Thursday, June 29, 2006 Lawyers Continue to Move Toward the "Papermore" Office?

Read this carefully and ask yourself: should we really be swayed by lawyers' attachment to paper, or should we recognize that the fetishization of paper is foolish and unsustainable?

Lawyers Continue to Move Toward the "Papermore" Office?

At least ten years ago, Nicholas Negroponte was talking about the move from a world of atoms (stuff) to a world of bits (data or electrons). In the world of electronic discovery, speakers constantly refer to a study that suggests that 93% of documents created today will never be printed on paper. You see concern everywhere about the amount of trees being cut down to produce paper.

On the other hand, lawyers love their paper. In that context, it was a little sad to run across this item on the ABA's Site-Tation that says, well, just let me quote this:

According to the 2006 Legal Technology Survey Report, 61% of attorneys save email related to a case or client matter by printing out a hard copy.

As John McEnroe might say, "you cannot be serious." Actually, it's probably a good thing that we didn't find the percentage of lawyers who later scan those printouts of emails as TIFFs to reconvert them to digital form.

In fairness, the ABA's Legal Technology Survey is decidedly not a scientific survey and these results should not be taken as pure fact. However . . . lawyers do seem to be swimming against the side.

Given that experts like Ross Kodner have been talking about the "Paper LESS" office to large audiences for many years, these numbers are a little distressing. It looks like Ross and others have more work to do to get the message across. This isn't even a step toward a paperless office - it's a move toward a "papermore" office.

When people outside the legal profession ask me, as they routinely do, why lawyers are not moving into electronic discovery, this story and statistic may be "Exhibit A" in my answer. If you are looking to hire a lawyer for a litigation matter that requires electronic discovery, asking whether they use this approach might be an eye-opener.

By the way, one of the major lessons from the Katrina and Rita disasters was the vulnerability of paper records in disasters.

Why do many think that lawyers are slow adopters of technology? Now you have an idea.

This item did give me an idea for a potential killer app for lawyers - a portable printer for Blackberries. Think about it.


Connie Crosby said...

Paper has ruled for so long as evidence that it is difficult to change; however, now it is becoming apparent that it is not enough to look at the end document as evidence; all the related metadata is required as well. Printing things out can't possibly be an option for very much longer.

Can it?

Betsy McKenzie said...

And yet, I find myself wanting to print out the most important items myself, as well as storing to network, hard drive and sometimes a little key or disc. I recall when PhD candidates would haul their entire pile of thesis research and drafts around with them. It seems to be human nature to want to secure things, and paper has been the standard for centuries. Law is slow to change, as noted by the authors of The Social Life of Information. I have sympathy for the lawyers, and mixed feelings myself. And yet, I, too like the idea of saving trees, reducing printer use and file cabinets. But think about history and archives... How will that change in format affect the durability of records? You have to make a commitment to transferring all your files everytime a new format change comes along if you want to be able to access those documents in 10 years. We are not yet in the digital world with both feet.

Betsy McKenzie said...

P.S. You can also think about what it means that the GPO has put out a call to libraries to borrow (or keep?) their older govt. documents to transfer them to digital format. I would think twice about sending them items. I'd at least want to know if I got the paper back. You don't know if, once they put it on the web, they are really realiably committing to keep it there. am I paranoid? Absolutely; I don't want the legal and other government documents of this nation in the complete control of a government that can change its policy on accessibility with the election (or theft of an election). Plus, there is the completely innocent aspect of continued funding of the GPO website and ability to keep it technically updated.

moonlitetwine said...

I hope there never comes a day, when paper and legal matters separtate.

True, that an attorney can further prove by using electronic mail, can research using browsing. However, I for one would want my patient to be recorded by paper means. I use paper to write my first thoughts, as this is the most solid and time-tested proof.

However, everyone knows this fact. Therefore, I use electronic means to edit, save and backup files. So much stronger would be my case if I have a combination of saved information.

Finally, I look forward to the day, when paper is made from things other than trees in greater quantity, making it affordable as well as readily accessible.