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Your Paperless Office on Steroids

There’s an irrefutable fact about paperless offices: you’re either 100% all in or it’s not worth bothering.  Most lawyers dip their toes in the water, but never truly commit to being 100% paperless.  You’ve been trained to lug redwells to court and old school ways die hard.  Even for those lawyers who claim to be paperless, most are only using 10% of the advantages of being paperless.

Let’s get extreme and push the limits of what you can do with a 100% paperless office. This is the vision of your paperless office on steroids:

#1: Stop Serving Discovery Responses in Paper Format

New York law permits the service of discovery responses and demands in electronic format. In re Tamer, 24 Misc.3d 768, 877 N.Y.S.2d 874 (2009)(production of documents in electronic files, rather than in paper form, in response to discovery request is permissible).  There is no provision in the law stating that you have to serve discovery responses and demands in a paper format.

Transfer discovery responses and demands onto a flash drive or compact disc and mail the flash drive or compact disc to defense counsel with a cover letter.  If defense counsel accepts service by email, you can even save the postage by sending the discovery responses via a file sharing service, i.e., Dropbox. You just saved hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of paper and your secretary doesn’t even have to go to the post office.

#2:  Never Send Case Files to Experts in Paper Format

Have a complex case with 4-5 expert witnesses? No problem—transfer the case file, i.e., medical records, deposition transcripts, photos and video, onto a compact disc or flash drive and mail the flash drive/CD to your team of experts (your secretary will love you!).  Better yet, send the records to the experts via Dropbox and they’ll get the complete file within seconds (just to be safe, send the flash drive or compact disc too).

Let’s say your expert witness forgets to bring the complete file to court on the day of his trial testimony.  With internet access, transfer the file materials onto a flash drive, give it to the expert and have him bring it to court. Problem solved!  With the flash drive in hand, your expert possesses the complete case file in electronic format and defense counsel can’t argue that the expert didn’t bring his entire case file.  If defense counsel doesn’t have a laptop in court, he won’t be able to access the records on the flash drive before your expert testifies.

#3: Stop Requesting Medical Records in Paper Format

You should always request medical records in electronic format.  Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (“HITECH”), the medical records requested by an individual must be provided in the form requested by the individual, including in a readable electronic form if the covered entity uses electronic medical records. 45 C.F.R. section 164.524(c)(2)(i)(ii); 42 U.S.C. section 17935(e)(1),(2).

HITECH defines “protected health information” as all information (e.g., records, bills) that are: (1) transmitted in electronic media; (2) maintained in electronic media; or (3) transmitted or maintained in any other form or medium. 45 C.F.R. section 160.103.  This could be a pdf, compact disc, or via an encrypted email if the individual is warned of the security risk associated with encrypted email. 78 Federal Register 5636, at page 5634 (January 25, 2013).

With the use of appropriate software (Adobe Acrobat), medical records and other documents can be instantaneously searched for specific words or phrases and can be automatically numbered and indexed. By Bates Stamping the medical records, it will be far easier to find a specific record in the chart when discussing the case with your expert or when scrambling to find an important document at trial.

You Will Never Go Back to Paper

Even if you’re married to your paper files, you may not have a choice.  Federal courts require electronic filing and state courts are quickly following suit (if they haven’t already).  With a paperless office, electronic court filings will be simple for your staff, as they will already be masters of serving documents in electronic format.

With a paperless office, you have instant access to complete file wherever you have internet access. No more lugging paper files to court and in the heat of battle at trial, you can search and find documents easily (rather than digging through boxes of case files).

Systems and Policies for a Paperless Office

First, there’s no sense having a paperless office unless your staff knows exactly where each document should be electronically filed in your case management software.  You must have a list designating where particular court documents, i.e., motions, discovery, subpoenas, should be electronically filed.  This will ensure that everyone knows where to find the documents.

Second, your secretaries must be taught one critical policy: correspondence must be scanned and electronically filed as soon as the mail arrives. NO EXCEPTIONS ALLOWED! If you violate this rule, a paperless office will be worthless. Once the correspondence has been scanned and electronically filed, it must be emailed to you and the other members of the team who are working on the case.

The specific systems and policies for my firm’s paperless office are contained in Chapter 7 of my book, The Power of a System.  Send an email to Alyssa Marcello, our Happiness Creator and Problem Solver, at amarcello@fishermalpracticelaw.com and she will be happy to send this chapter to you in pdf or Word format.

photo credit: neourban hipster office desktop via photopin (license)

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.