By LISA MONTI
Paperwork is an occupational hazard for lawyers, whether they’re jotting down notes on those iconic legal pads or creating case files that grow thicker with each appeal and motion.
In a shift away from paper and toward electronic documents, Baker Donelson this year launched a pilot program named PaperLite in its Jackson office. Though the law firm has been reducing its paperwork for at least 10 years, the move to their new and smaller office spurred the pilot initiative.
“We wanted to have an initiative to develop the processes to reduce the paperwork we’re generating and the amount we store,” said Scott Pedigo, the managing shareholder of Baker Donelson’s Jackson office.
Baker Donelson will be the lead tenant in The District at Eastover, a new multiuse development with commercial, retail, housing and hotel space. Its move is planned for late February or early March.
“Part of what we wanted to achieve with our new space was to repurpose space dedicated to the storage of paper to productive uses. We are achieving this in the new space, which will be 18 percent smaller than our current space, with ample space for future growth. Most of the space reduction is solely from reducing space currently used for the storage of paper attorney and staff files,” he said.
The lessons learned from the pilot program will be shared with the law firm’s other locations.
“With 19 offices across the Southeast, Texas and Washington, D.C., our paper use can have a significant impact on the environment. So, our commitment to the environment is one reason we are focused on using less paper,” he said. “But, this also comes down to better organization and efficiency, increased convenience for our clients and reducing costs.”
The legal profession overall is moving toward less paper, Pedigo noted. The federal court systems have for some time required electronic filings of pleadings, and in the last few years some Mississippi counties have begun going to electronic filings. The secretary of state’s office accepts only electronic filings of corporate documents.
In the past six years, Baker Donelson has introduced numerous programs designed to reduce or eliminate the printing of paper in exchange for digital processes.
Some examples include scanning vendor invoices, electronic review and submission of client bills, an online new business intake process and online HR functions such as employee evaluations, benefits enrollment and training programs and materials.
And it’s not just cutting back on paper. The firm is recycling obsolete materials from its file rooms and offsite storage, archiving inactive files and scanning documents instead of storing paper.
Baker Donelson also is investing resources in its legal project management system, called BakerManage, which is an online interface where the clients can access their case information and documents and communicate with attorneys. It saves paper and time.
“It’s much more efficient than the traditional way of doing things,” Pedigo said. “You can have the initial case intake information on that site, have current objectives and status reports, and have real time access to where costs are on each matter.”
With more data creation and storage comes the need for more security. Baker Donelson’s computer data is encrypted and can’t be shared or moved without proper clearance. “It’s more than just securing computers, it’s changing the way you store it as well. That’s another initiative that is ongoing,” he said.
But what about those familiar legal pads? “I admit I still have one or two on my desk,” he said. “Even though they will be a hard habit to kick, over time we will see those go away.”