Technology has made it possible to hold an entire filing cabinet in your pocket and the benefits of a paperless practice in offices are becoming undeniable.
By Peter M. Walzer, Family Lawyer
Paper is slow. Paper is messy. Paper is made from trees. Although we are still dependent on it, paper is becoming obsolete. It started in the late seventies with the law office word processors, which evolved to the PC desktop in the eighties. Floppy disks morphed into small hard disks (although they were still called “floppies”) on which we saved all our documents in those days. The floppies evolved to CD’s, which could hold a lot more data. As hard drives developed to the point that storage space was no longer an issue, we began saving documents on our hard drives, and now CD’s are becoming obsolete. In the past, it was standard practice to maintain a “hard copy” of important files — meaning a paper backup; it was not practical to save boxes of client documents on hard drives because hard drive space was at a premium.
By the turn of the century, scanners had become faster and cheaper. Memory grew from kilobytes to megabytes (1,000,000 bytes), gigabytes (1000 megabytes), and now terabytes (1000 gigabytes). Today’s USB flash drives can hold as much as two gigabytes, or 3,850 one hundred-page Word documents. It is just more practical to have paperless practice in offices, carry a flash drive in your pocket rather than cart around stacks of documents.
A Two-Part Evolution of Paperless Practice
At the same time our office machines were evolving, our mobile devices became an integral part of our work and personal lives. Back in the day, the cool device was the PDA (Personal Data Assistant); my first one was the Palm Pilot with a stylus. Those were a death knell to the “Day Timer,” which were black or tan notebooks where we wrote down our appointments. Then came the Blackberry, which was both a cellular phone and a calendar. We became wired to the internet and we were floating in the Cloud — whether we wanted to admit it or not. Paper became an afterthought. Now mobile phones enable us to do business from anywhere – a car, a court, or a café. As the iPhone supplanted the Blackberry in popularity because it was more reliable for email and had the “cool” factor, computers were also becoming portable – first with laptops, and then tablets. The use of Apps made cell phones and tablets more fun and easy to use.
Today, most of my correspondence to attorneys, clients, and judges is conducted by email. There was a time when I felt compelled to print my emails – just in case. Now I just save them to my database program where they are searchable and printable. Even when we receive physical correspondence, it is scanned and emailed to me to read, which I can do on my iPhone, iPad, or office computer. There are still times when I print out an email or a letter to mark up, but there goes another tree—right?
Since most correspondence is digitized, that part of the file shrunk to almost nothing. But what about the pleadings? As there is currently no e-filing in our courts, we keep a paper copy of everything we file; and because we must serve pleadings by mail (absent a stipulation), we maintain a file copy of our opponent’s pleadings. However, all of these are scanned and saved by our staff, which allows us quick access to the entire file on our server. I don’t remember the last time I walked into the file room and picked up the file — a benefit of the paperless practice.
Paper vs. Digital Files in Court
I still like to take the hard files to court, because I never know if I will have remote access to our server in the courtroom. A digital file is searchable and, in many ways, more convenient than shuffling through a paper file in the courtroom. However, courts still require paper exhibits and in a pinch, I can rip an exhibit out of the file and get it admitted. It may be some time before there is a digital transfer of exhibits in our courts. In the future, we will move the document to the court Dropbox and provide access to the judge, clerk, witness, opposing counsel, and court reporter. I expect this shift to come once the courts realize how expensive it is to maintain and store paper.
Document production has gone digital. Adobe Acrobat Pro makes it easy to mark up, OCR, and organize “PDF’s”. It is more convenient to transfer information to a flash drive or place a document in a Dropbox-type program than it is to send paper. There is no reason to store boxes of paper when you can conduct paperless practice and store the same information digitally. Even libraries are becoming obsolete. Gone are the days where there were walls of books. Google Scholar has most of the cases and statutes. There are proprietary programs that access the cloud to fill in the gaps.
Convenience, Speed, and Economy of Paperless Practice
Paper vs. paperless? Paper still exists, but the speed and economy of bytes will win over time. The reality is that I sit at my computer all day looking at a screen. I go home and I log onto my iPad or cell phone. I may be drafting or emailing, but there is no paper involved. I have a printer to the right of me that was used once today to print a draft of this article for editing purposes, but, for the most part, we conduct paperless practice. The shift to paperless wasn’t an overnight coup or even a revolution—it was a mass extinction. You are going to go paperless whether you like it or not. And if you are reading this article in a magazine, tear it up and recycle it. Next time, read it online.
The founder of Walzer & Melcher LLP, Peter M. Walzer is a Certified Family Law Specialist with 29 years of experience practicing divorce law in Los Angeles. A Fellow of both the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Mr. Walzer exclusively practices divorce and family law in the state of California.