The paperless office may be a myth, at least according to authors Abigail J. Sellen and Richard H. R. Harper, who’ve earned Malcolm Gladwell’s stamp of approval. But an office with less paper is very much a reality. So let’s put our biases aside–from here out we’ll refer not to a “paperless office” but, instead, to a “digital office.” For some background to this series, see yesterday’s post, A Plea for PDF: How Adobe Acrobat Can Revolutionize Your Practice. In this post, we’ll talk about the potential cost savings that can result from switching to a digital office. Tomorrow we’ll touch on the other, less tangible benefits. Later in the week, we’ll get to the specifics about how you can go about implementing a revolution in your workplace.
What is involved with a digital office?
In the broadest sense, the phrase “digital office” means a business that operates with electronic, as opposed to paper, files. The “paperless office” was used initially but became less popular as it became less probable to actually occur. “Less paper” is more realistic and the goal of the digital office is not to never use paper. The goal of the digital office is to increase effectiveness while decreasing reliance on paper files.
In a more specific sense, a digital office is one in which all documents, records, and files are managed on the computer in electronic form instead of in filing cabinets in paper form. All documents, whether created internally or externally, are converted to an electronic file and kept in a document management system (DMS).
How can a digital office lead to higher earnings?
Lawyers who have made the switch to digital experience any number of positive benefits. Perhaps the easiest of which to observe is the increased efficiency and time savings that result almost immediately. Time savings is a benefit enjoyed by staff, paraprofessionals, and attorneys alike.
By freeing staff and paraprofessionals from repetitive clerical work, they are able to turn their attentions to more advanced tasks. This enables attorneys to spend more time on client-specific work. In turn, the firm generates more revenue.
How can a digital office lead to lower operational costs?
In the long term, operational costs can be reduced significantly by converting to a digital office. Reduced paper consumption is, perhaps, a more obvious savings opportunity. But using less paper is just the start—think of all of the overhead costs required to organize, store, and dispose of that paper. From banker’s boxes to redwelds to file folders, the purchase of office supplies for storing and organizing paper files becomes unnecessary.
Photocopying costs are reduced dramatically. Documents can be accessed by any attorney in the firm, so the need to send a paper copy via interoffice mail is eliminated. When pleadings are received, the client can be sent a copy via e-mail instead of in paper format, in which case the savings extends beyond the copy cost to include the cost of an envelope and postage.
Another, more long-term, benefit of the digital office is reduced storage costs. In the digital office, closed files are not boxed up and shipped off-site for long-term storage. Instead, they are burned onto a CD or saved in another electronic format, which can then be tucked away in a binder in a filing cabinet and backed up on the firm’s server. If needed later, there is no need to call the Records Department and request the file be hauled back. Simply pull the needed documents from your desktop.