Bar News - October 20, 2006
Are You Ready for the Paperless Office?
By: Garry R. Lane
Whether we like it or not, law practice is going digital and there is a lot you need to know. An upcoming seminar, presented by the Federal Court Advisory Committee, will introduce the audience of lawyers, legal administrators, paralegals and secretaries to the practical and ethical issues that a law firm should consider in the transition from the paper to paperless legal world.
The seminar, to be held at the Warren Rudman Federal Courthouse in Concord on Friday, Nov. 17, 2006 from 1-4 p.m. (see ad on page 33), is relevant and timely not just for those firms already on their way to going paperless but also to any firm that now stores any digital documents--in other words, all firms.
Law practice is moving quickly from a paper world to a digital world. Most firms already have file documents that are a combination of paper and some electronic documents (e.g. e-mails, ECF documents, scanned documents, etc.). In this transition period, many lawyers, legal administrators, paralegals and secretaries are finding that their electronic documents are not well organized and they have probably not thought much about the ethical issues that affect them now.
Even if you do not plan to go fully paperless, your fee agreements may already be out-of-date and do not reflect decisions and opinions of courts and ethics committees concerning electronic records. Your record retention programs, if you have one, concerning digital documents may violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. If you are considering transitioning to a paperless office, ethics rules may affect your software purchases.
An attorney or paralegal may have hundreds of e-mails that have never been sent to the file or hundreds of electronically filed court documents and orders that sit in e-mail “in” baskets, never making their way into an organized electronic file or even into the old paper file.
Did you know that under New Hampshire law the file belongs to the client and that the Ethics Committee has opined that if a client wants to receive a copy of his or her file in electronic form, the law firm must deliver it to the client in digital format? (The Ethics Opinion is “Obligation to Provide Electronic Material” from January 2006, and can be found on the Ethics Opinions & Practical Ethics Articles page in the Legal Links area of www.nhbar.org, go to http://www.nhbar.org/legal-links/ethics-opinions-practical-ethics-articles.asp.)
Are your electronic documents organized in such a way that you could inexpensively turn the documents over to your client in electronic form? Or, would you incur thousands of dollars of lost time (for which you could not bill the client unless your fee agreement was written correctly) trying to gather e-mails, ECF documents and the like?
It is very likely that in this transition from the paper office to the paperless office, that many practitioners and legal administrators will focus on what technologies they need to buy. Ethics rules and interpretations could affect which software you select and how you draft your fee agreements, what you can charge for and what you cannot.
Panelist Elizabeth Stouder, a Portland, Maine, attorney, will present the hour-long ethics discussion drawing in other panelists and audience members. David Zizik, a Westwood, Mass. attorney, will introduce the audience to some of the practicalities of the paperless office, the advantages and disadvantages, the do’s and the don’ts; and, by way of example, will discuss and demonstrate a particular software package he uses in his law firm’s practice. Chief Deputy Clerk Daniel J. Lynch, will also present and provide ECF filing tips. Following the presentations, the entire panel will open the floor and answer questions presented by those in attendance. I will moderate the panel.
Are you ready for the future? It’s here now. If you would like to register for this important seminar, go to the federal district court’s Web site at www.nhd.uscourts.gov, click on “General Information” on the left navigation bar and then select “Event Registration” on the fly-away menu. The link for the seminar is on the bottom of the Event Registration page.
Garry Lane is a shareholder and director of Ransmeier & Spellman Professional Corporation in Concord. His practice areas include business litigation, personal injury, construction and other litigation and he also serves as a mediator.