In this episode of The Paralegal Voice, host Vicki Voisin talks with the State Bar of Michigan practice management advisor JoAnn Hathaway about her tips to help law firms go paperless. She shares that there are many procedural steps involved in transitioning a company from a traditional filing structure to a paperless system and that it’s imperative to have a paperless policy to ensure that no one deviates from the process. She encourages any company embarking on this conversion to take inventory of their goals for going paperless and to decide what the firm hopes to accomplish by making this change. JoAnn then goes into her top ten policies that firms should implement if they are going paperless, like making your policy searchable and developing a feedback and monitoring system to determine the success of the transition, and closes the interview with suggestions of resources that law firms can utilize to simplify the process.
JoAnn L. Hathaway is a practice management advisor for the State Bar of Michigan. Ms. Hathaway previously worked as a legal liability claims director and risk manager, paralegal, and legal administrator. She is an Adobe Acrobat Certified Expert, and holds software certifications in LexisNexis Time Matters and Billing Matters software. She is active in the ABA Law Practice Division, serving on the Publications Board, Law Practice Today Editorial Board, and State and Local Bar Outreach Committee. She is a frequent speaker on law firm technology, insurance, and risk and practice management topics.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Boston University, NALA, and ServeNow.
The Paralegal Voice
Advice to Help Lawyers and Law Firms Go Paperless
Intro: Welcome to The Paralegal Voice where you hear the latest issues and trends in the world of paralegals and legal assistance by one of the best known paralegals in the industry Vicki Voisin. A paralegal for more than 20 years,. Vicki is dedicated to helping legal professionals reach their goals. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Vicki Voisin: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Paralegal Voice here on Legal Talk Network. I am Vicki Voisin, the paralegal mentor and host of the Paralegal Voice. I am a NALA Advanced certified paralegal, I publish a newsletter titled “Paralegal Strategies” and I’m also the co-author of “The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success”. You’ll find more information at HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentor.com” paralegalmentor.com.
My guest today is JoAnn Hathaway, a former paralegal who today is a Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Michigan. She previously worked as a legal liability claims director and risk manager and also legal administrator. JoAnn as an Adobe Acrobat certified expert, holds software certifications in LexisNexis Time Matters and Billing Matters software. She is active in the ABA Law Practice Management Division, serving on the Publications Board and the State and Local Bar Outreach Committee. JoAnn is a frequent speaker on law firm technology, insurance, and risk and practice management topics.
So welcome JoAnn!
JoAnn L. Hathaway: Thank you Vicki, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Vicki Voisin: So JoAnn, we had a previous podcast and we’re going to tell our listeners about that, but before we begin our sponsors need to be recognized and thanked. That would be Boston University offering an online certificate in paralegal studies. If you’re seeking a professional credential or you just want to further develop your skills, Boston University provides an affordable, high quality, 14-week program, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalonline.bu.edu” paralegalonline.bu.edu for more information.
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The goal of The Paralegal Voice is to discuss a wide range of topics that are important to the paralegal industry and to share with you leading trends, significant developments, and resources, you’ll find helpful in your career and your everyday job. Guests are usually included to help explore timely topics and for that reason I’ve invited JoAnn Hathaway to be with me today to discuss the issue of going paperless.
I began a discussion with JoAnn on The Paralegal Voice regarding what paralegals need to know about going paperless. That was a previous podcast. It offers basic information about the paperless procedure and listeners can locate that podcast at HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com, just click on The Paralegal Voice and scroll down to reach that podcast.
So that said, JoAnn, today we’re going to discuss policies that have to be put in place when a firm goes paperless. So what I’d like for you to do first is to tell our listeners why they need paperless policies and how a firm begins the paperless policy drafting process?
JoAnn L. Hathaway: Well, thank you Vicki, for that introduction. It’s really imperative that a firm regardless if I had a written paperless policy there are so many procedural steps associated with going paperless and having these steps in writing really helps to ensure that no one deviates from the process and basically drops the ball, just as you wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint you should never begin your paperless journey without having a completely customized written paperless policy.
So the first step a firm needs to take to begin to lay the groundwork for this policy is to really examine what their goals for going paperless power. What is it that the firm hopes to accomplish from going paperless, and then very importantly, to get buy-in from hopeful everyone in the firm and it’s not always possible, but that is what a firm should strive for.
Interestingly, the process of going paperless needn’t be that difficult, time-consuming but not difficult, however, if you have resisters in the firm who don’t want to comply and project negativity that process from going from paper to digital will be very difficult.
Vicki Voisin: I think you hit the nail on the head with the fact that it’s time-consuming and some people just don’t want to spend the time on it, it’s easier to do it like they’ve always done it, but we are going to move on here, JoAnn. I understand that you have your top 10 tips for putting these policies in place, so let’s start with your first tip.
