Written in ink. Signed on the dotted line. Leaving a paper trail. We use these phrases to talk about business conducted on paper— and man, they make us feel good, don’t they? They’re stolid, dependable, even tactile. On twenty or two hundred sheets of paper, you can buy a house, get married, or file your taxes. You can dig through a cabinet and pull out a stack of folders holding all of the information related to a case. You can hit the library and page through the history of your industry, not to mention the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, or the creation of the atomic bomb.
In other words, paper has a quality of presence. We can visualize it in real space; we can touch it with our hands. And that’s part of the reason, even with so much wonderful technology available to us, the conversion to a less paper-based practice can look and feel so hard. Conducting business online seems, for many, both dubious and impermanent. Even the language we use to talk about digital information makes it sound inconcrete: after all, where does information go when it’s stored in the vague abstraction we call “the cloud?”
So we find ourselves hanging on to paper: not only because it still dominates legal practice, but because of our intuitive assumptions about its stability. To successfully make our businesses more digital, we need to change our thinking, and understand that even though paper seems permanent, it’s really one of the most ineffective tools we have to help get things done.
For instance, unlike digital information, which can frequently be recovered, paper can be irretrievably lost. It can be misplaced, left in a cab, or wiped out if your office’s basement floods. It can’t easily be shared. To access it, paper requires everyone’s presence in the same room, or (expensive, tedious and time-consuming) photocopies. It is the definition of insecure: paper can’t be password-protected or encrypted, and gives its information to anyone who can get her hands on it.
But it’s hard to change our conception of things, right? In the coming weeks, we’ll talk more about the eventual death of paper—and why you shouldn’t view it as a bad thing. Transitioning to a more technology-oriented workplace won’t be easy, but it’s worth doing, and can help you grow your business. Keep an eye on our blog and we’ll show you why.
– Kat Stromquist