The surprising dangers of going paperless // Opinion

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When we decided to go paperless, we thought it would make our lives easier. How wrong we were

By Sana Halwani and Paul-Erik Veel

On Tuesday May 29th, 2018

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We’re both downtown litigators who’ve, somehow, managed to go completely paperless. That means no more reviewing printed drafts of letters and factums. No more physical binders for discovery prep. Nothing but an iPad when we enter the courtroom for applications and appeals.

And guess what? Overall, it was pretty easy. In fact, it was a lot easier than either of us expected. Our iPads are simple to transport; documents are easy to find. But there have been some unintended consequences. As it turns out, practising law in a paper-filled world has plenty of perks. So, before you swap your printed briefs for PDFs, here are the 10 things we miss most about paper.

1. Since trading in bankers boxes for iPads, we don’t get nearly as much exercise. The last-minute dash to court, litigation cart in tow with five boxes stacked on it, was (according to our Fitbits) a peak-heart-rate workout. What are we supposed to do now — get gym memberships?

opinion dog illustration2. Our billable hours on each file have dropped, since we don’t have to spend hours looking for random documents in physical file folders. Meanwhile, we’re also a bit nostalgic for the musty seaside smell released when opening an old bankers box for the first time in a decade.

3. Worse still, that drop in billable hours per file has led people to assume we have a lot more time to do their work. When you don’t have binders and documents covered in tabs all over your desk, everyone thinks you have nothing going on.

4. Paper cuts are the lawyer’s war wounds. With physical fights out of the question (damn civility rules), extensive paper cuts were the scars of doing battle. Now we look like neophytes.

5. It’s become a lot harder to intimidate discovery witnesses now that we don’t have giant stacks of paper sitting on the table to ask them about.

6. Damn it. What if management realizes that we don’t really need offices anymore?

7. Our best excuse to avoid out-of-town hearings is gone. When we didn’t finish a factum on time, we used to be able to blame the courier company for losing the materials. Who are we supposed to blame now? Our dogs aren’t big enough to eat our iPads.

8. Our articling students are going soft. Gone are the days of demanding that they print and bind briefs at midnight. Asking them to bookmark PDFs isn’t quite the same. How are they supposed to become good lawyers now?

9. No more free dinners at the office. Before we went paperless, the briefs would be too heavy to take home in the evening. That meant eating at work on the firm’s dime. Now we have to go grocery shopping and cook for ourselves.

10. Print Three doesn’t send us holiday baskets anymore. We still love you, Print Three! Haven’t our first decades as paper-loving lawyers built up enough goodwill for a few more baskets?

So sure, going paperless has its advantages, but it’s not all kittens and rainbows. You’d better think long and hard about whether you really want to abandon paper.

 


Sana Halwani

Paul-Erik VeelSana Halwani and Paul-Erik Veel are both partners at Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP in Toronto.

 

 

 


This story is from our Summer 2018 Issue.


Illustration by Michael George Haddad