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The Paperless Mediation Office

My ADR business went mostly paperless in 1999 and fully paperless in 2006 when technology improvements made it more feasible to go whole hog.

I’ve started getting a fair number of questions from readers and workshop participants about going paperless, so here’s the run-down of my approach.

I know that some of you feel a fair attachment to the security of paper and understand it. If that’s you, you can still choose to reduce your paper reliance in places that feel right.

Why paperless?

  • It’s efficient. Digital files are much easier to tag, search and locate in a heartbeat. It beats looking for something in a paper file hands down.
  • It’s environmentally responsible. I’ve cared about my carbon footprint since before it was chic to care. So if something doesn’t need to be printed, it isn’t. And, it turns out, that’s pretty much everything.
  • It’s good customer service. I can deliver documents to clients much more rapidly in digital format and that’s just good customer service.
  • It’s attractive. I’d rather use the space formerly taken up by file cabinets for plants and other things that make my office aesthetically pleasing to work in.

How I manage a paperless ADR office

This isn’t the only way, probably, but it’s worked well for me for a decade. And it’s gotten much easier as technology has evolved and gotten more user friendly (more on this below).

  1. All documents are scanned and filed digitally using a search-friendly system. And I do mean all documents: receipts, correspondence, training certificates, business cards, insurance policies. I’m a big fan of the Fujitsu ScanSnap for making scans a cinch.
  2. All client files are kept in a database that I and my assistant can access from anywhere. That’s good, since I’m in NH and she’s in Chicago! We use Highrise for client relationship management.
  3. Bills and invoices are generated, sent and saved electronically. I’ve been using FreshBooks for a couple of years now and have had excellent experience with it.
  4. Current clients have access to their files and our correspondence via a secure web interface. I use Basecamp for this, a product made by the same company behind Highrise.
  5. Calendar and contacts are all on my computer and my phone, and they sync automatically with one another.
  6. My system backs itself up remotely as files are changed so I don’t have to worry about a computer crash or loss of backups due to fire or water damage. I use a combination of Dropbox and BackBlaze for this (I’ve also used the excellent Mozy before BackBlaze). I’ll write more about Dropbox and BackBlaze soon.

An approach for going paperless

If you’re intrigued by the idea of going paperless, here are some ways to get started:

  • Don’t try to do it all at once. Pick one of the approaches above and commit to it, then phase in other approaches as you’re ready and able.
  • For your filing system, start digitizing paper that comes in from here forward and worry about the old files later.
  • Before you scan a single item, set up your digital filing system. I highly recommend choosing a scanner and software that will create searchable scans and allows you to tag digital files (ScanSnap does, and I also like Yep).
  • Create a simple process for tracking what needs digitizing. I use a hanging file folder for to-be-scanned items; you may wish or need something a bit more complex.
  • Keep up with it. If you let documents accrue, it’ll be daunting to carry your digital dream forward. It takes me about 15 minutes per week to keep up with the scanning and digital filing.
  • If you’ve got tons of old files, scan them in small chunks over a period of weeks or months (so the monotony doesn’t kill you or your staff) or hire a document scanning service to do it for you. There’s probably a reputable one in your community and there are also services like Shoeboxed.

What questions do you have about going paperless? Leave them in the comments and I’ll follow up.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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