Paper is an expense. It costs money to produce, store, file, and destroy.
There are more efficient ways to make documents portable and sharable.
So, it’s no wonder that many companies are abandoning paper altogether and moving to a paperless office, but there are legal issues to consider.
How do you go paperless?
The answer seems simple: buy a scanner.
Whether you use Adobe Acrobat or an enterprise document management system with a central server, you will have a functioning system for scanning and managing electronic documents.
Practically speaking, even this basic setup will allow you to work with electronic documents.
Legally speaking, though, you may still need to keep some paper documents. But, wasn’t getting rid of the paper the goal to begin with?
A key question to ask is whether your paperless office setup satisfies the strict requirements of the provincial and federal governments. If you are governed by a professional organization, you should also check to see if they have any requirements.
The provincial and federal governments each have different requirements for electronic documents.
The rules vary and depend on the type of document and its intended use.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) requires that document scanning systems comply with several national standards.
You must purchase these national standards in order to find out what they are.
One can only imagine what would happen if a company scanned and shredded its financial records, only to have the CRA determine in an audit that they are legally insufficient.
Another key consideration is whether the electronic document will stand up in court.
The courts’ acceptance of electronic documents is evolving. Any paperless-office system should be designed to ensure that all electronic documents will be admissible in court.
If you have an electronic contract that you want to enforce, you will want to ensure that the court will find it to be reliable and admissible as evidence.
On top of this myriad of legal considerations, there are privacy issues.
As soon as a document becomes electronic, it is susceptible to viruses and accidental disclosure.
Proper procedures should be put in place to minimize the risk of (and any liability from) losing a phone or accidentally emailing a document to the wrong person.
Companies that have a paperless office, or are considering implementing one, should carefully consider whether the system is legally sufficient for their specific purposes.
– with assistance from articling student Garrett Munroe
John Becker has run his own law firm in Pitt Meadows for more than 30 years, focusing his practice on corporate commercial real estate and business succession planning. Send questions to: email@example.com