When to Consider Document Management

Many firms are overwhelmed with documents. From thousands of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, law firms use documents:  Lots of them. In these same firms, the subject of document management comes up frequently and many firms wonder when is the right time to consider a document management system.

With so many documents to manage, most firms without a document management system organize their documents based on client or matter with a bunch of sub-folders, some standard folders, and some folders just for this client because “they didn’t quite fit anywhere”. It works for them. Everybody knows the system. Everybody knows where to save the documents.

And then the new summer associate arrives (or the new partner, new paralegal, or assistant). The system doesn’t quite “work” for them. They have new clients and matters and start saving documents their own way. Soon, the system which has worked so well up until now has a problem. People go on vacation or leave the firm, and someone else has to work on the case, help out in trial, etc.; you know the drill.

Now, no one can find documents. There are documents saved in places that no one would ever find them, and even the author doesn’t remember what they called them. Maybe there was the word Motion in the title, or the title started with the client name? Or maybe not…

If you have lost documents, you’re constantly searching for documents that others create, or you want an easy way to search for documents no matter who wrote them, it is time to consider a document management system.  Document management allows you to organize documents by client, matter, the type of document (correspondence, pleadings, etc.), who the document was created by, even by practice area if you want it to. They can be customized to fit your firm, practice area and culture.

In addition to the organization features, the ability to search for documents is phenomenal. All the documents are indexed and the documents can be searched by the title or contents of the document.  Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents are already searchable, but in order to make PDF documents searchable, they must first be saved using an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) process. Even if documents are stored in the incorrect client or matter, or saved with a funky name, they can be found using other search criteria such as author, date created or any text within the document. Did I mention how quickly they could be found? Bazinga!

Today, firms have many different choices for document management. There are server-based, as well as cloud-based, document management systems. As with most software, you need to consider whether your software “needs” to integrate with another system. If you’re already using a time and billing system and/or practice management system like TABS3, Amicus Attorney, PCLaw, etc., consider the document management system that integrates with your system a good first place to start. It doesn’t have to integrate with their other systems, but it is helpful when it can.

If you are still looking for a place to start with document management, take a look at these systems:

  • Worldox – A traditional server-based document management system that has recently introduced a cloud component. For more information, check out www.worldox.com. Prices begin at $425/user, with no additional monthly charges.
  • Netdocuments – A cloud-based document management system using the Software as a Service (SAAS) subscription model. For more information, check out www.netdocuments.com.  Prices begin at $20/user/month but the more feature filled version is $38/user/month.

Searching for misfiled documents causes frustration, lost billable time and money. A document management system is a great investment in a product that will make your office work more efficiently and effectively. The return on investment will be less frustration for attorneys and staff, happier clients and easily accessible documents. If only all your investments could do that.

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