In January of this year, I wrote a blog post describing what law firm document management software is, how it differs from case management software, and examples of document management software in the legal market today. Building upon that previous post, it is important to also discuss the advantages of having a document management system and what it can do for your law firm.
Manage Your Documents
This may seem intuitive, considering it’s called “document management software,” but what does that really mean? Consider a basic file folder structure as it would typically exist either in Dropbox or on a file server. The file folder structure looks something like this:
Main Case File
- Opposing Counsel
- Client Communications
- Filed Pleadings
- Requests for Production
While this rudimentary system works, it has its limitations. Searching for documents can be tedious and inexact; and, often you cannot search the text within a document, only the titles of documents. Sorting is limited to file name, date of creation or date added, and file type. Your law firm’s digital file folders will often differ from case to case unless strict protocols are enforced, causing misfiled documents to be lost.
A proper document management system can eliminate or significantly reduce the inadequacies of a standard file server. Sample features include:
- Fully searchable document text
- Uniform and forced document naming conventions
- Ability to search by dates other than date added/created
- Ability to search by customized meta-data assigned to each document
- Documents are uniformly categorized and then sub-categorized from finite lists of options contained within the system (i.e. Pleadings, Discovery, Correspondence)
- Since all document text is searchable, misfiled documents are easy to find and reassign.
Law firms should catalogue the wealth of information gathered across years of practice. However, most firms do not properly capture detailed information about their cases in a way that allows for long-term preservation and reuse. To combat a lack of knowledge preservation, most document management systems let the user query the entire database (versus only documents in a particular case).
Imagine what this can do for you! Rather than sending an email to everyone you know asking for a form or posting for help on a listserv, with one simple query you can locate something as detailed as “all Daubert motions filed against expert John Smith in the last six months.” Law firms should pool and preserve the collective knowledge and experience of their members to become more efficient, to avoid reinventing the wheel, and to allow their lawyers and staff to learn from one another’s successes (and mistakes).
Document management systems allow for dynamic searching based on date created, any metadata included with the document, file names, parties, and so much more. Your access to historical data is practically limitless.
Metadata and Native Files
eDiscovery is a booming business, and even small firms often need to produce metadata. Most document management systems not only allow you to load documents in their native format, but they also allow you to retain all original metadata. Retaining document metadata can be crucial during today’s more high-tech discovery processes.
A good document management system retains metadata on native files, and makes that information searchable. Enabling search within document metadata eliminates hours of document review work by allowing a user to search for key terms and metadata markers.
Merge forms or coded documents remain one of the most popular features of document management software. You can reduce the time it takes to create and modify documents and promote internal law firm consistency by loading pre-coded forms into your document management system. You can be confident that all documents leaving your law office on your letterhead have a consistent look and feel and use language pre-approved by the firm’s managing attorneys.
Many case management systems integrate merge forms/coded documents, so the functionality is not unique to document management software. What is unique is that when you create a merge form in document management software, most systems will simultaneously save the merged document in the appropriate, pre-assigned file location with pre-assigned categories. Case management systems would generally require the user to manually save a merged document to a separate file server.
Document management systems save law firms countless hours by streamlining search, filing, saving, and document creation. They also create a dynamic database and repository for historical data that can create a smarter, more efficient law firm.
If you need help finding a document management system or need help making the most of the system you currently have, email me at any time. At Stacey E. Burke, P.C. we work to make law firms more efficient and self-sufficient. Document management can make this happen for your law firm.