JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)   by Sheila Blackford   ©2010   April is Stress Awareness Month. I’ve been visiting lots of lawyers and gathering tips to help you make your law practice less stressful. Here is my first tip.

Tip 1. Going Paper-less is a great way to have a less stressful law practice. There is something inherently stressful about an overly abundant In Box. You know you’re in deep paper when your In Box is full of papers and magazines waiting to be looked at someday; your desktop has stacks of papers and files with post-it notes with coffee stains; and your chair is the spot where new mail or letters awaiting signature is placed to catch your attention. Lawyers especially are drowning in paper. A plethora of paper is a recipe for overload and disorganization which can lead to getting off track in running your practice and lead to bar ethics complaints for neglecting client matters and malpractice claims for overlooking deadlines.

Can you do paperless without creating an electronic nightmare? Yes. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. ABA Law Practice TODAY has had some great articles on going paperless. I especially like the ones Canadian paperless diva Donna Neff has shared, especially about her document naming protocols. I got to be a co-speaker with Donna at the Upper Law Society’s Solo & Small Firm Conference last year on going paperless and I can vouch that Donna knows what she’s talking about and truly lives the good life as a paperless attorney. The September 2009 issue of Law Practice TODAY is devoted to the Paperless topic. Read The Document Naming System in Our Paperless Office by Donna Neff and Natalie Sanna here.

Although having a document management program like Worldox is great, you can adopt strict document naming protocols such as Donna discusses and get organized using your basic Windows folder tree system. You just need to be disciplined. But be realistic. It may be too much to ask of you if you’ve got more than one person responsible for creating documents. How many different ways do you name a document when saving a new client letter? You might really need a document management program that takes charge of what documents are named: there is no room for creating multiple names for saving the same type of document. I looked at Worldox again at the recent ABA TECHSHOW in Chicago. It certainly seems to live up to its reputation that no Worldox user regrets implimenting it.

If you need another reason for convincing yourself that going paperless is way to combat stress and get a better night’s sleep, read Jim Calloway’s article in the paperless issue, The Paperless Office as a Risk Management Enterprise here. Jim point out that going paperless is the only foolproof disaster recovery plan. Boxes of paper files stored in the basement of your office can become a soggy mess if your basement floods due to a storm. With so many lawyers needing to plan ahead for the winding down of their law practice, going paperless will certainly streamline organization and it is much easier to store an additional hard drive containing closed electronic client files rather than 100+ banker boxes containing closed paper client files. Downsizing during retirement should be a problem for the paperless lawyer.

CAVEAT: you can make a mess of your electronic client files if you haven’t been storing files – folders and documents– in an organized fashion. If you need more help thant sn just reading the document naming protocol article I mentioned above, you may need to get a good document searching tool. I recommend looking at Copernic Desktop Search Professional which will allow you to find the proverbial needle in the haystack on your desktop or on your server. We have all had the unfortunate experience of dropping a document into the wrong file or just forgetting its name. A document search tool is the solution to this aggravating problem. If you are an ABA member, you can purchase the program for a 50% discount which I was happy to find out on the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center page. Check their Tech EZ page for discount information.

Stay tuned for more tips to help make your law practice less stressful in April!