Last week, I was filling out a passport renewal form when I came across this requirement:

Passport Photo

So I got up to get the stapler. After searching everywhere in our office, it dawned on me: "We don't have a stapler."

Consciously or not, we developed a paperless office at ThreadKM. The "paperless" office concept has been around for a while, but judging from a few recent articles, it is starting find its way into more law offices.

What happened to printing?

Although we don't have a stapler in our office, we do have a printer. No matter how firmly committed you are to going paperless, sometimes you can't escape the need to print something out. But increasingly, both the design of the web and our own habits are shifting even diehards into a paperless workflow.

Apart from situations like my passport renewal that require physical paper, there are less and less reasons to print anything. Most forms today should be done online, where input can be immediately validated, processed, and stored.

Meanwhile, the oft-cited benefits of paper are increasingly becoming liabilities:

  • Accessibility. Paper is universal, right? No training or special hardware required - anybody can use it! Today, lots of content is now stored in formats that don't convert well to paper. Websites, databases, images and videos, spreadsheets, etc. All of these are meant to be seen on a screen. Website content features links, search boxes, annotation, comments and more.

    Hidden Print Button

    Have you noticed that the "Print" button is hidden or removed altogether from many websites now? Publishers - like Slate shown above - aren't even thinking about paper when they are generating content.

  • Portability. Paper goes everywhere. It doesn't need a battery. It doesn't need a wifi connection. Simple, easy...right?

    A couple years ago, this argument made sense. But for most business travelers, there are few places without power and internet readily available. Airports offer "charging stations" for travelers. Wifi is on planes. Many businesses share wifi networks for guests. In a pinch, you can create a mobile hotspot with your phone.

    So why would you bring paper? The amount of content you can carry in your pocket is incomparable next to the few hundred pages that fit in your briefcase.

  • Personal Preference. Inevitably, some will say, "I just prefer reading on paper than a screen." That's fair. Especially since staring at a monitor all day can be bad for you. But there are ways to limit that harm, and higher resolutions combined with adjustable fonts can make reading a screen easier on the eyes.

The bottom line is, most of us are naturally being pushed into a paperless workflow. As the benefits start to become apparent, that trend accelerates. Search, hyperlinking, annotating, and sharing emerge as must-have tools for daily work.

Tips for going paperless

So for those that are looking to ease their way into a more paperless approach, here's a few tips from our own experience at ThreadKM.

Add another screen. Most "hard copy" aficionados are surrounded by stacks and stacks of paper. Somehow it's more comfortable, like everything we need is at our fingertips. Trying to replace this field of visual information with a 13" laptop monitor is asking too much.

By adding another screen, you can more easily do the things you used to do on paper: compare files, reference one document while drafting another, check email while reviewing a brief, and so on. Beware the added distraction, though...don't hesitate to close windows on your second screen to avoid getting sidetracked.

Go Vertical. Speaking of screens, did you know that you can turn your second monitor to a vertical orientation?

Vertical Monitor

Some people find this unconventional approach challenging at first. But if you are consuming a lot content or working with long forms or documents on a regular basis, a vertical orientation gives you a lot more room to work with...and much less scrolling.

Activate E-Documents Everywhere. One of the biggest hurdles in going paperless is the lag between receiving papers to be filed and scanning them into a document management system. Sometimes documents never make it out of the "To Be Scanned" pile at all.

Get in the habit of looking at every document - bank statements, bills, etc. - and signing up for e-documents when possible. For litigators, check your local rules to see if you can mutually agree with counsel to exchange briefs by email, if your court hasn't adopted electronic filing. Then when you get an emailed document, you can file it immediately without the annoying "scanning" step.

Use a Knowledge Management App. When you go paperless, you suddenly need a virtual place to track everything. Emails, research from colleagues, documents, projects, and more.

There are a lot of good software tools that can do one or two of these things. The downside is, you end up jumping between those applications all the time. If you have ThreadKM, though, you'll find everything in one place.

So good luck going paperless! Let me know how it's working out for you. If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share, email me at dan@threadkm.com.