Lawyers defend the tradition of paper

Lawyers defend the tradition of paper

The comfortable experience of reading through long documents in a library, whilst drinking a coffee and making notes on the contract, is a hard one to shake for lawyers, even in this world when most businesses have embraced digital records management.

Although lawyers have adopted electronic document records management in the court room, to manage mountains of paper work needed for quick and easy retrieval in high profile cases, they do not need these processes in their day to day business.

John Lambrick, General Counsel at RMIT University of Public Affairs, said that a paperless office in a law firm is technically possible due to the combined effect of electronic transactions legislation and public key infrastructure, but lawyers prefer to use paper for cultural reasons. "Electronic transactions legislation is now in force throughout Australia and gives electronic transactions the same legal effect as paper transactions. PKI assures identity and integrity in respect of internet communications."

"But there is not such a need for this to be used in business to business transactions, such as joint venture agreement and mergers. So lawyers will not switch to using electronic documents until they are forced to by external circumstances. The security is there, its just that lawyers feel much more comfortable thumbing through paper in a cosy environment of their choice instead of scanning through a computer screen."

"Paper is much more user friendly for them, and they can work in an environment of serendipity. Even young lawyers prefer to use paper to read and scribble on."

Lambrick added that lawyers are very adaptable to technological change though, and many commercial lawyers work in an environment where they use both paper and electronic documents.

For instance, they advise people over email, then print out the email and attach it to paper documents to be used as a hard copy for reference purposes.

The slow uptake of electronic document processes for lawyers could also be attributed to the habit of signing hard copy documents. Again, this could be replaced with the use of public key infrastructure, but then interoperability issues would have to be ironed out too.

Overall though, Lambrick believes it is a chicken and egg situation. Once the practice becomes common, he said that lawyers will change their traditions and adapt to the necessities of the new digital generation.

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