Law firms use ridiculous amounts of paper. A study from a few years ago estimated that a single attorney in the U.S. will use up to 100,000 sheets per year – that’s nearly 400 pages per workday. And that’s crazy.
Sustained awareness campaigns over the last few decades have led to a significant shift in public attitudes towards our personal responsibility to protect the environment. We all know the environmental impacts of paper are obvious, from deforestation to pollution from paper factories. In case you need a refresher, the EPA reports paper makes up 40% of the total waste in the U.S. Even recycling can be a source of pollution due to the sludge produced during de-inking. So in this day and age, when recycling is the norm and electric cars are cool, why haven’t legal departments caught up?
It could be that lawyers love paper – it’s what they’re provided with and expected to provide; it feels familiar in their hands; it’s safe, easily read and marked up; they can take it home; they’re used to it. Courts may be similarly resistant to alternatives to single-sided, hardcopy filings and submissions. Thus, in an industry built on paper documents, run by people trained with paper documents who answer to courts expecting paper documents, reducing paper use will clearly require a change in mindset.
The sheer will to “go green” hasn’t been enough of a motivator for large numbers of firms and departments to significantly change their paper-loving ways. If “doing the right thing” isn’t quite enough to instigate change, why don’t we look at it as doing the right thing by both Mother Nature and the bottom line? This shift in thinking away from paper may be facilitated by exploring the array of positives associated with “going green.” According to an articleby South University, “Going green may be a popular PR move, but for many businesses, taking green initiatives to cut down on waste helps them run more smoothly, efficiently, and maybe most importantly, cost effectively.”
Technologies that aid in going paperless result in a number of residual, direct benefits. Implementing tried and true tech initiatives such as electronic billing, e-discovery, document automation and contract management mean less money spent on paper, printing, envelopes, postage, filing and archiving. It means records can no longer be lost by fire, flood, misplacement, or coffee spillage. Centralized electronic document repositories mean more efficiency, organization and possible collaboration among attorneys, teams and offices. Locating important documents or data would entail a simple repository search rather than a desperate dig through filing cabinets. Electronic, centralized filing systems – often included in document automation and contract management software – mean no more piles of poorly organized legacy documents, research, cases, contracts, forms, memos and filings.
Less waste, less spend, less inefficiency, less carbon footprint and more desk space? Cutting down on paper is a no brainer. Beyond fulfilling law firms’ obligation to give back to the community and serve the greater good, reducing paper use is a win for the environment, hardworking lawyers and the bottom line of the firms and businesses they work for.
It’d be crazy not to.