Implementing Document Management
A version of this article
originally appeared as a Technofeature on the Technolawyer listserv (www.technolawyer.com)
There are no hard and fast rules
when implementing a document management system, although experience shows
that some configurations tend to work better than others for most firms.
Therefore I will focus on some general guidelines based on my experience
as a consultant with document management systems.
What Do You Want to Accomplish?
Most vendors focus on feature lists
that promise to do just about everything except have coffee ready for you
in the morning. Forget the feature list and focus on your wish list. To
the extent a vendor’s
feature list does not match your wish
list, consider a vendor that more closely matches your needs. One need
that is frequently cited is to avoid losing documents (you would be
surprised how often users simply drag entire directories from one place
to another without even realizing it). Re-typing documents because the
original file could not be found is not uncommon.
Do you want better search
capabilities? Both speed and the ability to do boolean searches can be
important here (find a and b; a within x words of b, etc.).
By integrating email into the
document management system, all the firm’s emails
become searchable and you can easily locate all emails concerning a given matter, regardless of who
sent or received them. Outlook cannot do this.
Do you want to be able to access
your documents from home over the Web? Do you want to make specific
documents of selected clients available to them, again, over the Web?
A critical issue is whether you want
to "lock down" the system, that is, oblige everyone to use it
all the time. Practice Management programs such as Time Matters or Amicus
Attorney offer "document management" modules that are optional–users
are not obliged to use them. In my
experience, this is a recipe for disaster. If a system is optional, then
some significant portion of your users are going to opt out of it some or
all the time. And of course, just at the wrong time or with the wrong
document. To have to depend on the good will and discipline of users when
implementing any system is not a great idea.
In business, there is a principle
that you never start negotiating from your fallback position. The same is
true here. Start from your maximum wish list. You may not eventually want
to devote the time and money to implementing all of it, some things on
your wish list may not be realistic, but at least you won't be in a
position of saying three months from now, "If only I had...."
In short, the list of what you want
it to do mirrors your existing aggravations. Plus, the process of
creating a wish list helps to focus your thinking and will improve the
Plan, Plan, Plan
Once you have a list, how exactly do
you want the system to work? Do different practice areas/departments
require different settings or levels of security? It is important to look
at this closely to distinguish between what a practice area or specific
attorneys might think they want and what they actually need. Generally
speaking from one to three profiles (containing basic information about
the document) suffice to meet the needs of most firms. This is an area where
most often "less is more."
You will likely want a different
level of security for the Firm’s Management Committee and/or
administrative, human resources or
financial personnel so that only authorized personnel have access to
whole categories of documents. In specific cases very sensitive areas of
a practice (trusts & estates; mergers & acquisitions) might need
a "walled-off" area. There is a trade-off between security and
convenience. If you lock a system down too much, it can have a serious
effect on usability. You need to establish your comfort level here.
Involve End Users; Set
If end users are taken by surprise
when a system is rolled out, you could be in for a rocky implementation.
In addition, Partners who are used to certain work habits (and don’t
want to "share" their documents) may have to modify them, so it
is critical for Partners to "buy in" to document management.
Users will have questions such as "what about my personal
documents?" "I keep the partner’s personal
correspondence on my local hard drive,
what will happen to that?" "I keep drafts on the hard drive and
only put the final copy on the network." If these issues are not
addressed before hand, you could have a revolt on your hands. The actual answer
you give is less important than addressing the issue – and you may also be led to modify the structure
of your system to accommodate certain concerns or requirements.
Designing the System
Document management systems create
"profiles" to facilitate organization and faster searching.
These typically include Client, Matter, Document Type, Author and
sometimes Typist in addition to the document description. You need to
decide whether this is adequate or whether you have special needs. For
example, a corporate legal department might want to also categorize
documents by the state whose law governs the document, for example.
A major issue when implementing a
document management system is what to do with your old documents. It is a
safe bet most firms will never access up to 75-80% of the documents
created before the document management system is implemented. I recommend
setting up a "legacy" category for your old documents. Force
users to move old files into the new system the first time they access them.
This will be far less time-consuming (and hence less expensive) than
trying to convert your old documents. However, if you are switching from
one document management program to another, there may be conversion
utilities available to convert your old information.
Integration with Other Products
Make sure that the proposed document
management program will integrate not only with Microsoft Office or
WordPerfect products, but Acrobat, various scanning products, cost
recovery modules such as eCopy or Equitrax or other specialized programs.
If the program does not natively integrate, can integration be easily
added (Worldox, for example, can be made to integrate with almost
anything)? Most document management programs cannot integrate with
database programs such as those commonly used for e.g., real estate
closings, precisely because they are databases, not individual files.
Integration with E-mail
Client-related e-mails sent or
received by various people in the firm should be integrated into the
document management system so that they are available to everyone working
on a case. Outlook makes it difficult to accomplish this. You need to
establish policies for how emails are stored in the document management
system. You want to make it possible for people to exclude personal
email, items from listservs or RSS feeds, spam, etc. You also need to
decide how to deal with existing email stores.
Working Off-line; Web Access
Virtually all attorneys these days
work from home at least part of the time. What provisions will you make
for attorneys to take copies of files home with them or access the
document management system remotely from home? Most document management
programs provide for some sort of Web access, usually as an add-on
module. Since copies of files will be taken away from the firm, you also
need to establish policies governing web access to your document store.
In many cases, it is also possible
to set up remote access to restricted areas of your document store so
that specified clients can access those documents (and only those
documents) that the firm makes available to them.
Most firms do not take the time and
effort to create brief banks and boilerplate documents. Instead,
attorneys "recollect" a similar document that could be modified
for a new case. This process is
prone to error ("old" language overlooked and left in the
document by mistake). And not only are memories faulty, but this process
leaves the firm without "firm-standard" boilerplate for certain
purposes. In addition, standard form documents can serve as a valuable
resource in training new attorneys: "this is how we have resolved
this issue in the past and here is why."
Most document management systems are
sufficiently easy to use that many firms do not feel training is
necessary. However, in the process of "hand crafting" ways to
keep track of documents in the past, users will inevitably have created
procedures for naming and storing documents that may have been useful to
specific individual users, but are either not necessary, inefficient, or
even counter-productive in the context of a document management system.
In addition, most users do not get the most power out of the program’s
capabilities. As with any other program,
adequate training can multiply the effectiveness of a document management
system many times.
Given the intrinsic problems in
managing large numbers of documents, compounded by employee and attorney
turnover, adopting a document management system is increasingly a vital
necessity for most firms. Once you have decided on a system, the
difference between a well-thought out and implemented system can be a
make or break issue determining how effective and successful it actually