2013: My Originating Year of Much Less Stuff and Paper

by Brenda L. Speer on January 14, 2013

I have never been one to make resolutions, so don’t let the title fool you into thinking that I have made one for this year. Rather, it’s just that the new year gave me a nice, clean, date-certain going forward from which I have decided to make my office and home as paperless as possible, as well as to stop keeping every speck of stuff and iota of information.

I am a bit of a (OK, an extreme) neat freak, keeper of things, organizer, and detail person. Yet, I have forced myself to acknowledge that I hang on to too much and some of it is duplicative. For instance, why do I keep a copy of an email on my computer and print it out and file it? Hmm, I realize I have no good answer for that question. One or the other action will suffice, so perhaps I should stop this silly behavior.

My inspiration to endeavor to curb this habit of mine came about several years ago when one of my grandmothers was moved into assisted living. The arduous task of purging and closing her home fell to one of my sisters who lived nearby. During a conversation with my sister in which she regaled and horrified me with stories of the endless stuff she culled. (Some of which we wondered why Grandma even still had it, like banking records from the 1950s.) I joked, “I’m going to change my final instructions in my will to state: ‘Go to house, burn to ground.’” Rather than dare someone to commit arson, I thought it better to get my own house, literally and figuratively, in order.

I’ve been doing a mix of mostly digital and partly paper storage for a while now, but that still meant having and looking in two places for things. So, I decided to commit fully to digital as of Jan. 1. I expect to see savings on office supplies expenditures over the coming year. Furthermore, I have long refused to purchase another file cabinet.

Here are some concrete examples of changes I’m making in the administration of my office and practice and how I’m doing them.

The Goal and End Result: One Copy, Digital Only, in One Place

Vendor Files
In the past, each fiscal year I set up physical file folders for every vendor, including banking, and kept paper records of receipts, orders, payments (check stubs), statements, invoices, etc. This fiscal year I set up a digital file folder for every vendor.

I already receive digital statements from almost every vendor I have. When available, I save or download a copy of receipts, orders, payments, statements, invoices, emails, etc. to the file. If not available, then I scan a copy to the digital file. I do not retain the paper and deposit it in my shred bin. (My shredding service also recycles — bonus!) I also do not retain the information anywhere else on my computer, such as the email with an attached statement in an Outlook folder.

I also have decided to determine at the outset whether I even need to keep the information. For some things, like check stubs and bank deposit receipts, I have decided not to keep those in any format once I’m done with them (i.e., after the check is cut [stubs] or end-of-month reconciliation [deposit receipts]). I already have all that information captured in my accounting program and monthly bank statements, so do I really need the check stubs and receipts, too? I decided I don’t.

I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to scan to PDF, as well as to convert and save directly from a browser and other programs. I use an all-in-one machine (able to photocopy, print, scan [in color or black and white] and fax) with a document feeder and duplexer to auto-feed and scan double-sided documents. I am finding that scanning and saving doesn’t take me any more time than paper filing (printing pages, stapling pages, hole-punching pages, placing in the file folder with fasteners, filing the folder in the file cabinet, and so on).

Client Files
For every client matter I used to set up a physical file folder, as well as a digital file folder (auto-generated by the practice management software I use, PC Law). I have decided to no longer set up physical file folders and to maintain everything in the digital file. Again, if not already available in digital form, I scan everything paper into the appropriate client matter file (signed Fee Agreement, client originals, my meeting notes, etc.) and consign the now-nonrelevant paper to the shred bin. That doesn’t mean I don’t use or have any paper, but I use and have a lot less of it. If I work on something in hard copy, like a contract review, when I’m done I shred the working copy.

Over the 24 years I’ve been practicing law, I have always used the physical file folders as visible reminders and organizers of my workload and priorities in my office. At first I had some anxiety about not having that system anymore. However, in lieu of that, I have created a spreadsheet to track all pending matters with relevant details — everything in one place for easy referral — and I’m finding it works better for me. Anxiety relieved, trees saved, humanity and nature sigh together.

Resource Files
I have a collection of three-ring binders in my law library in which I have kept and organized by topic various articles and cases relevant to my practice areas. These will live on, but any new resource information will be retained in digital form only and added to my existing electronic form file system.

I only wish I’d had the foresight and fortitude to have forced myself to have gone all-but-digital sooner!

Brenda Speer has been practicing law since 1989 and has honed her primary area of emphasis, intellectual property law (patent, trademark, and copyright), through both private law firm practice and in-house legal department service. She provides legal counsel to artists, entertainers, innovators, companies, and individuals in the creative, technological, business, and real estate arts. Speer lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and her collection of books, fashion accessories, and sewing and needlework supplies. She is active in the community and one of her favorite activities is playing principal French horn with the Pikes Peak Philharmonic.

Photo by jenni from the block.

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