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Going Paperless? It May Be Your Ethical Obligation

By Andrew Lu | Last updated on

A new study finds that 28 percent of law firms are going paperless, or plan to do so within five years. So that leaves 72 percent of firms with apparently no plan to go paperless. Would these firms be in violation of their professional ethics by not exploring the paperless option?

Surprisingly, the answer may be "yes." Over the summer, the American Bar Association approved a new commentary to their rules that would make it a professional obligation for lawyers and firms to keep up with technology trends, writes ScanSnap.

As technological trends are pointing towards paperless options, this may mean that lawyers are obligated to start looking into ways to reduce their paper use.

The new commentary to ABA's Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 on professional competence provides that "to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill," a lawyer "should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology."

ScanSnap suggests that lawyers with obsolete file management technology and who insist on printing everything out should beware of potentially violating these rules.

Fortunately for lawyers, there are many ways to go paperless. These can include scanning paper files, storing electronic records in the cloud, and utilizing everyday tools like iPads and smartphones to perform research or read documents.

But before diving head-first into the paperless world, attorneys should also be aware of some potential perils. Because documents are digitized, stored in amorphous clouds, and accessed in places like cafes and airports, you must be aware of security and privacy risks.

Fittingly, along with the rule that lawyers stay abreast of current technology, the ABA also introduced new confidentiality rules that require attorneys to make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of private client information, reports ScanSnap.

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