Oxfordshire County Council’s legal team could be saying a permanent goodbye to filing after successfully completing their first ‘paperless’ case.
Like most local authorities, the council has sought to reduce paperwork in recent years – freeing up office space, reducing costs and helping the environment in the process. But in late 2013, the idea of taking this a step further occurred to the legal team.
Childcare solicitor Christabel Ashby explains:
‘We had been serving documents electronically for some time and email has long been our primary method of communication, but we wanted to extend that and make everything else electronic as well.
The judge was really enthusiastic about the experiment and was instrumental from the outset in soliciting the right sort of case
‘The judge was really enthusiastic about the experiment and was instrumental from the outset in soliciting the right sort of case – one which we knew was relatively straightforward and involved a high level of agreement between the parties.
All parties were informed they would be receiving their bundle electronically and it was agreed that neither the judge nor the council’s fee earner would take paper to the court hearings.
‘Document bundles are constantly evolving during a case and everything has to be correctly indexed and paginated. Creating these electronically was a big challenge as we didn’t have the right IT infrastructure, but we managed to find a way of doing it ‘by hand’ using Adobe Acrobat, which was time consuming and wouldn’t have been a viable solution for working on multiple cases, but we got there in the end.
Having overcome a few other hurdles – including ensuring internet connectivity in the courtroom – the trial went ahead smoothly, and with nothing to archive at the end.
Buoyed by the experience, the council’s legal team is further developing its electronic approach, with progressively fewer tasks routinely generating paperwork. They are also investigating a range of ‘e-bundling’ software packages that could help make paperless casework the norm in future.
“Some people in our team still miss their piles of paper, but the enthusiasm grows once you start to see the benefits of going paperless – particularly not having to do filing anymore. In the end it’s really just a matter of learning to work with a screen rather than a bundle of papers’, says Ashby.
Without the need for physical access to files, staff can work anywhere, and you don’t have to flick through reams of paper. There’s no doubt it makes life easier.
‘It’s not just the obvious gains in terms of reducing admin and saving on office space. Without the need for physical access to files, staff can work anywhere, and you don’t have to flick through reams of paper – you can just enter a search term which might bring up four pages to scan through instead of 400. There’s no doubt it makes life easier.
’It’s a much more consistent approach and avoids the duplication of typing up handwritten notes or making several copies of the same document. I must admit to wondering what would have happened if my laptop had died in the courtroom or if everything was stored safely, but ultimately we had great support from our IT colleagues and you trust that they know what they are doing.’