Innovation and paperless – digitisation of the workplace

As the legal sector moves to embrace digital with the adoption of paperless systems and virtual hearings, Chris Ronan, Chief Executive at St John’s Buildings, explores the benefits new methods of working can offer for businesses.

Striving to implement efficient methods of working through new technology should be a fundamental objective within any growing business. Advancements in technology and digitisation continue to diminish the argument for traditional methods of working, while the excuses for businesses failing to capitalise have become scarcer still.

Companies across the globe are recognising inefficient practices and rectifying them, incorporating techniques that are not only helping the environment, but are also saving vast sums of money, sparking collaboration and improving connectivity in the workplace.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the legal sector. Steeped in tradition, it is an industry that is historically paper-driven, with court bundles, witness statements, legal forms and documents that are all printed, authenticated, checked, duplicated, triplicated and so on.

While law firms have been generally hesitant to implement technology that may disrupt the usual order of play, its wasteful practices have now been recognised and changes are incoming. The sector find itself in the midst of a digital revolution, spearheaded by a move towards paperless working environments that are set to revamp the way firms and the people in them operate.

As a business operating within the legal industry, we at St John’s Buildings (SJB) have sought to be at the forefront this trend. In 2014, we launched our three-year strategy to move to a paperless environment, which is expected to see the business go from being paper driven to paper light within 12 months and remove paper altogether by 2021.

This alone is anticipated to generate a substantial saving of over £350,000 per year. Should similar practices be rolled out across the legal sector as a whole, that figure would likely enter the hundreds of millions of pounds. Spread further to wider industries, savings would increase to the billions.

The monetary benefits of reducing paper within a business are clear. Less paper means less costs for printers, stationery bills, postage, couriers’ fees, secure archive storage, and secure shredding. It may even result in an ability for businesses, especially those reliant on large volumes of paper, to reduce the space they occupy.

The financial merit of the digitisation of the workplace is underpinned by the security and ease of use it offers to businesses and their employees. The need for businesses to protect their data is now more important than ever before and encryption of information means there are tangible safeguards to ensure this is achievable.

The argument does remain, however, whether information can ever be truly safe. Cybercrime poses a growing threat for businesses with banks of digital information, demonstrated most recently by the ransomware attack on the NHS.

Affecting 48 trusts in England alone, the attack highlighted both the vulnerability of swathes of information given one unsecured device and the increasing volume of offences contrary to the Computer Misuse Act in recent years. While this should rightly be of significant concern to business owners in the era of digitisation, it is often very simple procedures, such as strong passwords and general virus protection, that ensure data is secured.

Indeed, with an increasingly computer literate population emerging, the threat of cybercrime should not be a barrier for businesses to explore the use of technology within the workplace.

Digital methods of working are set to change the way in which employees collaborate and communicate with each other. The implementation of newer forms of messaging tools, such as instant messaging, allow employees to communicate more effectively and share ideas, while wikis, web conferencing, and apps are all tools that can develop collaboration within the workplace to create a community environment and an office where staff want to work.

At St John’s Buildings, our barristers are independent workers who need to access information quickly and easily. The move to adopt digital systems of working reflects the needs of the contemporary work environment, allowing both our barristers and the wider legal industry to foster an efficient and innovative approach.

The legal industry is generally an industry that takes its responsibilities seriously, whether that is to the court, the regulatory bodies or to the quality of the service we provide. The barristers who are members of our chambers are constantly looking at how we can utilise technology to be more efficient and it is one factor that helps us to differentiate ourselves. The move to adopt paperless systems is the beginning of a new era within both chambers and the legal sector, and businesses can look forward to working with greater efficiency and connectivity as a result.

Chris Ronan is chief executive at St John’s Buildings.

Further reading on digitisation

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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