Is paperless just a myth? Well, one thing is for sure. Widespread computer use has not led to an overpopulation of trees. The nation’s personal computer users alone use more than 115 billion sheets of paper annually, according to the Resource Conservation Alliance. Each office worker goes through 9,999 sheets of paper — 27 pounds — a year.

Is this incredible paper thirst, tickled by computers, going to end? “Probably not,” says John Heckman, president of Jersey City-based Heckman Consulting, “but we can certainly get most of that clutter out of our lives to make our world better and our offices infinitely more efficient.”

To help guide legal and general business offices into this new mode of operation, the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education presents “Going Paperless,” on Tuesday, July 11, at 9 a.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. Cost $139. Visit www.njicle.co

Heckman discusses the hardware, software, and strategies involved in achieving the nearly paperless office. Also, Carol Johnson, secretary of the New Jersey Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, talks about the new paperless law, Opinion 701.

Growing up in New York and Connecticut, Heckman stands out as an individual who sculpts his career by his own choices. Attending Cornell University, as he puts it, “far back in another life,” Heckman went all the way, earning his Ph.D. in comparative literature. He proceeded to teach at Brandeis and at Boston University for several years. Then he opted for a change. Packing a bag, he headed for Europe, and became an itinerant for the next five years, supporting himself teaching English.

Upon returning to America, Heckman assessed his skills. “I figured out that I was really a good typist, so in l982 I got job in a law firm’s typing pool,” he says. Shortly thereafter computers entered the scene and Heckman began playing with Wangs. He saw and seized the opportunity. Joining the law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy in New York, he developed the firm’s computer operations. Later he teamed up with systems designers Kraft, Kennedy & Lesser (www.kkl.com), where he created document managing systems for legal and other offices. In l997 he launched Heckman Consulting to help firms shift into paperless mode.

Law of the land. On April 10, 2006, the paperless advocates in the Garden State received a real boost when the State Supreme Court issued Opinion 701, which in effect allowed lawyers to shred and recycle all their old hard copies. The opinion stated that legal firms may archive their case documents in cyberspace, provided that adequate backup is maintained, and provided that adequate measures are taken to ensure confidentiality.

Many believe that this law will ripple out to other professions, giving cyberstorage legitimacy and encouraging it wide adoption. “This is something people in the legal and many other professions have been crying for years,” says Heckman.

The paper culture. For most of us, if the document is longer than three pages, we will print it out. If it is book, we will take it lovingly in hand and curl up in our nice lumpy chair and dig in. “Much of this is generational,” Heckman says, “and, of course, until recently hardware has been unable to compete.”

Magnetic screens oscillate, causing eyestrain — a fact of modern office life. Books have at least 2,400 dpi (dots per square inch), while many older monitors have only 75 dpi, making resolution a real squint. “This is like reading bad faxes all day,” says Heckman. For any office that values its workers, it is worth paying the extra $350 for a l9-inch, flat, LCD screen (200 dpi) and another $40 for a monitor pivot.

Travel tech. After affording greater organization, probably the greatest benefit of going paperless is portability. While E-books have been slow to launch, smart phones, with their two-by-two-inch screen have swept the nation. Heckman says that this is primarily because of their organizing capability. “I can cross index all 1,500 names from my Rolodex and check on my calendar while I am talking. It’s not so much a reading as a reference tool,” says Heckman.

As USB flash memory modules keep climbing in memory capacity and dropping in price their use becomes more sensible. Three hundred megabytes now fit into a storage device the size of a key ring.

To keep all your office on the same (paperless) page, why not gift all employees with a wallet set of USB flash sticks, each of which is color coded, like your keys? Everyone will remember that finance is on the appropriately green key, which is accessed and updated company wide. Use the same color coding for office and offsite archiving.

Pricey disorganization. Close your eyes and imagine all that paper clutter swept off your desk, but all the information retained right at hand. This is the real advantage of going paperless. Those who recall the pre-computer days, when every scrap of data was filed in manila folders, will readily admit that their computers now shuffle faster and offer much more organization than any paper filing system. Heckman wants merely to take this one step further.

The first and fatal flaw of those wanting to go paperless is that they scan every incoming document. This, insists Heckman, only leads to greater disorganization. It’s merely tossing all that paper into a magnetic bin. He also warns against using the software that comes with most desktop scanners, as it is typically crippled, outdated, and slow. He prefers Abbyy (www.abbyy.com) or OmniPage (www.nuance.com.)

But before using Abbyy or OmniPage, scan the available document management programs and find one that suits your business needs. Many such programs now interface directly with word processing programs, automatically storing, cross-indexing, and linking each document written, unless the author indicates otherwise. Most older systems, such as Outlook, which require a drag and drop, end up filing data according to the whims of each individual user.

The second criterion Heckman suggests is choosing a system that gobbles all forms of data and sorts it by case or client. When a worker searches the “Johnson file,” he will have before him every E-mail, scribbled note, formal letter, contract, calendar of sales meetings, phone record, and memo from other departments. This not only prevents endless circulation of paper memos, it saves time and errors.

No time, no money. “The two biggest excuses I get for companies not going paperless is ‘I haven’t the money’ and ‘I haven’t the time,’” says Heckman. “The truth is you cannot afford not to go paperless.”

Most executives spend their days gathering information, using their expertise to process that information, and then generating documents. By saving time on the first and third steps, you have made way for the best use of the executive — his mindpower. The payback in money and staff time comes in about two to six months.

“It takes four hours of training for each employee on a new paperless system on which everybody will save at least one hour a week,” says Heckman. “You figure it out.” Additional savings can be made by developing canned documents that automatically link in and are ready to be custom tailored for each transaction.

Last year the peoples of this globe created a stack of paper which would reach the moon and back eight times. At least one of those trips is a giant waste of time, organization, money, and our earth’s resources.

Even if you are not ready to adopt a company-wide paperless culture, think twice before hitting “print.”

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