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Green practice: Take note

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Cite as: April 2014 88 (04) LIJ, p.80

Lawyers can reduce the use of paper if they change the way they use their electronic devices.

The Economist revealed that since 1980 (a rise of computer and beginning of paperless office era) the use of paper has actually increased worldwide by 50 per cent ( Australians are using more than 4.2 million tonnes of paper annually.1 Despite a drop of 2 per cent from financial year 2012, law firms2 on average used nearly 121.8kg of paper per employee in 2013. In contrast, an iPad over its entire lifetime accounts for 104.7 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents. It roughly equates to emissions stemming from 7700 sheets of virgin paper or 13,600 sheets of 100 per cent recycled paper. This indicates that extensive use of paper is more detrimental to the environment than your firm’s electronic devices.

Electronic devices make a difference

Some law firms have taken advantage of the variety of software packages that help to increase efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint. The Courts also agree that law firms are adopting a more paperless approach these days. The Family Law Courts of Australia for instance, are currently receiving about 2000 documents per week e-filed. It is however argued that further reduction in the use of paper by law firms is imperative because not only does the production of paper emit tonnes of greenhouse gases, its decomposition also contributes to a similar result. Law firms need to be mindful that an increase in the use of paper also means a relative increase in the use of pens, printers, ink-cartridges, photocopiers, scanners, filing cabinets and the like. Bic Pens, for instance, has 24 factories, which it says in 2006 alone “produced direct greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 13,000 tonnes of CO2” (

Why are we still using so much paper?

Paper is widely used as it is an affordable medium that supports thousands of typefaces that are easy to read. The main reason of continued high volume paper use is that work practices and paper have evolved over many centuries, changing these technological, social and cultural patterns would be extremely difficult. Therefore, the idea that all law firms can go paperless may be a myth. There are however many work practices that you can implement to change the way you and your colleagues use paper in your firm, especially secondary paper activity that can amount to a whopping 34.40 per cent in a typical office environment.

Secondary paper activity

Secondary paper activities include, note taking, reminder notes or messages written on sticky notes, communications that are not in paragraph form or long sentenced, draft documents and summaries. A practical step towards attaining sustainable practice for your law firm would be to reduce your secondary paper activity by encouraging more efficient use of firm’s electronic devices.

Tips for reducing secondary paper activity

While it is agreed that the co-evolution of paper and work practices cannot be undone overnight, here are some practical tips for using digital alternatives to reduce secondary paper activity in your firm:

  • Use an electronic note pad or your intranet when taking instructions from clients.
  • Use a split screen, rather than printed versions when comparing documents.
  • Review and edit documents electronically rather than manually.
  • Use integrated electronic calendars or notepads to post events, arrange meetings and daily planning rather than using paper calendars or diaries.
  • Encourage staff to use the firm’s laptops, tablets or smart phones for writing agendas and taking minutes at meetings.
  • Send electronic documents to clients and other parties instead of hard copies.

The challenge might be to implement policies that will change the paper culture in your firm. However, by encouraging small changes, such as those above, you can start using your existing electronic devices more efficiently and reduce the amount of paper your firm uses.

JOSEPH CARBONE is a 5th year bachelor of laws (Hons) /arts student at Victoria University. DIVYA SHARMA is a lawyer at McKean Park and vice president of the LIV Young Lawyer’s Section.

1. Clean Up Australia fact sheet

2. Member firms of Australian Legal Sector Alliance.


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