Paper will remain central to legal sector until courts are reformed, warns Annodata

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A recent survey conducted by Annodata – provider of communications, managed print and IT services – has found that the vast majority of law firms expect their dependence on paper to decrease over the next five years. This is in stark contrast to current print volumes, which have increased consistently over the years. The question therefore is why is there a disparity between law firms expectations and actual output?

According to the Managed Service Provider, the answer lies in the fact that until the law courts are reformed to require fewer physical pages, current paper output will remain at current levels (or possibly even grow particularly with the continued explosion of email communication and the subsequent requirement to print copies for court bundles). To help alleviate this, law firms must focus their efforts on smarter print and document management practices.

Annodata conducted a survey of 100 legal IT directors at the British Legal IT Forum about their print and document management practices and priorities for the next five years. The results revealed that in spite of the fact that 82 per cent of law firms expect their paper usage to go down over the next five years, just 42 per cent had implemented managed print and document services and half have no plans to do so. When asked about their print priorities for the year ahead, 55 per cent stated their main focus was to drive down costs, followed by improving reliability (20 per cent). In spite of strict data protection requirements, just three per cent stated that improving security was their biggest print priority.

Responding to the results, Rod Tonna-Barthet, Annodata's Group Sales Director, said: "Reducing paper consumption and driving down costs are intrinsically linked to managed print and document services, so it's surprising that half of law firms haven't yet made the connection. There's a disparity between what is believed to be happening and what we have seen consistently over the last few years; far from going down, paper volumes have increased.

"Court requirements in particular are hampering efforts to cut down on paper; it's not unusual for lawyers support staff to spend hours at the photocopier and hauling documents to court, only for them to end up in the shredder or physically archived somewhere, not having been referred to. Given advances in technology and the proliferation of mobile devices, it's bizarre that far more cost effective and environmentally friendly practices haven't been adopted. Until the court system is overhauled, nothing much will change with regards to the required paper output, and with that being the case, law firms will need to get smarter about how they print, store and manage their documentation.

"With the integration of current document workflow software, legal practices are able to integrate document management into their own software infrastructure. The benefit is the ability to shift physical paper storage into digital archives and store for later retrieval at significantly lower costs and space than traditional paper storage. Reducing the amount of space needed for paper documents will have a knock on reduction in real estate costs and give the practice the choice to either improve margin or create more competitive fee structures (or both). At the moment, only a few leading-edge law firms appear to be considering this approach," Tonna-Barthet continued.

"Critical in considering this strategy are two factors: a clearly thought out IT strategy and a vendor with the experience, vision and the IT capabilities to help the practice develop this strategy through to deployment. By working with a specialist third party it's possible to rationalise the print estate down and get staff thinking more critically about the pages that they print and how they are stored and retrieved. A further benefit is security. Left unattended for too long, printed documents are as exposed as any piece of data and there's a high risk that confidential documents could be seen by prying eyes. However, with the right planning and management, from a physical and technical point of view, printed documents shouldn't pose a security risk.

"Link this with the law firms own communication strategy and a clearly thought through document management strategy will ultimately improve their clients' customer experience as documents can be retrieved at the click of a button, shared collaboratively over secure internet platforms, with partners, fee earners and customers (saving time and travel costs), reducing costs and providing competitive advantage.

"Annodata has a long history of working with the legal sector and has seen first hand the benefits that can be had from a managed print service, from driving down costs, cutting emissions and energy usage, and lowering paper consumption, improving the customer experiences and winning new client opportunities," he concluded.

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