Paperless, here they come: Lawyers stepping up technology use

By Tom Gantert

Legal News

Ann Arbor Attorney Kelly Burris remembers when she'd see lawyers leave for vacation carrying large boxes full of files so they could still do some work.

''I remember thinking, 'One day, we are all going to laugh at this,' '' Burris said.

That day is quickly approaching as lawyers are participating in a technological revolution that is changing the way they do business. Burris, who works for Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione, said the legal profession is just starting to catch up with the new technology.

''Old habits are hard to break,'' Burris said, whose work focuses on intellectual property, and who is chair of her firm's green technology group. ''Attorneys are notorious for being stuck in their old ways.''

Burris said she is trying to get other office sites to go paperless.

''I'm not into killing trees,'' Burris said. ''It makes so much business sense to do this.''

Burris went paperless herself about 10 years ago.

''I wanted to be mobile. I didn't want to be chained to my desk,'' Burris said. ''Everything I use to do my work is electronic. ... I physically took the printer out of my office. I got rid of mine.''

Burris said she can remember frustrated lawyers sending out emails that asked, ''Who's got the file?''

Now, there is a master file online that lawyers can have access to at any time.

''It's a 24/7 kind of thing,'' she said. ''You can work anywhere, anytime.''

The State Bar of Michigan will host a seminar on Monday, Aug. 20 to help lawyers interested in integrating technology, particularly the iPad. The seminar will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Lansing Community College. The cost is $95.

JoAnn Hathaway of the State Bar of Michigan's Practice Management Resource Center said speakers will introduce the iPad in general and teach attendees how to get documents onto an iPad, get the most out of iPad e-mail, print from the iPad, and sync with iCloud. Speakers will also share 10 "must have" iPad apps for lawyers, recommended iPad settings for the legal professional, how to do legal research using an iPad, how to give presentations from the iPad, and how to utilize an iPad in the courtroom.

Late last year, Al Brandt made the leap to a paperless law firm. The Jackson attorney had his firm switch to all Apple products, including the iPhone, iPad and Apple computers.

He said the secretary who answers his phone is actually located about 135 miles away in Bay City. All incoming mail is now scanned in the system. And down the road, he sees his office giving up the landline and using iPhones for business.

Brandt is among the many lawyers using the latest technology to become more efficient.

Jackson attorney Mark Hashley, who does a lot of bankruptcy work, bought a computer scanner about a year ago so he could digitize about 50 boxes full of court documents he has in his office. He also bought a two terabyte external hard drive to hold all of his information. Hashley said he'll only keep the documents with original signatures in a paper file, which will reduce four-inch thick files to about a half-inch.

The rest of the documents will be printed or emailed directly from his hard drive.

Every weekend, Hashley said he takes home one of his boxes so he can spend a couple hours at home scanning them.

''It's an excellent way to keep your filing system at your fingertips,'' Hashley said.

In the past, Hashley said he would charge clients $25 for the time it took to go pull paper files from the storage unit and then make copies and mail it to them.

Brandt said all court documents since Jan. 1 are kept electronically in his office. He said he expects to see savings down the road, but did spend a lot of money buying the updated technology for the transition.

''It makes me incredibly more efficient in that if I'm at the court, and I see a prosecutor, I can access a file where otherwise I'd have to have a paper file on me,'' he said.

His office will soon get rid of fax lines. Brandt said there are computer apps that will allow faxes to be sent digitally. He said he made the switch because he wanted to ''get ahead of the curve and get the office digital sooner rather than later.''

Published: Mon, Aug 13, 2012