The pros and cons of ‘paperless’ – June 2018

The pros and cons of 'paperless' - June 2018The pros and cons of 'paperless' - June 2018Fiona Scurlock struggles to let go!

It is now a month since GDPR came into force, and like many small firms, we found re-vamping our data protection policies and procedures a very time-consuming and, in my case ageing, experience (although the good news is that the Law Society EU GDPR Guide is a fail-safe cure for insomnia). One of the major parts of the project was to look at the way we manage our files and store data, in particular to actually use our case management system as it was intended and move towards a paperless office.

As lawyers we really like our paper – files, bundles, reports, schedules, not to mention loose-leaf reference books and case digests. If, like me, you qualified sometime in the latter half of the last century, you may recall the core material issued by the College of Law which stood a couple of feet high, all of which had to be digested and learnt. The sheer amount of paper in a lawyer’s office was almost a badge of honour, or at least evidence of serious work being done. I recall one colleague whose desk resembled a fortress built of wobbly piles of files and post (“urgent”, “date order” and “as and when”) behind which the top of his head was just about visible. If you had room on your desk to fit more than a cup of coffee, then you just weren’t busy enough.

These days technology allows us to read and draft documents on screen, voluminous medical records are stored on discs, and most correspondence is by email (although don’t try this with the court – if anyone has successfully e-filed documents that actually end up in front of the Judge in time for a hearing you are a better person than me!). The virtually paper-less office is eminently possible, and certainly an easier environment to control when it comes to the protection of data, so why does it seem so difficult to achieve?

I work from home for part of the week, linked virtually to the office server, but regularly trundle between work and home with a wheelie case full of files (including, ironically, my Project Paper-less file). I realise that I am part of the problem. I like reading documents in manuscript so that I can amend and mark passages with different coloured post-its. Having several documents on my desk for cross-reference whilst making (hand-written) notes seems more natural than switching between several screens. You will never catch me on holiday with an e-reader, I am the idiot hauling a suitcase off the carousel stuffed with fat paperbacks. So, whilst I still whoop for joy at finding a stash of Counsel’s notebooks in the stationery cupboard, I know I have to change and embrace the virtual world. I’m turning over a new leaf – or is that a new screen?

Fiona Scurlock, author of ‘The pros and cons of ‘paperless’, is a PI Solicitor at Gray Hooper Holt LLP and MASS Regional Co-ordinator for the South East

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