There has been a lot of buzz lately about e-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook.  Best Buy also blitzed us with ads this Christmas for the Sony Reader.  Until recently, I blew these off, because as a book reader, I liked having the physical book, and the ability to turn pages.  I also was skeptical of the way copyrights and DRM would come into play.  The prime example of this was the ironically Orwellian incident with the Kindle where Amazon discovered that they did not have digital rights to certain of Orwell’s works, which then disappeared from users’ devices.

However, recently I have been rethinking my position and mainly eying it as a device that would help me to maintain a paperless office.  Sure it is great to scan all of your documents.  Less paper, less storage, easier recovery from disaster, and, well, you get the idea.  One of the downsides of this is the portability of data.  What happens when you are away from your office?  A physical file can be flipped through; booting up your laptop can be a pain, depending on where you are.  Enter the e-book, which can store and display PDF documents as well as e-books.  One can find and review documents much easier in a court hallway, bus, or some other place where a laptop might not make the best sense.

This got the devices on my tech radar, but I would definitely recommend that attorneys hold off on purchasing a device like this right away.   Apple is rumored to be announcing a tablet PC with e-reader capability on January 27, while many new devices will be announced this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including, it is rumored, one by Microsoft and HP.   Have it on your 2010 shopping list, but keep an eye on developments in the next few months in order to get the best all-around device that won’t be “one-upped” a few weeks later.

There have been lots of posts in the blogosphere about going paperless.  Sam Glover over at the Lawyerist site, for example, is a big proponent of it.  There are several reasons why this is a good idea, many of which are the economic savings on paper, copier toner, storage space, and postage.  However, an incident at a law firm in my area recently points out another good reason to do it.

Their office is in a building that houses three law firms with a residential unit on the third floor.  Over a weekend, the toilet in the third floor bathroom overflowed (for several hours unnoticed – whole other story).  This resulted in the water flooding down through the bathroom below it on the second floor, and through to the conference room on the first floor.  On the conference room table were several stacks of documents and files being worked on that suffered damage.

Luckily the firm had insurance that covered the cost of reconstructing the files.  However, having electronic copies of those documents as a backup would have made things so much easier.  Yes, all sorts of accidents can occur that can destroy electronic documents.  However, those that go paperless have at least two redundant backups of their data, and at least one of those is off site.  Physically making that many photocopies and storing them off site just would not be practical.  Remember, going paperless does not mean having no paper at all; it means having less of it around.  Scanners are cheap now, and every firm should have at least one (with a sheet feeder).  If you are not scanning all important incoming documents, you should be.  You never know when it will save you from disaster.