Winning the war against paper

Photo by Manu Schwendener

Photo by Manu Schwendener

How to go electronic with help from Sun Tzu

If your firm or company hasn’t developed electronic signatures and automated work flows for at least some aspects of document production, you are living in the past and wasting your clients’ time as well as your own.

Even if you have dabbled in electronic transactions, if you aren’t fighting paper correctly you could be losing winnable battles and costing yourself and your company future revenue.

Strong words, but in the war against paper you can’t speak too strongly about getting on the electronic horse before it bolts from the slow, costly, time-consuming barn.


Sound unrealistic? Let me show you how with an example from an electronic process we tidied up recently.

The old way for a channel agent sales agreement…
» proof reading to the account manager to ensure details were correct,
» printing and binding of a 40 page document (two copies),
» posting out via trackable post,
» awaiting a reply,
» checking the tracking numbers,
» following up for return of documents,
» receiving documents,
» checking contracts had been executed properly,
» taking contracts to executive assistant of national manager for sign off,
» following up with busy manager to sign off,
» writing in the date from when the national manager executed,
» unbinding and scanning of document,
» inevitable scanner jam,
» saving and naming of scanned contract,
» emailing a copy of the contract to all relevant parties.


The whole thing would take two weeks if we were lucky. I thought it was an amazing advancement when we enclosed a self-addressed return envelope.

“…a process that took two weeks now takes 3 days..”

In contrast, the process we run now takes on average 3 or so days yet still achieves the same legally binding contract that is easier to read, faster to follow up, completely searchable, reduces the potential for human error, is highly visible so all can see where in the process we are at and requires less time to be spent on low value tasks.

More importantly it means that the agent is out selling a whole week earlier, providing an extra week of revenue for the company, and earning an extra week of commission for themselves.

“…an extra week of revenue for the company, and earning an extra week of commission for themselves…”

sun-tzu chinese

Now that I have your attention and you’re ready to get on the eHorse, it’s time to really start fighting back against paper.

Who better to help us beat down the tyranny of paper-based office processes than Sun Tzu, legendary military strategist and philosopher who literally wrote the book on how to decisively defeat an opponent.


Clock credit Szűcs László

Credit Szűcs László

I spent a long time (6 months or so) investigating different providers, trying out various platforms, asking different people what they thought, testing the legality of signatures [Foot note… the answer is yes it is legal… mostly], gathering ideas and generally not getting very far ahead.


Sun Tzu says: Though we have seen stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been associated with long delays.

Do your research and see what’s right for you but set a time limit and then choose. You can always make another decision later. The key piece of research to do? Find your A-Team…


lycra aerobics girls

You might be surprised just who is interested in electronic signatures within your team, firm, client base or company. Start asking questions and investigating who is keen, who might benefit by using electronic transactions to map work flow and bring them into your A-team (or eTeam) so you can test workflows and signing protocols amongst friendlies.

Sun Tzu says: He [or she] will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.

Get a posse of people who are passionate or at least interested in finding out more and together you’ll be better able to get momentum.



Learning the ins and outs and capabilities of any new skill or system is hard and there will be a learning curve. Keep yourself focused on the benefits for your clients, the firm / company and don’t forget about the benefits to yourself. Being able to use electronic transaction systems is a highly transferable skill and being engaged with upping your skills in this area can give you some serious career capital.

Sun Tzu says: You have to believe in yourself.

You can do this; you got through learning to tie your shoelaces, you got through studying, you got through that awkward Tinder date, of course you can master this!


credit Ashim D’Silva

credit Ashim D’Silva

It is a 100% certainty you will not get the entire firm or company onto electronic signatures and workflows overnight.

Even all the posts you share on the intranet about reduction in costs, client satisfaction with eTransactions, and reports of better lawyer well-being from use of electronic document systems will not woo your company all at once.

Sun Tzu says: A leader leads by example, not by force.

Your best bet is to start small, within your eTeam, and build up your arsenal to slowly start taking out enemy paper trails.

As you and your brave eTeam make it look easy, soon everyone will be jumping on your eBandwagon until BAM! Zero resistance to electronic transactions.


Credit: Ernest Porzi

Credit: Ernest Porzi

Are there other people you work with who are keen to try electronic signatures? Is there one process or document you are in complete control of? These are easy wins you can get off the ground without including a multitude of outside voices which will slow you down.


Sun Tzu says: Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

Once you electrify the areas you work on, people will notice how quick and easy it is to deal with you and will want to know your secret.


pig ugly Credit credit Fabian Black

credit Fabian Blank

If you have a document that doesn’t make sense or a process for contract creation that is overly complicated, you won’t be able to magically transform them by going electronic. First, you need to sort out the underlying complexities.


Clean up your documents in preparation for electronic signatures (think key agreement detail tables at the front, schedules at the back, spaces for names and signatures to be applied electronically), and for cleaning up processes try a Swim Lane Diagram… it allows you to see clearly what each person is responsible for and quickly.

Sun Tzu says: Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.

The best contract burdened by a bad approval process will only be brought down if made digital. Don’t waste your time trying to digitise a poor process or crappy contract, it just won’t work.


Credit Lou Levit

Credit Lou Levit

Ever notice how there is never just one piece of paper?


Paper loves to sit in stacks. Paper loves to pile up. It’s exhausting just thinking about all the masses of paper that… amass.

Investigate your enemy thoroughly. Check your paper trail and keep a list (a digital one) of the different types of paper you touch, documents you need to approve, envelopes you have to open, sign-up forms you have to fill out, documents you have to email people for their approval…

Sun Tzu says: To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.

Keep an eye out for paper processes you can ditch in favour of the digital and replace your paper trail with an electronic one.

You can win the war on paper!

As Sun Tzu says, opportunities multiply as they are seized, so…

» seize the incredible opportunity offered by electronic transactions and automated work flow management;

» reduce costs to your company and your client;

» give yourself more time and headspace; and

» win the war on paper!

I’d love to hear what walls you have come up against as you push for new digital processes, let me know!

– Verity


The bits at the end

» Thanks to Lauren for editing 😀

» Want more Sun Tzu? Head here for Tzu’s best leadership advice and here for more on who Sun Tzu is

Posted in Contracts, Electronic, Legal Tech, New Law, Small to Medium Businesses and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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