It was 2013 and Fourth of July week when Arlington County Circuit Court’s criminal division was wearing bright blue shirts. Unlike the patriotic color, the shirt’s slogan that read “Project Paperless – Ask Us What This Means!” may not have immediately resonated with independence, but it was definitely a victory cry. Arlington County Circuit Court was preparing to liberate themselves from paper, and that kind of freedom was something they wanted everyone to celebrate.
Strategically planned on the week that many would be vacationing, the clerk’s office was open every day, but only for half a day. Doing so allowed the employees to lean into their learning curve without interrupting the public. But after pouring three-months of dedication into this new way of life, the staff began to lose morale. They had assumed that, by now, everything should have been flowing easily, but they were still moving along the learning curve.
Kudos for Coffee
Feeling that everyone could use a pick-me-up, the clerk’s office introduced Kudos for Coffee to its internal staff.
Each week, staff could email a sentence or two outlining a positive feature of their new paperless style. One winner was chosen, won a Starbucks gift card, and had their encouraging words posted in the office for all to see. “It reframed their mindset,” said Christina Dietrich, Business Systems Analyst at Arlington County Circuit Court. “Everyone was rallying together to focus on all the good that had come from this transition.”
This Calls For Sheet Cakes
Before they knew it, Arlington County Circuit Court had been paperless for a full year. Then two, then three, then four. Each year, the office had recognized another year paperless by wearing “Project Paperless” shirts or throwing a pizza party. But when their fifth-year anniversary started approaching, the clerk’s office called for wide-spread celebration.
Unlike past anniversaries, the office invited their constituents and public to share in the festivities. Invitations were sent to eFiling attorneys through their local Bar association, and signs were posted on the kiosks and in the courthouse. “Happy Anniversary” banners were hung in public-facing areas, and each division was able to slogan, decorate and dawn their own cake. The criminal, civil, and land record divisions, as well as the public law library, all pulled together to design four festive sheet cakes for attendees. Each spoke encouraging phrases like “Project Paperless: Where Less Is Really More!” and “Forests are green, oceans are blue, we went paperless for the earth, me and you!” And yes, the exuded excitement was truly contagious. By the time The Project Paperless Party had arrived, sheriffs, attorneys, eFilers, and more began to shuffle in at 9:30 a.m. for a piece of cake from the paperless system that had given them all peace of mind for the past five years.
And because Kudos for Coffee was such a big hit, it was brought back for the entire week of the five-year anniversary. But instead of keeping it as an internal raffle for one winner, the public was welcomed to participate, and three winners were awarded. Submissions had also changed from simple statements of “I don’t have to carry buckets of files into court anymore” to well-thought-out poems, haikus, and other creative ways of illustrating their love for being paperless. One person even entered a hole-puncher and asked “do you recognize this? It used to be an integral part of assembling files, but it’s completely disappeared since going paperless!”
By the end of the week, Kudos for Coffee had awarded three different attorneys with a free remote subscription to TrueFiling for up to one year.
“I don’t think we’ll throw big celebrations like this every year, but we will recognize our paperless anniversary each year,” said Christina. “It truly is worthwhile to step back and compare where we were to where we’ve come. It’s good to celebrate that accomplishment.”
A Truly Justified Celebration
Since going paperless in 2013, Arlington County Circuit Court has seen a roughly 20 percent increase in its filings. Best yet, the paperless system’s efficiency allows the court to manage its increased case volume without also increasing its headcount. In the last year alone, the court has seen a 19 percent increase in its number of electronically filed documents.
And while we all may not be able to party paperless like Arlington, we can certainly learn from their story: small changes make huge impacts, and that’s something to celebrate.