JoAnn Hathaway: Okay, tip number 1 and I just touched on that, and I am going to stay on the employee and the firm buy-in. So tip number 1 is, include your employees and motivate them both, emotionally and financially, get commitment.
I really can’t stress the importance of this; people have a need to feel valued and to have their voice heard. So even if you don’t implement an idea someone shares they will feel that they have at least had the opportunity to way-in and to be heard and that will make them feel good and encourage further engagement.
Also studies have shown this is nothing new that people respond to incentives and it’s not hard. I think employees that feel valued, more efficient, streamlined processes that make their job easier and encourage them with financial gain from the money that will be saved by overhead expenses from going paperless.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, that’s a good one, what about the second one?
JoAnn Hathaway: Okay, so tip number 2, stay involved. Sometimes we find that those people in-charge they get everything started and then they basically pass the buck. Everyone needs to be involved, some more than others of course but everyone in the firm touches paper, right?
So everyone from the top down needs to stay engaged and interested, and this is really a step to encouraging a strong team environment which is what you definitely need when developing this policy.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, and when there is staying involved and you are staying interested, do you fall back on being sure that your employees are still interested or do you just assume they are, JoAnn?
JoAnn Hathaway: Oh no, you need to have your hand on the pulse at all times because as I said before, if you have the new affairs then and it’s easy for someone to fall back when they start feeling uncomfortable, even if they are engaged at the beginning. If they start to feel uncomfortable with the process, they can backpedal. There are always those people in the firm who say this is the way we’ve always done it and I don’t want to change it, it doesn’t seem to be broken.
Vicki Voisin: Yeah.
JoAnn Hathaway: And so those are the people you need to really encourage.
Vicki Voisin: Right. I think we find that probably all through the new technology that we are using and so forth, any new systems, but okay what’s your third tip?
JoAnn Hathaway: Okay, my third tip — I think this is again extremely important. The policy should be detailed, don’t leave room for ambiguity or for individual interpretation.
So take great time when drafting the paperless policy. It needs to be detailed, again very detailed. If this is a document that will live on and on or it should live on and on and individuals in the firm will need to rely upon this for both seasoned and new attorneys and staff. A firm newcomer should really be able to come in, pick up this policy and read it and know how to follow the process for the paperless workflow.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, perfect. Now what about 4?
JoAnn Hathaway: Okay, tip number 4, is because this is going to be a very, very detailed policy, it’s probably going to be rather voluminous.
Vicki Voisin: Okay.
JoAnn Hathaway: So that being said you don’t want it to be unwieldy, so the policy should be searchable and needs to be very user-friendly, you should have bookmarks, it should be easy to navigate; and in brief, make it detailed but easy.
So this really shouldn’t be difficult because hopefully before you are starting the paperless process, you are becoming expert at what I’ll call PDFing. So you can easily create a well-organized digital document that is searchable with a detailed table of contents and digital bookmarks in a program such as Adobe Acrobat.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, are they usually done that way in Adobe? Do you usually get a PDF document that you can search online, is that what you are planning to do?
JoAnn Hathaway: Yes, so you can search say for instance with keywords in the document. Let me give you, for instance, Vicki, so say for instance what you are going to do and we are going to be addressing this is the vow, but I highly encourage that individual names and/or their titles be put in the document. So it might be Susan Jones who will open the mail, so if Susan Jones wanted to search the document over the 50-page PDF for any time her name was mentioned in the document, she could do that.
So there would be all different ways to keyword search within a document to quickly go to the relevant provision in the document.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Very quickly I want to ask you, so say Susan Jones quits and Mary Doug takes the job, you go through and change this document on, it’s easy to do, I understand, and that’s why it’s searchable, but that’s what you would do every time there was a change?
JoAnn Hathaway: You could do that. One of the things is and I would promote either a name and/or a position, but sometimes you have more than one or more of the same people with the same position title working in a firm, and so that could get depending on the size of the firm, that could get a bit confusing. So that’s going to have to be determined on a subjective basis.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Now let’s do one more before we take a break.
JoAnn Hathaway: Okay. Include the firm’s goals in the paperless policy, how will this actually make everyone’s life easier? People are often asking, why am I doing, is it really making a difference? And because the policy is going to have so many different categories, people may lose sight of why they aren’t doing something during the course of their day. So really impressed upon everyone how going paperless is going to make their life easier.
For instance, think if you didn’t have to go pull a file when a client called, review the file, then you ensure that everything was filed in the file and you call the client back to provide the information they were seeking, think of instead if you could immediately pull up their file when they first called, provide the information and then move on.
So the individual in the firm, they are having less stress, they are being able to provide better customer service, they have no waste of time, more billable time, and much more. So delineating those and incorporating goals and why things are being done in the policy will help people better understand why they are doing what it is they are doing usually on a daily basis.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, now we are going to take a short break and when we come back we’ll continue our discussion about policies to put in place when you’re going paperless, and we will continue that discussion with my guest JoAnn Hathaway. We will be right back.
