Australia: What is the real cost of that printed page?

Last Updated: 31 October 2018
Article by Matthew Hollings

It has now been almost 3 years to the day that I stood at a multi-function printer overlooking the Brisbane River at about 7pm, running off several copies of a brief to Counsel. It was most certainly not my first, but it definitely was my last!

In the time since that moment I have made it my personal mission, through my role with Law In Order, to help lawyers and their teams understand the true costs associated with a staple task of administrative assistants, paralegals, and (more frequently than we would like to admit) graduates and junior lawyers.

So before you consider how to manage or mitigate some of these costs, it is important to get an understanding of what they are.

Actual Cost

The first category of cost is the most obvious, being the real, tangible and measurable costs of producing a document, brief, etc. Some examples are as follows:

  • Labour: whether that be legal/administrative assistants, paralegals or lawyers physically producing the brief.
  • Materials: the hundreds of reams of paper and litres of ink consumed each day/week/month/year.
  • Equipment: enough heavy machinery to ensure those documents and briefs are produced quickly and efficiently.
  • Electricity: naturally, your heavy machinery requires electricity to run.
  • Floor Space: depending on how heavy your heavy machinery is and how many you have, it could take up quite a bit of space across the firm's physical footprint.

It's important to note that all of the above are costs that are seen to rise every year, due to things like the general labour market conditions, increasing energy costs and the premium placed on corporate office space. It also doesn't help that we are living in an increasingly digital world, where data production is growing exponentially, the traditional approach to document production (ie. print that data), is fast becoming an increasingly cumbersome and time-consuming process for document production.

Opportunity Cost

For me, this is the most important consideration but one that is not always taken into account when assessing the costs associated with legal document production. This is ordinarily where the largest "saving" or "gain" can be made.

For the uninitiated, opportunity cost is defined as "the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen".

The highest opportunity cost in relation to production will generally come when a junior lawyer or, heaven forbid, a senior lawyer has to attend to that task. Clearly, in situations like this, the opportunity cost is the loss of ability to generate a billable hour. In saying that though, the opportunity cost could also be an earlier (than 10pm) finish for that lawyer, which may mean they begin to get overworked and burn out, incurring the mental cost referred to below.

A similar opportunity cost can still exist when other employees, such as paralegals or administrative assistants, undertake the work. Whilst their ability to bill may be less and therefore a reduced opportunity cost, it's an easy argument to make that those people, if effective, could be carrying out far more valuable work for the organisation.

Mental Cost

It is the goal of any firm to be considered a good employer with many striving to achieve the coveted tag of an employer of choice by generally demonstrating characteristics of well-managed, high-performing, industry leading organisations that provide a stimulating and supportive workplace.

Naturally, employers of choice will, generally speaking, attract greater talent (which attracts better clients), have increased staff retention (reduces staff turnover costs) and have higher levels of growth and general business success (who doesn't want that?!).

In my time as a lawyer and now working with lawyer clients at Law In Order, I have met very few people who cite the large scale (or even small scale) production of documents as the highlight of their day or the reason they get up and go to work every day. In fact, very few organisations are well equipped to deal with the increased technical complexity associated with document production or have the scale to invest in the equipment that makes the job easier and faster to complete. As a result, you can have teams of people spend hours or even days (believe me, it happens), producing documents for trial – not an ideal situation in anyone's view - and the toll that can take in an already stressful and pressurised environment can be enormous.

Environmental Cost

And last but certainly not least is the environmental cost of production. The data sizes that lawyers look to print are not getting any smaller. In fact, research suggests that the relevant data in the data universe will continue to grow exponentially year on year – with zero signs of that slowing down.

Increasingly, businesses are placing a focus on the environmental sustainability of their actions. Given most of you reading this are lawyers, were lawyers or work in a legal environment, it won't be news to you to know that lawyers are some of the worst when it comes to sustainable paper production! Admittedly, there are legal principles and processes that do require this to happen but investments can be made to limit or reduce the environmental impacts this activity can have. There are a number of things that can be done to improve this, such as invest in better equipment or adopt some legal technology to help you sort, de-duplicate or digitise your documents, but unfortunately firms aren't always in a position to make those changes (due to things like scope, size or cost) and as such this cost continues to climb.

Combatting These Rising Costs?

In this incredibly complex and evolving legal landscape, we acknowledge that there isn't always a simple solution and what works for one client may not work for another. What can be clearly acknowledged though, is that there is far greater cost associated with hitting "Ctrl+P" than you might have initially thought.

To that end we are committed, as we have been for the last 19 years, to working with our clients to help them achieve a winning outcome for their specific circumstances. We would be delighted to make some time to meet with you and help you analyse the cost of production work to your business and work together to determine if there is a better solution for you – all you have to do is ask.

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