Paper, Paper Everywhere

August 2, 2011

I bought a new laptop bag last week. One with wheels which is made in Switzerland by the manufacturer of a certain famous knife. It has lots of branded zips on it. Incidentally I found it some 20 to 30% cheaper online than in the major department stores. The high street may be doomed. In this I can carry or pull my laptop and all its associated gear and still have room for some papers and overnight clothes for business trips. This laptop contains some 30 gigabytes of stored materials and has space for over 100 gigabytes more. Not only do I have the contract schedules from the current global outsourcing deal I am working on, but all of the contracts pretty much since I started working at Fujitsu some four and  half years ago. And lots of other material from other lawyers. And email correspondence all filed electronically on a SharePoint based document management system so it is securely backed up.

And yet, when I roll up (literally) to meetings for a negotiation on an outsourcing contract with a law firm, nine times out of ten only the Fujitsu team has laptops. And even some of them also have paper files. The other side, lawyers and commercial advisers et al have … wait for it…. paper. And lots of paper. Lever arched files full of schedules and spreadsheets and comments. Reams and reams of paper with yellow stickers marking salient sections. And they still only have a small percentage of the contract documents with them. If they had all the material I have on my laptop they would need a small truck to carry it.

All of this material will for sure have been created in an electronic format of one sort or another. It will be on a computer. Then it will have been printed out on a printer using paper and ink.

Did you know that:

“The humble office laser printer can damage lungs in much the same way as smoke particles from cigarettes, a team of Australian scientists has found.”


“According to recent research, some laser printers emit submicrometer particles which have been associated in other environmental studies with respiratory diseases.”

And, as we all know, cutting down trees in an unsustainable way damages the environment.

“More and more rainforest is destroyed to meet the demands of the developed world’s paper industry, which requires a staggering 200 million tons of wood each year simply to make paper. If the present rate continues, it is estimated that the paper industry alone will consume 4 billion tons of wood annually by the year 2020.”

So why do we not all work electronically and only print material when it is strictly necessary? I know some people say they prefer to read on paper but screen resolution is continuously improving and unlike with paper you can increase the size of the font if you wish. And you then have all the advantages of being able to do searches within documents, make changes to the source documents as the meeting progresses and do comparisons with other versions.

And while we are on this subject, may I please make a plea to those who set up electronic deal rooms for bids. It is commendable to have documents available online, but very hard to deal effectively with them if (a) they cannot be downloaded and (b) they are in PDF form not Word so they cannot be edited or have comments embedded in them.

‘Ah, but you have to print all the contract documents off to sign them’, people say. Well yes, using a traditional approach, but I think we need to find ways to facilitate secure electronic signatures. I well remember waiting late one afternoon a couple of years ago in a sort of boardroom with lots of lawyers and some very senior people for quite a long time while the law firm involved printed out all the contract four times. Then the documents needed to be ferried across London in a taxi from their offices. They had particular issues with embedded documents as I recall.

So my vote is to embrace the electronic age and not just pay lip service to it. Abandon printing, which costs money as well as being environmentally unfriendly, unless it is really necessary and take laptops to meetings!