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Vicki Voisin: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. I am Vicki Voisin and my guest today is JoAnn Hathaway, Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Michigan.
So JoAnn, I am really liking your tips that you have for us today. I just thought of a real bonus when you talk about the goals and making things easier and being able to look up a file, guess what, nobody can mess up the file.
I will tell you, every time I straighten a file, someone takes it and it comes back to me all needing organized again. So this is a bonus I think for going paperless.
JoAnn Hathaway: I think so too, Vicki. I was going to mention that it’s interesting when people work in a firm and more than one person touches the file, there is a partner, an associate, a clerk, a paralegal, a secretary, unfortunately with a paper file as efficient as people try to be, oftentimes, they end up with their file piles. And so even when you’re able to retrieve a file oftentimes you’re not sure if everything is really in the file that should be there.
Vicki Voisin: That’s right, and this is another reason why involving staff and all of this is so important, because I have to tell you, attorneys want to be organized, they don’t have time to be straightening out files and doing things like that, it’s always left to staff. And so I think when we can move on and make it easier for everyone, I think it’s just the perfect solution. So what’s your next tip?
JoAnn Hathaway: Okay, tip number 6 is, define individual and departmental needs before you begin to draft your policy. So think remote access, the mobile lawyer, digital signatures, imagine all of the possibilities and departmental needs within the firm. Different practice areas and different sized firms have different needs. So the team working on the policy needs to carefully screen firm numbers to determine what their needs are, to ensure they are met and adequately addressed in the paperless policy.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, all right and next?
JoAnn Hathaway: Next is tip number 7, do your research. Who has done this before and what is working? Who do you know who has taken their firm paperless? So talk to them, what worked, what didn’t work, what bumps in the road did they experience, how did it change their working environment?
I do have a word of caution here though, I highly encourage talking to more than one firm and talking to as many as possible, because you don’t want to get a change in view with just one way to do things, it’s really good to gather as much information and people who have experience says as possible.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Yeah, I understand why you need to talk to more than one person. So tip number 8?
JoAnn Hathaway: Tip number 8 is and I touched upon this just a few moments ago. We were talking about searching within a document. Name names and position titles and/or and give people responsibility. I want to add, the responsibility aspect to this. In your paperless policy indicate precisely who is going to be doing what? And I did give a little bit of an example but just by way of a further example, incoming mail will be opened upon receipt by the firm receptionist. After date stamping the mail it will be distributed to each lawyer’s legal secretary by 1 p.m. daily. In the event the lawyer’s legal secretary is out of the firm, the mail will be delivered directly to the lawyer or to an alternative individual identified by the lawyer. So you can see it needs to very detailed associated with times to the extent possible.
Vicki Voisin: Absolutely.
JoAnn Hathaway: Yeah, so studies have shown that if people are clearly made responsibility and identified in policies they are much more likely to be responded responsibly. So again, there should be no ambiguity.
Vicki Voisin: Right. And I am assuming during this transition that people should be reminded that they are going to be doing things two ways for maybe for a little while so there needs to be time to work all of this out. So I am just reminding staff and attorneys that they need to be very patient with this process.
JoAnn Hathaway: Yeah.
Vicki Voisin: So what about number 9?
JoAnn Hathaway: Well, I just wanted to add to what you just said though too, Vicki, is that we live as you know in an instant gratification culture and so people oftentimes think, oh, let’s just go paperless and they want to start doing it right away and they don’t want to do all the groundwork, so yes, that is definitely, sure I agree with what you said.
Tip number 9 is, develop a feedback and monitoring system and include it in your plan. You want to make people accountable. I see this all the time with policies and procedures, and not just in law firms but in several areas of business where people spend all of their time developing policies and they put their policy booklet on the shelf and they never look at it and they never go back and assess if people are following the policies and if they are working and if they can be enhanced.
So make people accountable, include this in your plan, don’t leave anyone surprised and you don’t want people to misunderstand why you are monitoring them or the process. So tell them upfront and have it in the plan that the processes will be monitored and that you highly encourage their feedback and how things are working, what is and what it isn’t working, and also that the monitoring is occurring to determine what in a process needs to be fine-tuned if anything to continue to refine the paperless processing.
Vicki Voisin: Yeah, very good. I can see the no surprises thing is really important especially to stay off. So, number 10.
JoAnn L. Hathaway: Number 10 is, take it for a test drive. You just said that you wanted to go slowly, so you tee this right up. So take it for a test drive and don’t rush the process of going paperless.
I recommend that after your policy is completely done, start with a few test files, preferably new ones so you can start at the gate and see how it goes for a month. So think of this as going beta.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, so you wouldn’t just say we are going to take all of our files, we are going to make all of our files paperless by August 31, you can’t do it that way, right?
