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Paperless Law Firm

San Diego Law Firm prefers pixels to paper

Attorneys file almost everything electronically

By Jennifer McEntee

To the unknowing eye, the North Park office suite of San Diego Law Firm looks like any other. Desks, chairs, computers. It’s what’s missing that managing partner William Simon Jr. thinks sets the office apart from others in the local legal community: paper. Sure, there are Post-It notes and mail and business cards. But what you won’t find at San Diego Law Firm are boxes and boxes of legal case files. There are no filing cabinets to store files new or old. There are no paper trays on the desks. The 2828 University Ave. office has gone to great lengths to put as much as possible of its paperwork in electronic form. Legal documents are scanned and stored on computer servers. When feasible, filings are made online and papers are served by e-mail.

Attorney William Simon doesn't shun all paper products, as evidenced by the books on his office desk.

Said Simon: “In the old days, you would misplace files. You know, ‘Who has the Jones file?’ You’re walking around, everyone’s looking, and you’re interrupting everybody else who’s working. If it doesn’t turn up within an hour, you have everybody looking for it. Turns out someone called in sick that day and it’s on their desk.”

Now, finding a misplaced file is as simple as doing a keyword search, Simon said.

The switch to a paperless office began in 2005 as a “green” initiative. “We started with our current caseload to where we just said, OK, everything that comes in from this day forward will be on a paperless system,” said Simon. “Then we started going backwards. We said, OK, now let’s take all of our existing cases that were in the office more than three months ago. Once we completed that, we worked through all of our closed cases.”

An employee was brought in just to scan documents into the computer. She worked every day, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., for about six months to make all the conversions.

Law firms are required to keep closed case files for at least five years. San Diego Law Firm used to keep all its old paper files in a big storage room. “As we were growing, we used to imagine that room getting bigger and bigger to the point that maybe one day our storage would be bigger than our actual office,” Simon said. By creating electronic versions of those files, more floor space was freed up. “That was really enlightening to see that one big room go down to nothing,” he said.

Recycle bins are located in the law firm's kitchen.

San Diego Law Firm specializes in business and real estate law, estate planning divorce, custody and accident and injury law. The firm has had a number of locations since its formation in 1988 as Simon & Parashos, including Downtown San Diego and Mission Valley. The firm, which took on its current name in 2000, was in a large, 1960s-era building in Lemon Grove when it went paperless. “All of a sudden our offices were too big,” said Simon. “We wanted to relocate where we could have smaller offices.” Both Simon and partner Tom Parashos had lived in North Park at one point.

Said Simon: “When we looked at all the different choices, North Park just was blinking on the map to us, saying ‘come here, come here!’”

They bought four office suites in the University Avenue mixed-use building in 2008. San Diego Law Firm occupies about 1,800 feet of that space today, and is expanding into another 650 square feet in the next couple months. That suite is currently under renovation.

An attorney's minimalist office.

Simon said the expansion is necessary because the firm has grown by six employees over the last year. San Diego Law Firm has 20 employees, though many telecommute. Some attorneys are only in the office a couple days a week, he said, and even share the same minimalist workspace on alternating days.

With the ability to telecommute, IT support from Lawgistics Inc., and space-conserving designs from San Diego Office Interiors, San Diego Law Firm is able to fit more staff in less square footage.

“Paperless allows you to change the way you do business,” said Simon. “That’s the beginning: you have to get all the paper on the server. Once the information is on the server, then you can start telecommuting.”

Simon said he often works from home and on the road, even working a few hours a day on a recent family vacation to Orlando, Fla. While some question why he would want to work on vacation, Simon said the ability to always be connected means he can actually take more vacations. “If I have my cell phone and laptop, I can work from anywhere.”

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