Going Paper-less

By Tricia M. Derr, MCB President

It has been several months since I saw the first architectural renderings of our future Bar & Foundation Center (the "FBFC").  I recall the sheer excitement in the room as our owner's representative, Katie Tyler, unrolled the plans.  As she walked us slowly through the drawings they were nothing short of AMAZING!  Hundreds of hours of staff and volunteer time finally culminated into something tangible.

Then I saw the spaces labeled "server room" and "copy room."  Servers and copiers in 2014?  Would the FBFC also be using rotary phones, fax machines and rolodexes? 

Then and there I began my "paper-less" crusade to bring the FBFC into the 20th Century.  Yes, that is "paper-less" and not "paperless," having personally found the latter virtually impossible (no pun intended).

After four years of being "paper-less" here at Lincoln Derr, I am a passionate advocate of the paper-less office model.  In fact, Lincoln Derr proudly received the 2013 "Sustainability Award" from North Carolina Lawyers Weekly for our paper-less efforts.  While the learning curve was admittedly painful, I couldn't imagine going back to accordion files, endless stacks of filing, and copy machines forever starving for toner. 

For Lincoln Derr, the cost-savings alone were substantial enough to warrant an electronic platform.  Add the advantages of remote accessibility and efficiency to being "green" and there was really no way to justify any alternative. 

So, what does it mean to "go paper-less?"  First of all, "going paper-less" is a process rather than an event.  It takes planning, time, staged integration, flexibility and (heres the hard part) patience.  There are varying degrees of implementation ranging from a simple recycling program to "virtual law firms," existing only in the cloud.  Finding the right balance on the spectrum is highly individualized.  

Most successful paper-less offices have several things in common including a secure online document repository, desktop scanners and at least one heavy duty "all-in-one" scanner/printer.  Noticeably absent are servers and copiers.  The online document repository becomes "the server" and the scanner/printer replaces "the copier."  Large documents are transferred online through a third-party vendor or other digital means (i.e. CD or flash drive).  Many paper-less offices avoid downloading software altogether, using online programs instead (commonly known as "software as a service" or "SAAS").  SAAS applications are usually charged on a monthly basis and are more affordable than outright purchases.  Finally, and most importantly, a successful paper-less office makes online security a priority. 

At the Mecklenburg County Bar, we have been having many constructive conversations and brainstorming sessions about the pros and cons of going paper-less and how the concept could be incorporated into planning the FBFC.  Technology tools are more portable and more affordable than ever.  There are limitless ways to use these new tools to add value and relevance to the Bar.  Perhaps we would have more involvement geographically if virtual meetings were an alternative?  Imagine the cost savings associated with simple changes such as projecting (rather than printing) meeting materials?  What if we were able to link our own portable electronic devices to the projected material in order to view or save the documents?  What if we substituted meeting "minutes" for an electronically generated transcript of the meeting, eliminating drafting or relying on recollection?  The possibilities are virtually limitless (there goes the "virtual" pun again). 

As for my paper-less crusade, I have a confession to make (if you are still reading -- Hi Mom!).  As it turned out, MCB Executive Director Nancy M. Roberson and the MCB staff had been talking about these issues long before I raised them.  As usual, they were already on top of it.  To my own personal infinite credit, however, I did notice that the "copy rooms" and "server room" have been re-labeled on the latest version of the draft plans as "work/copy rooms" and "IT Suite."  Look out future, here we come!