JoAnn L. Hathaway: Correct.
Vicki Voisin: Yeah. Okay, now I have a real good question for you. If I had to start drafting a policy for our paperless system, I would not have any idea where to start, so are their samples, the State Bar have things for people to use, how do you come up with these policies?
JoAnn L. Hathaway: Interestingly and surprisingly I have never come across a template although I have been provided access to a few sample policies that firms have actually drafted, and what I found was that they are so firm-specific, they aren’t that useful to basically take and adopt into another firm. They are very helpful as that they provide ideas and samples and they can help get the creative juices flowing in a firm, that’s in a process of developing their own policy but I have never seen a one-size-fits-all template.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, so would it be better to contact somebody else who set up their own policies, better to contact may be the State Bar, the Law Office Management section of the State Bar see what’s happening or –
JoAnn L. Hathaway: Yeah, that would be very helpful. We have several resources and whitepapers that we can direct people to and webinars, so yes, they most certainly can use the State Bar of Michigan as a point of reference.
Vicki Voisin: And probably most State Bars in other states are working on this too. I know you are with the ABA a lot of the times, so could they probably turn through their own State Bar?
JoAnn L. Hathaway: Yes, they could and in fact many of the State Bar that have Practice Management Department and I would encourage anyone to just google PMAs of North America and there is a directory of all of the practice management advisors at the various Bar Associations.
Vicki Voisin: Oh great.
JoAnn L. Hathaway: So that would be a good resource for people to rely upon.
Vicki Voisin: Great. Thank you for that, I didn’t know that even existed, JoAnn. Well, you have been a terrific guest. I can’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t want to go ahead and go paperless, I know people who have tried and hasn’t worked and so forth, but just the fact that you don’t have the messy files anymore, I would just – I am behind it all the way, it’s just got to happen. So tell me how can people get in touch with you if they want to do that?
JoAnn L. Hathaway: I would be happy to take calls and emails from people. My email address is [email protected] and my direct-dial phone number is (517) 346-6381.
Vicki Voisin: Perfect, thank you very much. I am very excited about this topic. I often have people ask me how to make it happen and I have to tell you, I don’t know even where to tell them to start, so now I do.
So let’s take another short break and I don’t want our listeners to go away because when I come back I will have news and career tips for you.
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Vicki Voisin: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. I hope you enjoyed JoAnn’s tips; I certainly did, and now it’s time for my practice tip for today, and what I want to do, is to talk to you for just a brief minute about your social media footprint. How much you are involved with social media and the different aspects of what your involvement can do for you?
Really all of us are on social media now, it’s the part of our everyday lives, our everyday jobs, and it’s also a part of either the success or failure of both a job search and being on the job, whether you keep your job or not. Most of us are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter; there are others being added all the time, but when we talk about being on social media in terms of either getting fired or losing your chance to get hired what we are talking about is your footprint. Be sure that you are posting appropriate pictures that you avoid any racial slurs; that you avoid any nasty comments about your boss or your colleagues or about the people that may have just interviewed you.
I would also highly recommend that you don’t talk about the political campaign that’s going on or any other political campaign, because that can rile somebody who either wants to hire you or you may be working for them. It just can put you on the bad side of someone.
But anyway, if you are really active on social media, another thing that can happen is that your employer may question whether or not you are spending too much time on social media.
I particularly remember a person who worked in a government position and she was posting on Facebook all the time. Now, she was using her cellphone to do her posting; she wasn’t doing it on the government’s computer, but the other thing is, is that a lot of people saw these posts and she was being paid by taxpayer money, and if taxpayers also think that you are spending too much time on Facebook, they can complain and that can cause you to lose your job. Also, many employers do look at social media when they are ready to hire someone. I know that that usually happens all the time.
So especially keep things to yourself. Don’t publicize that you are going to an interview, you have just finished an interview, because some companies really don’t like to have that made public that they are doing — even doing any interviews.
And one last thing that I want to bring up is that often current employers or future employers may ask you for your password so that they can look at your social media accounts. You don’t have to do that and I would say — I would just decline to do that. There are different states enacting laws that will make it illegal for employers to ask for that information. So I would just decline to provide that, and if it makes a difference on whether you are either hired or fired, then I would take that up with someone who can help you.
All right, that is all the time that we have for The Paralegal Voice today. I hope you enjoyed JoAnn’s comments. I certainly always love to have her as a guest. And then the other thing is that I want you to be sure that you check out my website and my blog. You can get to the blog by going to HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentor.com” paralegalmentor.com, and don’t forget to check out the resources there, because they have been designed to help you move your career in the right direction. We all know that that direction is always forward.
So this is Vicki Voisin, thanking you for listening to The Paralegal Voice, and reminding you that we all need to make our paralegal voices heard.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
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