Medium-sized law firms could save around £400,000 every year and reduce carbon emissions by digitising paperwork, research has estimated.
More than half the total, £210,000, could be saved by no longer printing colour pages. Together, medium-sized firms could save £336m each year.
The financial and environmental effects of digitalising paper documents in the legal sector – a study funded by the European Commission Low Carbon initiative and the Liverpool City Region – was carried out by the Eco-I North-West project based at Liverpool John Moores University, working with local e-signature company E-Sign.
Eco-I North West is a partnership between LJMU and five other universities in the North-West that supports SMEs to develop low-carbon products, processes and services. The initiative is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and in most cases no initial investment is needed from businesses.
The estimated savings were based on a medium-sized law firm having between 200-250 employees and handling 18,000 documents a year.
Savings from digitisation included the costs of printing, delivering and returning agreements to clients, storage and administrative time; cost increases in materials linked to supply chain shortages caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have been included.
Researchers estimated that not printing black and white pages could save £84,000, savings from postage at £73,800, and savings from not having to buy colour or black and white paper at over £15,000 each.
They put savings from reduced storage at over £107,000 and administration at over £18,500.
The research said digitisation would improve client service by enabling important documents to be signed in a couple of days, “compared to a couple of weeks if they are sent by post and delayed or returned without a signature”.
A faster turnaround of administrative tasks could increase law firms’ revenue by enabling them to handle more client work, while reducing administrative costs and increasing profit margins.
Posting and delivering fewer documents to clients would also reduce carbon emissions from transport.
John Mathias, project manager at Eco-I North West, commented: “Businesses large and small across every industry have a part to play in reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate change.
“Becoming a greener, more environmentally sustainable business also brings other benefits such as reduced costs and increased efficiencies.”
Thomas Taylor, managing director of E-Sign, added: “This study shows the tangible financial and environmental benefits of implementing digitisation in the legal sector.
“With the UK economy expected to go into recession, smaller firms will need to make every possible saving. Electronic signatures can save a significant amount of money, improve client service and help the environment.
“We know the medium-sized legal sector faces huge challenges in the adoption of technology that can improve processes and efficiency. Through this research we’ve been able to demonstrate that change can be met with wider efficiency and sustainability benefits.”