Going Paperless It's the end of the bi-fold as we know it (and we feel fine)

February 01, 2010

February 1, 2010 (Mountain View, CA) - In an article published in the February 2010 issue of Managing Partners magazine, Robert Brownstone and Matt Kesner review Fenwick & West's process of going paperless and discuss the advice the firm's Electronic Information Management (EIM) Group provides provide to clients on the most appropriate document management, retention and destruction issues, and security policies for their own data stores.

Brownstone and Kesner discuss the three-pronged approach recommended to align internal processes with managing a paperless environment. They refer to this approach as "The 3-Es": establish, educate and enforce. "The 3-Es" focus on establishing better collaboration inside and outside the firm, eliminating repetitiveness and adopting the use of digital forms wherever possible resulting in a more skilled and efficient workforce. "Only with these three Es in place do we focus our colleagues on technology. Technology is only an implementation mechanism. It is not a magic bullet. In fact, we do not believe that business process changes can be successful when sold in the guise of a software or hardware roll-out. It is only when you engage with colleagues in frank communication about the policies and reasons for them that you can achieve a change in behavior."

The next step is the actual process of going paperless by dealing with stored documents as well as adapting new processes for the intake of incoming documents. Grappling with the papers of the past is often where projects of this sort fall apart. Brownstone and Kesner suggest skipping this process until the systems for current paper and future paper are resolved. "When those vested in the old system see the new opportunities that these projects bring, they are often much more accepting of change to the old systems."

Digital storage systems and extranets seem like easy and obvious solutions to tackling the paperless revolution, however, the trick is getting everyone on board with the concept. Brownstone and Kesner drive this conversion by pointing out that a very large percentage of what was once paperwork is now only available electronically through e-mail, electronic filings and extranets. Clients' demand and appreciation for electronic documents and extranets continues to be the most persuasive argument.

As Fenwick & West improved their own evolving electronic process, they became aware that clients were grappling with similar issues. Fenwick formed their EIM group to "advise clients on legally compliant and technologically sound methods of retention, preservation and destruction of electronic information." The group designs policies and protocols specific to each client and advises on policies that are already in place. Fenwick also uses unique software and tools for the process of data collection and analysis. "Our methods typically reduce the volume of reviewed data by a factor of 10 to 100, thus driving down client's costs by more than 20 per cent." The EIM group also includes a practice support team that conducts computer data and data systems investigations. "Our firm has invested in a digital environment that is paying dividends in terms of more efficient and less costly services for clients."