Celebrate National Recycling Day: Commit and Act!

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National Recycling Day is celebrated on November 15, 2019.  America Recycles Day is a nationally recognized day that celebrates and promotes recycling in the United States.  It was created by the National Recycling Coalition in 1977. Since then, each United States president has issued a Presidential Proclamation recognizing the day and encouraging Americans to recycle.  In 2009, the day became part of the Keep America Beautiful Campaign.

I discovered some startling facts in looking into National Recycling Day.  Some of these have direct application to the practice of law:

  • Aluminum cans can go from recycling to store shelves in two months;
  • 80 billion aluminum cans are used each year worldwide;
  • 200 million trees would be saved each year if everyone recycled newspapers;
  • 500,000 trees are cut down to produce weekly Sunday newspapers;
  • Annually, 1 billion trees worth of paper is thrown away;
  • Each American uses almost 700 pounds of paper each year, most if which is thrown away.

And this does not even scratch the surface of the burgeoning use of plastic bottles, the effect of plastics on sea life or any other effects on our environment of throwing recyclables away.  But let’s just focus on the aluminum and the paper: I think it is safe to say the practice of law involves the use of lots of paper. Pleadings, contracts, drafts, letters and correspondence – all of this comes at the expense of reams and reams of paper.  When I started practicing law (I know, I keep going back to those good old days (?) of the 1980s, but this time, it is important), paper was the only means of storing clients’ information. A “file” literally meant a physical object and it was filled with – big surprise – mostly paper.  But our world has changed drastically in the last 35 years. Now, clients’ information can be stored electronically, reviewed electronically and transmitted electronically. A “file” can be an electronic file, with the exception of documents for which original signatures are required, such as deeds, wills and trusts and the like.

So, what can lawyers do in the practice of law to celebrate National Recycling Day?  For starters, take the steps necessary to reduce the dependence on paper and switch to electronic storage and retrieval of information.  This is a big transition for lawyers of my vintage and older who are set in the ways of a paper-intensive world. But, having gone through this transition, I can personally attest that my professional life is substantially better without paper files.  Occasionally painful, the transition away from paper really pays off. The office is less cluttered, and savings can be found in the need for less space in the office to house paper files. And, perhaps more importantly, paperless files eliminate the need for storage units to fill with old client files.  Let’s say a small law firm incurs storage costs of $150 per month (a figure that I think is probably fairly low) to store closed client files. That translates into $1,800 per year and in a mere ten years (a period of time that quickly elapses during which busy lawyers want to think of anything but cleaning out their storage units), that’s $18,000.  The larger the practice and the more the storage units, the greater the cost that rapidly adds up. Most practicing lawyers could find something else on which to spend their money. 

Here’s another way to celebrate National Recycling Day:  encourage your state bar to enact rules that make it must easier for lawyers to store client information digitally.  Professional rules that create the assumption that information may only be stored on paper are ridiculously anachronistic and lawyers should insist that their bar associations update rules to reflect the times in which we live.

Oh, and the facts about aluminum cans?  Virtually every law office I have ever been in or visited, including my own, offers aluminum cans of soft drinks and sodas to employees and visitors.  Perfectly understandable and nothing wrong with that. National Recycling Day reminds us that aluminum cans are easily recycled and should be recycled.  The world will be a better place because of it.