appreciate being able to find my notes because they have been scanned and organized according to date. The same goes for pleadings, disclosures, discovery, and miscellaneous client documents. It also took some time to master switching back and forth between screens. Unlike paper files that you can spread out across your desk to look at ten documents at once, paperless means you can only look at what is on your screen. This means when you are reviewing disclosures or drafting a response, you must open the folder, view the information, and click back to your Word doc to continue writing. I have not yet made my peace with this idiosyncrasy of the paperless office.
Whatever stress a paperless office creates in my life, I never have to worry about leaving something behind. At my last job, I would waste time going through my briefcase before I left the office to make sure I had everything I might need until I returned. “Did I remember to grab the client folder? Did I remember to put the documents on top of my desk back into the file before putting the file in my briefcase? Did I remember to grab all the discovery for that case? On second thought, I don’t feel like schlepping all that paper around with me. Maybe I don’t need to bring that.” Well, you get the picture. Now, I grab my computer, walk out the door, and don’t give those things a second thought.
I have worked in a traditional firm and I have worked in a paperless firm. I have prayed for greater technological resources in the former and I have wept for access to a copier in the latter.
After all is said and done, I have only the following advice to give: Never forget your computer charger, always have a backup in case your Internet connection is slow, and learn to love technology—because it is here to stay.
By Rachel Young, a domestic relations attorney practicing in the Denver Metro area. She graduated from Colorado State University with a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy and received her law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.