PRACTICE GUIDES

PRACTICE GUIDES

Do not waste time and money by printing documents to read them. Train yourself to read on a computer display.

Ours is a paperless office, meaning that all of our documents are stored and handled in purely electronic form, rather than on paper. There are many advantages to our system, but  some learning and adjustment is necessary for those who are not yet accustomed to working without paper. The good news is that, with a little effort, you will become comfortable with this system much more quickly than you might think. Once you do so, you will wonder how you ever functioned with massive quantities of paper. You will enjoy these advantages:

  • Every document in every case can be accessed quickly from anywhere on laptops and iPads.
  • Documents can be searched by content, making it possible to locate documents much more rapidly.
  • Documents can be rapidly and easily transmitted to recipients inside or outside our office.
  • Physical transport of boxes of records to and from meetings, hearings, depositions and trials is eliminated.
  • Large document collections can be duplicated instantly, which comes in handy when making “working copies” to be highlighted, annotated or reorganized without disturbing the original structure of a document collection.
  • Physically organizing working subsets of documents is much easier than with paper, and can be accomplished remotely.
  • Annotated versions of documents remain available in their proper directory for all others to see without rummaging through another person’s office to find their markup copies.
  • Archiving and retrieving closed files takes seconds rather than days and is free.
  • Nothing gets lost; everything is backed up to multiple locations.
  • Documents can be inventoried, numbered and marked automatically and with ease.
  • Documents can be tracked much more readily than with paper, and that system can be largely automated.
  • Physical handling and storage of large volumes of paper, such as punching, indexing, storing and transporting notebooks is a thing of the past.
  • Printing and shredding costs are eliminated.
  • Most people can read on an iPad or computer display without their reading glasses by simply by enlarging the text.
  • Many different views of a document collection make it easy to skim, scan or browse collections before detailed study is commenced.

Adjusting to reading on displays rather than paper.

It is a basic attribute of human nature to resist change or alter habits. Some people have a difficult time when required to read documents on screen rather than in paper form. “I need to print things out to read them,” they say, sometimes in a bit of distress. “I need the feel of paper in my hand. I’m just not accustomed to reading lengthy documents on a computer screen.” We have studied this phenomenon with great care; we understand what causes it and how to remedy it. Aside from the fact that some people simply lack the flexibility to learn the myriad of new skills needed to work in a high-tech firm such as ours, there exists a phenomenon known as neurologically ingrained habituation. Scientific American published an article on this subject, noting that “modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss,” citing a study performed by Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, who noted that because of this missing tactile experience, “the human brain improvises a brand-new circuit for reading by weaving together various regions of neural tissue.”

What this means is that if you force yourself to read on monitors and iPads rather than paper, your brain will quickly re-wire itself to become comfortable with that process. Results begin to appear within a week, and complete readjustment typically takes about two to three weeks, depending upon the age of the individual. One study points out that most young people who grew up with computers have already learned to read on a screen; many people above the age of 25 experience a temporary period of relative discomfort when pressed to read on displays rather than paper. It is interesting to observe that the complaints heard from such individuals fade away rapidly, to be replaced by agreement that the benefits make the temporary inconvenience of adjustment worthwhile.

The benefits of reading on screen once one has become trained to use all of the new features available in modern PDF readers include the ability to zoom out to see entire collections of pages and files in “spread out” or contact-sheet format, and the ability to zoom in so that magnification makes reading less of an eyestrain. Once a person has become adjusted to comfortably reading on a display, they tend to avoid paper even when they have a choice. You can’t pinch and zoom or search for text in a paper document, and your annotations (highlighting and margin notes) are present only on a single piece of paper if you use paper. Writing on paper and then scanning it is no solution, because doing so creates extra work and defeats the purpose of the paperless office, which can only be enjoyed by an organization if all of its employees are flexible and disciplined so that they can adapt to comfortable screen reading.

What this tells you is that there is a reason for you to learn how to read comfortably on a computer display, and iPad (and a Kindle or other tablet or book-reader, though we tend to use iPads and large, high-resolution display monitors with Apple hardware). Do not worry, this process will take less time than you think and you will never regret the effort to train yourself to be free of the need to be chained by your neurological system to impossible piles of paper!

