Solicitors Strung Out On Paper

I was reminded recently of a very great and dear senior partner I used to work for. He loved paper and to be honest he loved organised chaos too. His office (back then!) was bulging with filing cabinets, bankers boxes of files and mountains of paper strewn over his desk. I used to wonder how he found anything. But finding that elusive letter amid the pile was second nature to him. The story goes that there was a break-in at the firm’s premises. The Gardaí arrived, assessed the situation, then summoned the partners. The Gardaí broke the bad news that although nothing was taken in the firm, one partner’s room had been ‘ransacked’. The partners on hearing the devastating news looked at each other knowingly and then smiled in relief!

Solicitors and paper, salt and pepper, Dublin football and all-Ireland wins, French farmers and strikes, cyclists and ‘supplements’ – that’s just the way it it’s meant to be.

But in an age of digitisation why does the paper-fest continue for solicitors and for whose benefit does it continue?

Some solicitors use paper as a barometer of industriousness – ‘my desk is groaning under the pressure’.  Others actively build a fortress around their desks determined to murder feng shui and interaction with colleagues.  Paper brings a sense of importance, used as an expression of how hard they are working for a client on account of the paper they generate on a file – ‘Wow I had no idea how much paperwork was involved’. Then there’s the costs –  ‘more letters = more costs’. For others it’s a comfort blanket or a fop to ego – scribbling corrections on a trainee’s first drafts or clutching a file going into a meeting.  But there is really no need for it.

Solicitors are a deeply conservative and fearful bunch who hold dear traditions and status quo.  For some solicitors, utopia is where time would stand still and even better still, time would go back to the golden age of the profession in this country, between the 1950’s to 1980’s, when solicitors were overwhelmingly male, on pedestals and like hen’s teeth. You see, paper represents the continuation of age old practice and tradition. Ask a solicitor to give up paper and they will give you 10 reasons why you can’t. In fact solicitors will give 10 reasons why you can’t do anything. Basically the reason why Irish solicitors won’t give up the ould paper is FEAR.

Fear that the computer or server fails. Fear that the client may ask for an original file. Fear that the Court may insist on an original and not settle on a PDF scan which is printed off. Fear that barristers will not accept e-briefs. Fear that older solicitors in the firm will put the kibosh on the plan. Fear that other solicitors will not accept electronic signatures even though this is enshrined in legislation for 15 years, fear of conveyancers (chronic paper addicts) that e-conveyancing will never happen despite being prattled about for a decade, fear of the new, fear of technology, fear of techies, fear they won’t look so goddamn fearsome with a netbook instead of trolleys of bankers boxes, fear the judges will frown on that sort of thing, fear of having to change their ways, fear of status loss, fear of what their colleagues will think…you get the picture.

I used to work in a typical traditional law firm and wondered about the gross inefficiencies that paper caused. Think about it:  the cost of employing a secretary to file away and the extra overhead that the client has to pay for this. Or the wasted time spent looking for missing documents. Hours and over a year possibly days. Or the mess, chaos and horrible claustrophobic work environment. Or the extra square footage requirement just to house the stuff. Or the sheer waste of time spent collating the paper into some sensible order to give to third parties. Who pays for inefficiency? You, the client. 

Think of the benefits of going paperless:-

1. Less administration work, less employees.

2. Less bloody paper everywhere making an orderly work environment.

3. The ability for employees to work remotely.

4. The ability of clients to see their files through a secure login environment.

5. The reduction in offsite storage costs.

6. Less office space needed which means less rent paid.

7. Files where teams can access and see live updates.

8. The data at your fingertips when clients call.

9. The efficiencies of a paperless environment.

10. The ability to collate documents in a fraction of the time.

This is a no brainer. Does this mean every other law firm are led by donkeys?  No. They are just strung out on paper and afraid of change.