The Modern Office and How to Avoid Paper Cuts

When I started practicing law in the 1990s we, collectively as a society, were giving up our IBM Selectric typewriters and migrating towards personal computers. We brought paper files to court, spread them out on our conference room tables, and hand-wrote stipulations at court using pink, blue, yellow, and white carbon paper forms. It is now 2024. A paperless office is no longer new and theoretical. It is ubiquitous.

For purposes of this article, I assume that we are painting on a blank slate. We’ve shed our preconceived notions of running a business and law practice and are free to reconsider our operations. In the transition from paper to paperless, many firms adopted an ad-hoc approach – adding software and systems to pre-existing ways of operations. Often the reason for these tethers is aversion to change and the “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it” attitude. To be blunt, such an attitude is detrimental to the health of the firm and business. As time passes, tools improve and systems change. My firm typically enters into three-year contracts with our software vendors. When the term expires, we review all of the software competitors, reevaluate our systems, and assess whether it is beneficial to switch.

In this article, we will explore the basic components of a paperless office. I will not recommend one vendor over another as each firm has its own particular culture and needs; what works best for my office may not be the best fit for your office. However, a paperless office should consider the following elements:

1. Data organization system
2. Case management software with the following:

a. Interoffice communication method
b. A way to send secure files to clients
c. Calendaring system
d. Task lists
e. Timing system
f. Billing system
g. Client file database
h. Automation

3. PDF software (including digital signature features)
4. High-speed scanner (some things are still sent to us on paper)
5. Obviously… computers…
6. Research database

This article will focus on elements 1-3.

Data organization system

Let’s face it. Given the volume of data we must maintain and review, if we do not have a standardized system for managing the data, we could be faced with the proverbial search for the needle in the haystack. A data organization system must be written, staff must be consistently trained on it, and there can be no room for system deviation.

Step one: Create a folder system. In the early days before we transitioned to a digital system, we used cardboard folders with two or three partitions. The sections of those folders were: intake and billing, correspondence, our pleadings, their pleadings, bank statements, and other financial data depending on the case. These rudimentary folder divisions formed the basis of what became a far more complicated (yet still intuitive) digital filing system. Today, when we open a client matter in our case management system (we use Smokeball) and the system automatically creates the initial folder structure. The automated folders that we use are (in alphabetical order):

1. Billing
2. Client pleadings
3. Correspondence
4. Data Dump
5. Discovery
6. Dissomaster
7. Evidence
8. Hearings and Trials
9. Intake packet
10. Notes
11. Opposing Pleadings
12. Orders
13. Receipts
14. Reports
15. Transcripts

Within each of these folders are subfolders. Note that the folders listed above (as well as all of the suggestions made in this article) are intended as examples that we use and are not anyone’s standard or best practices. What is intuitive for me, may not be intuitive to you. Think through how you organize data and build a standardized system from that. Remember, once you have a standardized system, everyone on your team must be trained in that system and must adopt it.. Deviations should not be tolerated. This applies double to your naming convention which is addressed next. Remember, when you are dealing with large amounts of information – having the information is useless if you cannot quickly and efficiently access it.

Step two: create a folder naming convention. Just like the folder system, the naming convention must be intuitive to you. Spend the time to think through your process and how you access data. Just like the file system described above, the naming convention must be followed. I like to arrange our folders by dates and descriptions, for example, an Order After Hearing filed on 1/8/24 would be designated as “240108.FE.FOAH”. If needed, we could add a little more information to the description, for instance, the hearing date, and maybe use “240108.FE.FOAH.231228.hearing.” This description tells us the following: the findings and order after hearing was filed on January 8, 2024, for a hearing held on December 28, 2023. Another option could be to include a shorthand for the type of hearing, for instance adding the letter “CS” for child support or “CC” for child custody. The choices are endless, but a choice must be made, and standardized across the firm.

Choose a case management system

There are many options, for example, Clio, Smokeball, Practice Panther, and AbacusLaw – to name a few (without endorsement of any). Each of these products is different. In choosing any law office technology, consider the 3 ‘S’ metric. The 3 S’s are Speed, Stability and Scalability. If a product is buggy, nonresponsive and limiting – it should not be considered. Weigh the cost of the system as well against the features you use. In considering any system, think about how the system will make the firm more efficient, faster and responsive.

Another issue to consider is integration: Will I need to subscribe to a program to do the tasks I need and how much will that cost? What integrates well with the system I use? Another question is how do you track time and bill clients? One of the features that I find crucial is automated time tracking. While I completely trust my staff, people are inherently poor timekeepers and if you are honest and unsure of your time, you estimate low. If the system tracks your behavior, you have a built-in verification process to confirm your time (separate from the start and stop of a manual timer).

You should also consider the benefits of using artificial intelligence (AI). Using software that automates repetitive processes translates into costs savings for the client. Our forms and pleadings automatically fill in case data and system-created data which is termed “non-generative” or document automation. Generative AI, which is computer generated content is dangerous for an attorney to use. While AI may be helpful in the future, the risk of generative AI is that it will create content – that may not be accurate and – far worse – can lead to lazy thinking. For an advocate, our words are soldiers. Each soldier has a job and must be accounted for (and accountable). When we draft our pleadings, we know what we write. We can and should be held to account for each word. If a computer generates our content, we lose control and, to a greater extent, we abandon our critical analysis which is the core of our law practice.


Portable Document Format (PDFs) are a standard form of document that can be viewed. PDFs are NOT secure documents that cannot be modified. They are convenient. The one product I suggest each practitioner use is Adobe Acrobat Professional. This will allow you to edit PDFs, password protect, and create bookmarked trial binders (a different subject for a different article). Adobe Acrobat Professional also has as part of its package Adobe Acrobat Sign, which allows you to send documents by email for digital signature. There are other products, such as DocuSign, that allow for digital signatures. I use Adobe Acrobat Sign for the simple reason that I have it already integrated into our system.

In summary, consider your systems. Think through your practice and design a system that will enhance your firm’s value to your clients and create efficiencies so that the attorney can focus on lawyering, not repetitive tasks.