Paper-free practice

Edoc prepared by Stephen Twist       

The proposal:

Paper-free by the end of 2012? ‘Paper-use’ practices are costly – intensive of resources for production, management, storage, print and copy hardware, production cost, delivery cost, and environmental damage.

The benefits for clients:

Showing that you are at the cutting edge of technological developments – innovative, attentive to service commitment and are operating environmentally sound practice.

The benefits for you:

Competitive advantage, significant reduction in costs – DX, post, brief administration time, travel costs; personal convenience such as collecting and transporting papers, and electronic searching of documents.

The process:

You will have the capacity prepare and distribute all documents in ‘Word’ format or PDF files. Skeleton arguments, draft orders and case summaries can be integrated with the court’s ‘E’ initiative.

Pilot experience

I have conducted three pilots where all of the papers were received electronically:  one private law child case and two family finance cases: involving two solicitors.

Pilot method

  • Solicitors prepared and sent instructions electronically as an ‘attached file’.
  • Other documents required were either sourced electronically (such as CAFCASS/ Guardian/ S.7 reports/ Form E/ questionnaires and replies/ valuations/ position statements/ transcripts); or scanned (such as party correspondence/ offers/ LA contact sheets/ medical or psychological reports/ case notes/ education reports). These were then attached within the file.
  • Documents drafted by counsel were sent direct to the solicitor with a copy to counsel’s clerk for billing, or emailed to the Family Team clerks to be forwarded by email. Documents from counsel to the court were emailed via the clerks for convenience and accounting purposes.

Feedback from solicitor

The solicitors reported:

  • significant reduction in preparation time by support staff: scanning is as simple as photocopying and only needs to be done once before the document is archived or shredded;
  • savings on 7 year storage costs; only electronic copies are retained;
  • simple ‘receipting’ of delivered instructions: knowing when papers were received and/or opened by counsel;
  • quicker communication with counsel;
  • faster response time in receiving documents from counsel;
  • easier up-dating of counsel with latest indices;
  • dispensing with problem of ‘returned papers’ and their storage at conclusion of case;
  • easier case progress tracking.

Problems arising in pilot

These were remarkably few for a new initiative. Counsel was more time-accountable: solicitors emailed the files direct with a Ctrl+r (reply to sender) so they knew when instructions were accessed. Counsel had to become technically sharper, using new applications. All documents had to be accessed from screen, although with e-tabs and touch-screen highlights this was not an issue. The judges in the pilot cases did not avail themselves of electronic access, but it is hoped that in future pilots this will be the case.

Benefits to counsel arising in pilot

  • Not having to arrange to collect case papers from chambers/ other counsel.
  • Getting only what counsel needed, rather than everything just because it was in the file.
  • Not to have to transport ring files.
  • Settling orders on screen and emailing them from iPad or android to parties, solicitors and the court.
  • In one case outside the pilot, eight lever arch files of ‘hearing transcripts’ were scanned to e-file for electronic searching.

Way forward

  • Develop safe systems whereby solicitors can email instructions to the appropriate department clerk who will then electronically receipt to the solicitor and forward instructions to counsel.
  • Ensure in local authority-led cases, that all parties receive the latest updated e-file and document index.
  • You will be under a duty to acknowledge receipt of instructions; the acknowledgment will be saved within the case file held by your clerks.
  • Where instructions or cases are returned, members will be under a duty to do this via your department clerk who will ensure forward transmission by email (to maintain an audit trail).
  • Documents prepared by members and sent to solicitors direct should be ‘cc’ to the department clerk for the purpose of billing.
  • Members should ensure that they are applying appropriate Data Protection as data processors.

Advertising the initiative

As systems are developed, you will need an ‘electronic instruction’ entry on your web site setting out the systems, safeguards and benefits of electronic instruction.

Solicitors, local authority representatives, guardians and expert witnesses would be notified of the service and invited to attend an information evening at which the development of paper-free practice can be shared.


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5 comments on “Paper-free practice

  1. Some may say that they cannot work from screen and need the touch of paper, highlighter pen and ‘post-it’. Well, have I got news for you: this is exactly what you can achieve with the latest Ipad2!

    Instead of rummaging through the index, you click it. Rather than turning 365 pages to section E, you click the link in the index. Immediately there, you turn the pages silently with the tip of your finger. Ah, this is the page….then tab it to save it to the tab bar. And that is the comment I was looking for – so highlight it in yellow, pink (or the colour of your opponent’s eyes) as they search yet another file.

    You simply cannot afford to fall behind in this regard. Several local authorities are moving swiftly to paper-free instruction. When they have done this, solicitors will follow. Your clerks will be given instruction that they are not to print out your papers, but forward the file to your in-box where it will await you. Those who do not, or cannot use the technology, will just not get instructed – there are plenty more competent practitioners out there who do.

    The solution is to ask your husband/wife/partner/son/daughter – or techi friend to get you the right Ipad. Get them to unpack it, set it up for your use, and give you a short tutorial on how to use it. Then experiment (or play). After two weeks you will be ready to sail: Leeds, Newcastle, Hull, Teesside here I come, carrying nothing more than my handbag!

    How about hosting a bi-monthly ‘tech-party’ for members and selected solicitors? How better than to learn from the experts?

  2. Helen Proops says:

    I am now trying to go paperless for interim hearings and fdrs. They work well – private clients like to have someone who seems up to date.
    Final hearings are a little problematic as the two pages open at once approach that is sometimes needed in for eg cross examination is difficult. Reading quotations off screen is likewise problematic for us oldies with less than 20/20 vision

  3. Increasingly I’m dealing with other parties who aren’t represented. The very fact that they are unrepresented generally indicates they wont be able to go paperless. Looking to to future, does anyone have any idea how we deal with this?

  4. According to the Parliamentary business web:
    “In 2009 over 99% of UK households were connected to a broadband enabled exchange. … Of the 10.2 million adults in the UK who have never even used the internet, 4 million (9% of the population) are also considered socially excluded”.

    With a current population level in UK of about 64m (of which 38m are aged 17-65, 12.7m are aged 5-16, and 13.3m over 65 years) the statistics for those adults who have never used the internet is relatively small, and shrinking.

    My guess is that issuing claims, paying by debit card and pleading on-line will become first an option, and then ‘the norm’. The next step to filing evidence on line will be a short hop away.

    Yes, in public law family cases and criminal cases I can see that ‘paper’ will have to remain an option, but in civil, commercial, financial, employment and even private law family cases paper is likely to feature less and less as time goes by.

  5. […] cases, and restorative solutions appearing increasingly in criminal processes. Perhaps my vision of paper-free practices was less visionary. Third party investment in the legal profession was an event that foretold of a […]

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