SIDEBAR Summer 2017 - 17



By Lydia Shaw Terrill, Esq., and Denise S. Vicario, Esq.

Do you ever feel like you are
drowning in a sea of paper?
The legal industry has historically
produced a massive amount of paperwork.
Huge files sit dormant in filing cabinets,
overflowing with pages and pages of
handwritten notes, correspondence,
memoranda, legal research, billing
information, pleadings, depositions, court
transcripts, financial information, expert
reports... the list goes on. Maybe these files
are stored in your office file room. Maybe
they are stacked precariously on your desk.
Maybe they are stored in an off-site file
storage facility, incurring monthly storage
For many law offices, the days of paper
files may be coming to a close, as more
and more offices are "going paperless."
A paperless office is an office in which
paper documents are converted to a digital
format, thus greatly reducing an office's
reliance on paper. Benefits of having a
paperless office include saving physical
space, keeping files organized and easily
searchable, and allowing attorneys to work
anytime from anywhere without having to
cart huge files around. The ultimate effect
for many attorneys is a more efficient law
The trend toward the paperless office
mirrors the trend toward many courts'
adoption of e-filing systems, which allow
attorneys and pro se parties to electronically
file documents. Clearly, the Montgomery
County Court of Common Pleas has been
at the forefront of e-filing. The Civil and
Family Court Divisions have long operated
paperless, so much so that paper files have
not been created for many years, and all
documents are viewed - and reviewed - via
the Prothonotary's Office e-filing system.
Furthermore, the Juvenile and Criminal
Divisions are transitioning to the electronic

PACFile system in the statewide Common
Pleas Case Management System. PACFile
will allow case participants to process all
filings electronically and securely and allow
viewing documents on a case with which
they are associated. Unavoidable exceptions
to access of documents with confidential
information will continue.
Indeed, from the court's perspective,
it is a delicate balance to provide access
while maintaining security - and privacy.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
has approved new standards with the
Public Access Policy of the Unified Judicial
System: Case Records of the Appellate and
Trial Courts. This new and contemporary
Public Access Policy goes into effect in
January 2018, tackles many of the concerns
that have long been impediments to
electronic case records in Juvenile and
Criminal Court, and addresses many issues
on all case filings.
For law firms, there is a cost to going
paperless, and any office must weigh the
costs against the benefits. For many offices,
the task of scanning and converting paper
files to digital files can be enormous.
Each document must be reviewed and
categorized, and a decision needs to be
made (consistent with retention rules)
about whether the document should be
kept, destroyed, or returned to the client.
There are costs associated with returning
files to clients and shredding large amounts
of paperwork. Additionally, digital file
storage and PDF programs aren't free, and
it is critical to ensure that your method of
digital file storage will properly safeguard
client information.
Nevertheless, the cost-saving advantages
to a paperless office can be enormous.
As files are scanned, office space can be
condensed, with whole file rooms being
eliminated. Ongoing off-site storage fees
would be reduced, including the labor

associated with closing client files and
transportation of files to and from the
storage facility. The cost of office supplies
would go down as the need for paper and
toner is reduced. Attorneys would not
only become more efficient in areas such
as legal research and discovery, but would
also have the flexibility to work anywhere
there is a power outlet and an internet
connection. And of course, the benefit to
the environment cannot be ignored.
It can be a daunting task to transition
to a paperless office, and it is crucial to
have a plan to implement the transition,
with everyone in the office on-board.
Administrative staff, attorneys, file clerks,
litigation support, and mailroom clerks
all need to be properly trained in the
technology that is being used to create and
store the digital files. Systems need to be
developed as to how documents within the
files are labeled and organized. The good
news is that the transition to a paperless
office can occur piecemeal, with new
practices being rolled out one at a time. For
example, a firm could begin by making it
a practice to begin scanning and digitally
saving each piece of mail and external
document that comes into the office. Then,
it can start converting active files to a digital
format, followed by converting closed files
to a digital format.
Although more and more law firms
are going paperless, it is unlikely that we
will soon be living in a world completely
devoid of paper. Most attorneys still prefer
handling hard copies to digital copies when
reviewing detailed financial information or
proofreading documents, and not all courts
have e-filing systems in place. Perhaps one
day the need for paper documents will be
obliterated altogether, but that day is yet to
come. In the meantime, happy shredding!

SUMMER 2017 17

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of SIDEBAR Summer 2017

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