From artificial intelligence to zero client solutions, technology buzzwords are thrown out in firm technology meetings like perfectly wrapped Tootsie Rolls at a parade on a warm summer day. While they seem good on the surface, unwrapping them reveals a blob of uncertainty much less desirable than upon initial appearance. With so many emerging technologies, it can be difficult to know which solutions are the most beneficial to implement and which are just this year’s jargon that will ultimately result in financial waste.
According to law firms polled in the recently published 2018 Aderant Business of Law and Legal Technology Survey (https://www.aderant.com/research/2018-business-of-law-survey/), the technology that has the greatest impact on efficiency is document management. While document management systems have been around for decades, many firms have not implemented such a solution or underutilize the structures they have in place.
What is a document management system?
A document management system is a database that allows for documents to be saved and named, often referred to as “profiled,” in an organized manner without much room for error on the part of the end user. Often, the profile screen will automatically appear upon clicking the save button in Word, Excel, PDF documents and the like to ensure the document is saved to the DMS and not just a random folder. Once the required fields have been completed (generally a description, client/matter, document type and security settings), the document can be saved and is often issued either a document number or is saved into the corresponding client list within the system. While some programs are industry agnostic, there are several tailored to the legal industry to allow for efficient processes and tracking of key information.
Benefits of a DMS
While some firms save to a set of folders either on a central network drive or even a cloud-based system such as Dropbox, there is little uniformity in the naming of files and placement of files, and often little to no security levels on individual files. This results in myriad problems in the long run, most of which are easily negated with the implementation of a document management system.
Easily locate documents
Firms that do not have a document management system often spend an exorbitant amount of time retrieving documents at a future date. Often the folder structure may provide a small bit of organization, but inconsistent file naming methods make it impossible to simply find documents based on keyword searches. Some firms try to compensate for this by adding multiple subfolders, yet many do not realize that the 255-character limit on filenames includes folder names and, therefore, often leaves little room for a descriptive filename to be searched in the future. This is an archaic way to store information, not much different than asking someone to go to the storage room and search the 500-plus bankers boxes to locate the specific 2-page document you are hoping to find.
A major advantage of a DMS is that it saves the files in an efficient manner on the “back end” while providing an easy-to-use search window and organized lists of documents based upon fields such as historical use and client data. This search profile allows a wide array of techniques, from a basic keyword search to advanced techniques including date ranges, file types, which users may have accessed the documents, and even full text searches of the document contents rather than just searching filenames.
Improve collaboration and versioning of documents
Firms without a DMS often email copies of documents back and forth to collaborate with others within the firm, often causing the wrong version to be used when adding changes or sending to external collaborators. With a DMS, you can easily send a link directly to the document to others within your firm to allow them to open the file through the platform and review the most recent copy. Any changes they want to make can be easily saved as a new version and will be easily viewable by the next person who looks at that document. Version control allows for prior versions to easily be recovered if necessary.
Secure documents and audit access data
Confidential documents are prevalent, and restricting access to a single document or set of documents can be time-consuming, often requiring the IT department to get involved for the initial setup and every time a change in permission levels is desired. With most DMS platforms, users can easily set the permission levels of a document by either selecting private, public or even more granular-level permissions. Many of these systems also provide an audit trail of data to reveal who viewed, modified or changed permissions of a document.
With so many references to technology buzzing around, often the tried and true solutions are where efficiencies unfold.•
• Deanna Marquez ([email protected]) is a co-owner of the Indianapolis-based legal technology company Modern Information Solutions, LLC. Areas of service include traditional IT services, software training and litigation support including trial presentation services. Opinions expressed are those of the author.