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Paperless office a step too far for some law firms

It’s a legal challenge that is not altogether unexpected but still one that I hoped I wouldn’t see. It seems 30 of the country’s largest criminal defence firms are refusing to engage with a Crown Prosecution Service plan to go paperless by April next year. And in so doing they have again highlighted just how 19th Century the thinking of some firms remains well into the 21st Century.

The target is part of a programme to computerise the criminal justice system and save £50m by 2014/15 by replacing all paper documents with electronic communications. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Opponents say they want grants to help implement new technology and claim not enough progress has been made to ensure the information is digitally available to them and their clients. And they have concerns about security for emails using cloud computing. They obviously feel that papers left on an office desk behind glass windows are significantly safer.

I said before, not that long ago (Welcome emails to speed divorce), that the legal sector is way behind almost every other sector in moving towards the routine use of email for documents and official correspondence. Indeed, I am aware that some solicitors refuse to send emails, preferring the postal system because if it is in their interests to delay proceedings, they can simply blame it on the mail.

I do not believe that going paperless would cost the law firms money. It is a change of culture and office practices that they simply do not want to adopt. That is all. There may be a little additional hardware called for, maybe even some staff training – but it will save them a packet too. Just think how much money will be saved on paper, envelopes, stamps, wages for typists etc. And this saving will go on and on and on. Plus, a significant fringe benefit is that service to clients will suddenly appear to be that much more efficient because it will take seconds rather than days for messages and documents to get through to them.

It appears these firms opposing the plans think they should get some sort of additional reward for moving with the times, or use of taxpayers money to modernise their business while they then benefit from all the associated savings. “We have to draw the line,” these firms have been quoted as saying. If they had been a little more forward thinking previously rather than clinging on to an outdated system that worked in their favour, the line would not be the issue.

This will be my last rant of the year I suspect so I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for the festive season and here’s to a happy and peaceful 2012.

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

Blog Author - Andrew Woolley

Andrew Woolley Andrew Woolley

Andrew is the owner and managing partner of Woolley & Co. He regularly offers comments and views on a range of family law issues.

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