Legal document management trends

Documents is at the core of any legal business. Drafting, reviewing and collaborating on documents is a large part of being a lawyer. Revision after revision is made by an expanding circle of reviewers, within the law firm, by the client, by the counterpart and its advisors etc., working on their own copies of the document. Poor document management is costly for firms and frustrating for clients as it makes it easy to lose track of which changes have been accepted and which iteration of the document constitutes the final version. A good electronic document management system (a “DMS”) is therefore essential for any legal business, to eliminate the waste of time searching for documents or working on the wrong version of a document. Many document management software solutions exist that claim to solve this problem, but it is important to recognize the special needs for legal businesses, and not make the mistake to go for just any document management solution without the appropriate features. Richard Medina has captured these special needs in the AIIM article “How Different Is Legal Document Management?” and has divided the general solution options into four categories:

  • Simple Microsoft Approach
  • SharePoint Approach
  • Legal DM Focused Product Approach
  • Mainstream Enterprise ECM Product Approach

For a long time, the third approach (legal DM focused) was prevailing, but around 2010-2011 several legal DMS projects based on SharePoint made their entry. Some of the most famous ones were the Clifford Chance’s deal with Microsoft to develop a new DMS based on the SharePoint software suite of products. We have previously reported on this, rather unsuccessful, project in the blog post “Mobile lawyers and visions of single matter-centric systems – update on legal DMS trends”.

In the past, law firms have also tried to build their own systems, but today most firms have a strategy to move away from home-grown systems to professional standardized systems which have been developed to meet the specific legal demands for advanced version and security control, individual document numbers, metadata retention, email management and integration with and possibility to adapt to standard products as they upgrade (for example new versions of Microsoft Office).

As concluded by Steve Best and Debbie Foster in the not-so-new Best of ABA Techshow article on Document Management“The concept of document management, while having been around for a long time, has morphed itself into many different forms, ultimately, today, appearing to be best managed by software created for its very purpose. When data looks more like clutter and is, therefore, unmanageable: (files piled in office closets, under desks, and on top of credenzas, or three feet high on a desk it is time to organize and clear it out), staff members become less productive, overhead costs increase and profits, ultimately decrease. By investing in a document management software system to not just store and retrieve documents, but ultimately to shift the responsibility of storage, location, retrieval, and ultimate management of records and media, balanced with maintaining a minimal amount of original records as required by statutory or authenticity requirements, will help everyone in your firm work smarter, faster, and more productively. And, of course, you too, can become, clutter-less.”

For document management systems to review, they especially mentioned Worldox, Intervowen (HP WorkSite), DocsOpen (OpenText) and NetDocuments. More solutions available are listed here: “Top Legal Document Management Software Products”.

Also, Legal IT Insider recently made a good overview of the state of the market in 2015 for DMS for law firms. In the article, Microsoft has been given the opportunity to state their case for SharePoint Matter Center-as-a-Legal-DMS, and other leading solutions providers have revealed their plans for the nearest future. Please find the overview by Charles Christian here: “Legal IT Insider January 2015”.

Any legal DMS must support basic requirements like version control, document profiling, audit trail and full text searching, but a clear trend is the new demands for (i) advanced e-mail management, (ii) remote document access, and (iii) support for multiple devices. The users also have much higher demands generally for interface and intuitive functionality.

In the Legal IT Insider market overview, Microsoft explains how they have created a “technical preview program” to respond to the poor preview feedback for SharePoint Matter Center and find out how to successfully develop needed key features for legal customers, with the assistance of inter alia Epona. Furthermore, HP Worksite reveals their three year project to create a next generation WorkSite DMS, to meet the changing expectations of users for interface and mobility. They are also working on a lower cost, WorkSite lite version, for smaller firms and organisations. NetDocuments has recently acquired the Decisiv email management system from Recommind, creating an email filing system within the DMS that supports email filing in a new way without the drag-and-drop functionality most other DMS offer.

Then there is the security concern. Overall security-related pressures are rapidly increasing and need to be taken into account when deciding on IT environment for a law firm. As concluded at the recent LegalTech New York “information is the new oil” and need to be handled by appropriate and secure systems and processes. Not an easy task, but finding the best DMS to support the core business, facilitate the legal work and meet the security standards, is becoming crucial for any legal business.