Presentation to ALPMA by Dianne McDonald, Practice Manager at mdp, on Paper-light

Michael McDonaldDirector, mdp Law

Following on from her paper-light article in our May 2016 newsletter, mdp Practice Manager Dianne McDonald was invited to co-present on 24 August 2016 to ALPMA (Australasian Legal Practice Manager Association) on mdp’s transition to paper-light.


It would appear that paper-light is still a challenge to many law firms, with only a mere 5% of legal practices in Australia taking on the practice. Dianne discovered that many of the practice managers attending the ALPMA presentation were constrained by several factors such as:

  1. Older lawyers refusing to change the way they work.
  2. Confusion about how it would work and the systems that are required.
  3. Colleagues claiming that ‘it can never work with litigation’.
  4. They had tried to introduce it but were doing it gradually so it never took off.
  5. Their technology was not adequate to make paper-light possible

In order for paper-light to really take hold, everyone needs to be on board and working together. You may have one or two colleagues wary of taking it on, but perhaps having the more technologically savvy members of your admin team to assist them with the transition will help alleviate any concerns they may have.

To combat confusion within your firm, holding a meeting and presenting to the team helps with clearing up any queries, and gives everyone a forum to discuss the benefits and ask questions.

It may seem daunting and impossible at first, but it is good to remind the naysayers that many government bodies (including courts) are now becoming paperless, therefore bringing in paper-light practices now will help keep your firm ahead of the game. It is also important to note that there is nothing wrong with printing out what you need, should physical documents be required for court. Being paper-light means that this process will be much easier and more efficient as the documents you need will be at your fingertips, rather than spread across multiple physical files. This will also save the sanity of your admin staff, who are usually the ones having to collate the briefs and other paperwork.

What we discovered at mdp was that ‘gradually introducing’ paper-light didn’t work. One of the biggest tips we can give firms is to set a date for the change and stick to it. Have your physical files ready for scanning and a good naming practice in place, with all available hands on deck to make the process as smooth and painless as possible.

Technology-wise, if you have a document management system, then paper-light is within your reach. Whether it’s using already available functions within your practice management software or your firm’s usual server (which should be easily migrated should you upgrade to a more document-friendly practice management software), it is worth figuring out a way to make saving documents electronically work for your firm.