Why Document Management?
For medium and large law firms, with
tens or hundreds of thousands of documents, using a document
management program to organize, index and control their documents is
an absolute necessity.
Many smaller firms, however, do not see
the need. They feel that with a well thought out directory structure
they can have adequate access to their documents. They argue that
any added functionality offered by document management programs is
not worth the expense of additional hardware and software, training,
and administration. This article details some of the advantages
document management offers even a small law firm.
Naturally, there is a wide range of
opinion concerning what features are needed and which are
"superfluous" bells and whistles. However, keep in mind that very
often when a feature that might otherwise be considered an "extra"
is needed, it is very badly needed.
How Document Management Works
In a document management system, each
document is assigned a profile sheet which typically contains a long
description for the document, author, client/matter information,
document type (brief, contract, memo, etc.) and perhaps other items.
Both this profile and the full text of the document are indexed for
rapid retrieval. A file name is assigned by the document management
system, which decides where to store the document based on criteria
set up by the firm (author, document type, client/matter number).
This process is transparent to the end-user.
One of the first issues a firm needs to
decide is whether or not use of the document management system
should be obligatory. However, giving users the option of "opting
out" of document management almost inevitably means crippling the
system due to human error or lack of cooperation by recalcitrant
users. So the ability to "lock down" the system is key.
When a user starts to retrieve a
document, a list of the last 20 or so documents he or she has worked
on, including the long document description, appears first. If the
desired document is not on this list, the user enters search
criteria on the profile screen and is presented with a list of
"hits." Fairly complex boolean searches are generally possible,
including a combined search of both the profiles and the full text
index of the entire document store.
Depending on the program, additional
features can provide advanced security options, better reporting on
document use, version control, an audit trail showing who has
accessed the document, and so on.
The Case for Document Management
What does such a system give a firm that
a manual system does not?
Greater Speed of Document Retrieval. In a manual
system, the user must know where an existing document has been
stored and what its name is. While most users are fairly efficient
at finding their own documents, searching for a document
created by someone else can take a significant amount of time, which
in any event is bound to be greater than the 5 seconds or so it
takes a document management system to find a document. In many
cases, a user spends 5 minutes or more searching for a document, or
even winds up retyping it!
Avoidance of Human Error. The time lost in a manual system
due to human error is substantial. A user may have stored a document
in the wrong place by accident, forgotten what the document was
named, or even "dragged and dropped" an entire directory to some new
location without even being aware of it. When someone other than the
original author tries to access a document, difficulties are
compounded. A user may have to look in four or five places before
finding a document, or even be unable to find it at all. If the
original author of the document is out of the office due to
vacation, illness, etc. this can be a serious problem. When people
change jobs or assignments, the problem is aggravated.
Control over Document Access. Document management typically
gives a firm much better control over document security and access.
Confidential documents can be made available only to the people who
need to see them, whether it be accounting, human resources, trusts
and estates or those responsible for highly confidential client
By defining what groups of people have
access to which kinds of documents, document management systems
avoid the problems inherent in passwording documents, which range
from forgetting passwords to posting them on yellow stickies on the
computer monitor. Security provisions frequently include an audit
trail showing who last accessed a document, who made changes,
printed it, checked it out, etc.
Full Profile and Text Indexing. The fact that profiles and
the full text of all documents are indexed has other advantages
besides increased efficiency in retrieving documents. For example,
you can define a search that lets you see at a glance all documents
of a particular type that contain certain words (all briefs
containing the term "amputation" for example). Full text indexing
can also be of assistance in conflict checking, for example by
searching on all documents that refer to a particular business or
person. Finally, in some programs, such as Worldox, when you do a
full text search and then "View" a document in the hit list, the
document is opened at the specific text you searched for.
Other Features. Many document management systems make it
easy to set up a boilerplate library, where a firm can store forms
or basic documents that it uses and adapts repeatedly. The problem
with doing this in a manual system is that someone inevitably edits
a boilerplate document that was supposed to be copied first, and the
"boilerplate" has to be re-created.
Battle for the Desktop
The name of the game among software
makers these days is the battle for control of the desktop. Vendors
want to make their programs the "center" from which users organize
all their other activities and programs. That is, theirs will be the
program that firms buy first and then consider other items.
If some of their features do not match those offered by standalone
programs, this is supposedly compensated for by better integration
and cost savings. Some programs (such as Amicus) focus primarily on
linking with other programs rather than trying to write their own
What Are the Key Features?
To evaluate built-in document management
features of a given program, a firm needs to determine what features
are important to its practice, and which ones are superfluous "bells
and whistles." Main features include:
• "Profiles" govern the creation and retrieval of documents so
that users need know only the characteristics of a
document, not its location, in order to retrieve it.
• Full-text indexing of all documents (not just word
• Combined search of profile and full-text index.
• Integration with the main programs you use, in particular
e-mail and scanned documents, as well as Acrobat, Excel, etc.
• "Locking Down" the system so that users are forced to use it.
• Individual document security as well as by category (e.g.,
all HR documents)
• Version Control.
• Audit trail to see who has accessed (printed, checked-out,
• Reporting (all documents of a certain type, or all documents
used by "X").
• Check-out/Check-in of documents.
• "Mirroring" so that backup copies are on the local hard drive
if network is down (especially useful if you are using a laptop
and want to take things with you).
• Automated link to Time/Billing system so that new matters can
be imported into the system automatically.
• Web Access to your document store.
Who Are the Players?
For smaller and mid-size firms, the main
player is Worldox (iManage and Docs Open are popular among larger
firms). Worldox is a full-fledged document management program, that
is, it includes all the features listed above. In addition, Worldox
does not require the overhead (additional server and SQL databases)
of either DocsOpen or iManage.
With the release of version 5, Time
Matters should now be considered seriously. It has beefed up its
document management piece, in particular offering version control,
some document auditing, and the ability to work with programs other
than word processors. However, it is still lacking in certain key
areas, in particular:
• Time Matters cannot "lock down" the system so that users are
forced to use document management. This is frequently a major
• You cannot do a combined search across both profiles and full
• Time Matters does not have any form of local "mirroring" to
protect your documents if the network is down (or to make it easy
for laptop users to take documents home with them ).
• Integration with other programs (such as Acrobat, Excel) is
However, all in all, for a firm that
does not want to spend the extra money for a full-fledged document
management system, Time Matters offers an acceptable entry-level
Any document management implementation
will pay for itself very quickly just by reducing the amount of time
spent in retrieving documents. In addition, such a system offers
significant additional functionality when compared to a simple
directory structure that is accessed manually. This functionality
includes better security provisions, audit trails showing who has
modified or used documents, and increased ease of creating and using
boilerplate documents. Finally, a well-conceived implementation of a
program such as Worldox can be maintained with a minimum of