Do not waste time and money by printing documents to read them. Train yourself to read on a computer display.
Scanning contact sheet view allows quick perusal of large folders and documents. This can make it much easier to take a quick stock of what is contained in large files and obtain some sense of what should be read first.
Reading a PDF with thumbnails on the side makes it easier to move back and forth in a document, particularly if you are looking for highlighted portions.
Reading enlarged text on a screen is easier on your eyes and may render your reading glasses unnecessary.

What this tells you is that there is a reason for you to learn how to read comfortably on a computer display, and iPad (and a Kindle or other tablet or book-reader, though we tend to use iPads and large, high-resolution display monitors with Apple hardware). Do not worry, this process will take less time than you think and you will never regret the effort to train yourself to be free of the need to be chained by your neurological system to impossible piles of paper!

Physiological Factors 

There are very specific physiological factors that influence the comfort of reading on a display.

Key factors: The five most important of these are: (1) distance from the screen; (2) font size; (3) posture; (4) monitor height; and (5) screen resolution. Of less importance are screen brightness, monitor glare, monitor curvature, refresh rate (flicker) and room lighting. As you will see below, these factors are all tied to one another.

Surprisingly, screen size is not an important issue in terms of reading comfort, because a wide field of view on a single document can sometimes actually add to eye strain. Resolution and brightness are much more important considerations. Large monitors are helpful when working on multiple applications at one time (example: working on Daylite, Word, browsers and email simultaneously). A huge font on a wide monitor, such as shown above, may make reading easier but require (or facilitate) sitting back a bit further from the monitor.

Distance from screen.

There is an optimal distance from your eyes where you are hard-wired to hold a book or document when you read. You might be surprised to learn that if one followed you around for a few days and filmed you reading various items, then measured the distance between your eyes and the material you were reading, the distance would rarely vary by more than two inches. The finer the print, the closer you tend to hold the material, but most of what you read is between 12 points and 14 points in terms of font size. This mechanical distance adjustment is made by your brain and your arm without your conscious thought, but it is an important part of the physiology of reading.

This is why many people find that learning to read on a screen is easier if they start with a lightweight tablet, such as and iPad or Kindle book reader, because holding and positioning the reading material at the optimum distance from your eye is exactly the same as it would be with a book, magazine or paper document.

When reading on a desktop monitor, most people have a bit more difficulty because the monitor is not positioned well, and they must then adjust their body to the monitor rather than the reverse. If they tend to squirm or fidget when they read (which is a sign of one or more of the barriers to study discussed in the Firm’s Policy on Reading and Knowledge), this creates a feeling of being chained down, and leads to poor posture, which is discussed below. Experimenting with monitor position may help you tremendously, but before doing so, be sure you understand how font size and screen resolution affect the result.

Font size.

The size of the font can be controlled on most electronic reader software, such as Finder, Adobe Acrobat, Word and web browsers (such as Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Opera). As mentioned above, the size of the font controls how close to your eyes you like to have the material when reading. Larger fonts can be read from further away, while smaller fonts require more precision: the material must be held as close as possible without being too close, which narrows the range of workable distances for most reading material. When the font is made larger, the document is easier to read from a wider range of distances, giving you more physical freedom of movement.

Try this experiment: hold down the [command] key and press the plus sign four times, and see what happens to what you are reading right now. Then move back a foot from the display and see if this principle hasn’t been proven to you conclusively!

Posture.

Most people have no interest in their posture when they are engaged in work requiring deep concentration, which is generally the case when reading legal material. However, the single most immediate problem with reading on a computer screen is related to the fact that the reader is prone to sit awkwardly to obtain optimum distance from small print. As mentioned above, significantly increasing the font size and  moving the monitor closer to you may solve your posture issues automatically.

The goal is to sit upright but not rigid, in a comfortable, sustainable pose without neck extension or flexion, which causes neck strain. The height of the monitor also affects neck strain.

Conclusion

The minor, temporary annoyance of transitioning to a paperless operation should not stop you from enjoying the benefits of doing so. You will be surprised at how easy it is to adjust if you make an effort, and you will soon be very glad you trained yourself to make the transition. Once you become accustomed to reading on iPads and desktop monitors, you’ll never want to go back to paper, with its fixed-size fonts, heavy and cumbersome transport requirements, and its inability to be seen in the dark, not to mention the effect on the environment and the fact that you can pull up anything from anywhere if you have internet connectivity and a laptop or tablet computer.