October 2004
Volume 1, Number 1
Table of Contents

Where's the Brief?
Document Management Goes Beyond Just Keeping Jack

by Jason Krause

Reprinted with permission from the ABA Journal July 2004, Jason Krause

Nowadays, just storing and keeping track of documents isn’t enough. Foley & Lardner, with 1,000 lawyers in 60 practice areas in 19 offices around the globe, needs a system that not only stores and retrieves documents but also controls access to them across a global network. Like Foley & Lardner, more and more law firms are expecting their document management systems to fill more roles within the firm.

At its most basic, document management software tracks written material from creation to archiving to destruction. Document management ( “DM”) used to primarily involve word processing, but as lawyers increasingly work in e-mail, it means their DM system has to work inside e-mail, too. Today, a DM system needs to store, retrieve and track everything from e-mail, graphics, spreadsheets and word-processed documents to Web content, faxes, copies, contact files and more.

In addition, the large law firms are looking for systems that can keep track of documents in offices around the world. Many firms now insist that their document management systems be accessible through intranets and extranets to allow clients and lawyers to access the same documents, as well as to allow collaboration with distant offices.

In the wake of Sarbanes-Oxley, law firms are trying to make sure that they also comply with document retention regulations. That means systems have to be able to control the number of copies made of every document, as well as be able to retrieve each and every copy of a document ever made.

Three players dominate the legal document management business: Interwoven, a business-focused software company, now offers the iManage document management software under the Worksite brand; Foley & Lardner uses Hummingbird's Enterprise software, formerly known as PC Docs; and World Software's Worldox is the most widely-used, with more than 2,000 clients, mainly comprised of small and solo law firms.

Lawyers and legal researchers who use a DM system don ’ t want to have to work too hard to enter documents. Perhaps the biggest failing of DM systems has been the fact that a lot of lawyers simply don't take the time to fill out document profiles, data fields indicating things like the title, subject and author of a document as well as document and case numbers. Without proper profiles, a DM system is nearly useless.

To help solve this problem, DM systems do some of the work for the user by auto-populating profile fields. Information like client number, matter number, the attorney's name, jurisdiction and type of document can automatically be filled in.

The other basic challenge has been integrating e-mail into a DM system. In a typical law firm, a lawyer frequently creates a document, then e-mails copies to a client or other lawyers within the firm or both. Any changes made to the document within the e-mail can result in a firm finding itself with multiple copies of the same document that somehow need to be reconciled and tracked.

All major DM systems now work with Outlook and other major e-mail programs. All a lawyer needs to do in most systems is drag an e-mail into the DM software and the e-mail can be entered and properly classified in a matter or case file along with all other related documents.

However, this is only a partial solution. System users should define whether they want the system to delete the original e-mail or to track both the original e-mail and the new copy in the system. Otherwise, all the system does is create more copies without a definitive version.

That's increasingly important because ever since Enron, law firm documents and e-mails can be included in discovery requests. Law firms now need to be able to produce their files, as well as a client's file, at a moment ’ s notice.

There are also a handful of upstart DM software companies hoping to make a splash with new technology. Net Documents in Orem, Utah, offers a document management system that operates over the Web. It's a business model once known by the buzzword "application service provider," or ASP. Most ASPs went bankrupt because law firms were reticent to turn over their client data to a third party.

Most of the systems and functions discussed here have been geared for large-firm environments, but the issues are the same for small and even solo firms. That's especially true if small firms are competing with large firms for business. As clients get used to things like being able to access their files via the Web, even small firms will need a DM system that can make that possible.


Copr. (C) 2004 West, a Thomson business. No claim to orig. U.S. govt. works. This article is reprinted with permission from West, a primary sponsor of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.


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