Easing the way in a document-heavy industry
Legal is a notoriously document-heavy business – boxes piled high, case files, contracts, forms, notes ... the list seems endless. But ‘documents’ won’t necessarily equate to physical paper in tomorrow’s leaner law firm.
Going paperless (or perhaps more likely ‘paperlight’) may be more feasible than you might think – and doing so means harnessing what replaces it in more efficient ways than had been used with paper. As a result, smarter approaches to electronic document management (EDM) are becoming central in SME legal. At Leeds-based Morrish, this is happening now – and for IT manager Jaime Lockwood, success lies in timing and opportunity.
Combining a move towards a more efficient EDM solution, while at the same time becoming a greener business, Morrish took its less-paper opportunity when the firm moved to new premises – in so doing, Morrish wedded CSR to business sustainability. “We switched from small printers to large-format PC displays when we physically moved location, to reduce our carbon footprint. The office move was an opportunity to look closely at all our printer requirements.”
But the future of how a firm handles documents, says Lockwood, isn’t just a question of numbers. “Looking at the bigger picture brings up other questions, outside the time factors and cost of the new equipment. Is it cost-effective and sustainable to run a matter this way, for example, and what are the advantages for our clients as well as the firm in changing to a paperless environment?”
CLEAN, GREEN AND ON SCREEN
Cost is a key pressure, alongside other market drivers, pushing legal businesses away from a paper world into a cleaner, digital one. Morrish runs case and practice management systems, and the firm’s plan now is to connect EDM to its front and back office capabilities.
All internal documents are generated and stored in electronic format, and external documents that come in are scanned manually, using Arena Group scanners. Morrish’s strategy involves an overall EDM solution that automatically saves scanned documents directly into case management (CMS).
“We’re keen to push that strategy further at Morrish,” says Lockwood. “We love the idea of electronic archiving, but document storage over 10 or 20 years is quite expensive.” Firms can now look seriously at complete digital archiving, he adds – but they will also need smooth document retrieval for when the client comes back and needs some information, leading to improved client service.
All the firm’s documents are currently tagged with a reference, or unique identifier, says Lockwood. It plans to put in place a system that can read those references, pull out the fee earner, matter and client information, and connect it to the appropriate matter on its CMS and PMS.
“That gives you a really paperless solution but, more importantly, it also gives us flexibility and mobility. We have four offices, and the idea of our fee earners being able to move between sites, as well as the ability to work from home, makes flexibility essential.
“We’re firmly committed to paternity/maternity, and have fee earners working from home to offer flexibility for childcare. A paperless future would mean all incoming post could be directed straight to the fee earner, for example, whether they’re at home or in a branch office. I love that.”
Not only offering flexibility, it’s also greener, more cost-effective, and certainly more efficient, says Lockwood. “Being able to automatically input incoming post directly into our system will be a big step toward that strategy.”
“We’ve been building in remote working for a number of years. Finding ways to make home working as efficient as possible helps our people run cases better.” For now, the firm is still manually scanning its documents into the system to create that flexibility, “but when we can automate that process with Arena Group, we’ll be providing an even better service for the client and our people in a more sustainable way”, says Lockwood.
New possibilities for Morrish’s EDM have surfaced from its partnership with Arena Group. “Often an IT supplier thinks it has a good solution to a problem – but it’s just a good IT solution, and it doesn’t solve the law firm’s objectives. Arena Group is very interested in flipping that on its head and finding out what we want from a solution that makes it good for us, which is the straightforward ability to scan documents straight into matters and get fee earners notified that those documents are in.”
The biggest cost in a big-ticket project is one that’s often overlooked, he says: change. “It isn’t the cost of the equipment or the software but the cost of the transition, training people, and passing that benefit onto the fee earners and the client.”
Morrish is planning to phase in automatic archiving of documents, but the issue of how best to store information still remains.
“There are lots of ways you can do electronic archiving, by burning to CD/DVD for each client, for example,” says Lockwood. “Obviously the storage requirement for a DVD is significantly less than a thick paper file. And because the ‘cost of tin’ has dropped so much, we’re also considering four or five terabytes of on-premise computer storage, which is now easy.”
All the firm’s copying, printing and scanning is done with Arena Group devices. Morrish’s next steps in automating those processes will make them more sustainable – a major focus for the firm’s management. That brings Lockwood back to ‘the green issue’ and its carbon offsetting programme. Through Arena Group, Morrish has signed up to Toshiba’s Carbon Zero Scheme, sponsoring a village in Kenya by providing carbon-free ovens. Doing this means that, in effect, the firm’s carbon emissions have no detrimental effect on the environment, which is a central plank in Morrish’s electronic document strategy and the initial reason for its paperless policy.
“The carbon zero project was our introduction to the paperless strategy,” he says. “Developing a more automated EDM solution, and at the same time being greener and more secure, will be a big step forward.” Now the firm is going paperless, it won’t only be a more sustainable way of doing business – it will be more efficient and sustainable for its clients and people.