In the most basic sense, going paperless means we use software to create documents, we send them via email instead of printing and mailing, and we store them in digital format instead of in filing cabinets. Replacing paper with technology saves us time and money, making us more efficient and effective.
While the advantages of a paperless, digital office are hard to ignore, some legal teams are slow to change simply because they don’t know where to start.
Digital transformation can be overwhelming, especially when we consider that going paperless is more than just setting up a document storage system or database. It’s also about facilitating secure sharing, automating workflows and the ability extract value from our legal databases. With the right technology, automating tasks like reviews and approvals, tracking deadlines and obligations, and generating insights is as easy as clicking a button. With cloud technologies, legal teams can improve collaboration and provide remote or mobile access, further reducing the need for paper.
Legal departments that say goodbye to paper and replace manual processes with digital technology benefit from increased efficiency, better governance, and a more structured approach to reporting and managing risk.
Here are 8 steps to go paperless and reap all the benefits of a digital in-house legal team:
1. Set the scope of legal information
Taking on the task of digitizing all your paper documents and processes can be overwhelming. Know what you’re up against by setting the scope, i.e the types of legal information that you want to digitize. For example, will you focus primarily on contracts and claims, or do you also want to be able to store, manage, track and report on entities and assets.
2. Identify your process and data requirements
Once you have set the scope, you’ll want to break your approach down into manageable parts. First, decide what data you want to store. For example, if your scope includes entity information, you might want to include registers of business registrations, insiders, shareholders, share classes, and partnership agreements. The second is to identify which manual processes can be automated with alerts, tasks and workflows. For example, you may want to set an alert to notify you about a pending regulatory deadline and establish a workflow to automate a set of tasks. (Hint: if you need help identifying your manual processes, take a look at your Excel docs – this is where we do the majority of our process tracking!)
3. Selecting a solution provider
Once you have a list of your requirements, you can find a solution to meet your needs. Like any technology purchase, it’s important to find a flexible solution that can be configured to your unique way of working so that your teams can be productive without dramatically changing the they work today. Security and data protection should also be a main focus. As such, work with IT to invest in technology with multiple layers of protection, including secure data transfer, encryption, network configuration and application-level controls distributed across a secure infrastructure that protects the confidentiality, integrity and availability of your legal files when they’re being transferred, stored and processed.
4. Take action… but trust a professional!
Now is the time to import your legal data into your new system and decide which paper documents need to be retained or destroyed.
That said, digital transformation is not the best occasion to test your DYI skills. Moving your legal information to the cloud can be daunting if you’ve got years of files stacked or stored up. Partner with professionals to take away the burden of configuring your system, importing your data and destroying files on your own.
5. Shift the paradigm
Now that you’re equipped with the right tools to eliminate paper from your office, you need to make sure your colleagues (in Legal and across other departments) receive proper training to learn how to use it. Without education, all your efforts will have been in vain. For example, show Sales how they can enter key contract data and upload agreements. To accelerate the paradigm shift, buy a scanner to make the scanning process convenient and easy, remove filing cabinets and – if you can – get rid of your printer (or set limits on the amount of printing).
6. Use e-signatures & secure file-sharing
You’ve eliminated the need for paper internally, but what about when you need to send a contract or agreement to an external party? To eliminate the “print-sign-scan” process, start collecting e-signatures. Not only do they help you execute contracts quicker, but they also help you reduce costs and maintain confidentiality.
Aside from collecting signatures, you may also need to share documents with external parties, like investors, stakeholders or auditors. With a cloud solution, you can collaborate and share only the documents you choose with anyone, in a secure environment, 24/7.
7. Provide remote access
Are employees still printing documents or reports to review outside the office? With a cloud solution, your team and colleagues have secure and reliable access to any data they need, anywhere they are, on any device they choose to use.
8. Share your success!
Finally, the best way to make sure you never resort to paper again is by sharing stories about the success of your digital transformation. Has a structured database allow you to collect documentation for due diligence in half the time you needed last time? Have the alerts on contract expiration dates helped you renew contracts earlier? When everyone can share in the success of the new digital processes, they are more eager to maintain their habits and ensure others do the same!
Going paperless? Learn how in-house lawyers in small organizations can accelerate their evolution from legal counsel to strategic-minded business partner by making wise investments in technology by downloading our latest guide: “The Changing Role of General Counsel”.