Alphabet Soup: A Primer on Corporate Legal Tech Solutions

Conducting a simple Google search for “legal technology solutions” will garner over 47 million results. Most legal budget owners will claim they have been called by at least that many vendors, purporting to offer them the solution to their problems. It can be difficult to navigate the marketplace and conduct a proper analysis with so many choices that sound so similar. Ultimately, it is important to understand how solutions are oriented and designed in order to make informed decisions. It is equally as important to refine the requirements and critical success factors within the organization to know which acronym suits it.

The differences lie in the orientation of the solutions. Take a moment to look at your smartphone apps. Do you have something for music? Do you have something for photos? Both of these apps allow for electronic files to be stored, tagged and shared. However, the app that is oriented for music will offer features such as artist information, genre and the ability to add it to a playlist. The app for photos will offer image correction, geo-tagging and time stamps. Could the photo app feature artist information? Sure. But should it? Probably not. This is the framework to allow you to understand legal solutions. Each of the categories of solutions will have features and functionality. Many of them will be very similar to each other. Some may even be labeled exactly the same. However, each acronym defines solutions that are orbiting around a different center.

Document Management System (DMS)

DMS refers to solutions that are document-centric. DMS solutions will range from simple shared folders to complex systems that integrate with Microsoft Office applications at the time of saving. Document-centric applications will always view the document and its metadata as the structure. Most common in DMS solutions will be the concept of folders, not unlike the manila file folders all of us pretend not to still use. Folders are simply groups of documents. These may also be called workspaces, since they allow for the opportunity to collaborate or record activities. They may be called libraries, since they have a codex and organizational structure that can be indexed and searched. Any fields that exist will trace back to the folders and the documents within them. Sophisticated DMS solutions will have functionality that extends your involvement with a document. For example, there may be auto-tagging for a certain characteristic, like record type, that can automatically assign a records retention schedule. Many have workflows that can route approvals to users before an event can take place.

Contract Lifecycle Management System (CLM)

CLM refers to solutions that are contract-centric and focus on what happens before and after the contract is signed. This is a particularly muddied body of water in that more than 60 vendors claim to offer contract management functionality. The reason for so many vendors is the various options for how the life cycle can be supported. I often state that there are four pillars of contract management, and all these vendors can choose which pillar(s) their product will focus on: contract requesting and drafting, contract approvals and signature, obligation management and notices/expirations/renewals. Some solutions will offer excellent graphic interfaces to support the contract request activity, but do little to support the ongoing responsibilities for things like milestone payments. Others will offer rich search capabilities but not have the workflows to permit adequate internal approvals. Still others serve as a glorified repository with some simple tagged fields for reminders of expiration. Regardless of which pillar a solution is strongest in, each is indeed oriented around the contract. Yes, it is true that a contract is a document, but we usually expand our thinking to include all of the documents generated to get to that “final” contract. A contract usually encompasses a number of documents by the time it has completed the drafting process. It may also have appendices and references. For that reason, document management systems organized around the contract record allow multiple documents per record.

Records Management System (RMS)

RMS refers to solutions organized around individual records and the tasks created because you have them. In other words, records management systems help you manage the records you create; they don’t really help you manage why you created the record. An organization can create millions of records a day. A record may exist because someone wrote an email, drafted a contract, generated an invoice or posted a job opening. With the sole exception of my son’s field trip permission slip, records do not delete themselves. They create a task, in the sense that you or your organization must decide how to store, recycle or dispose of that record. RMS solutions exist to help organize these tasks. They will include workflows to categorize records, tag records for reference and importance and even facilitate defensible destruction of records you don’t need anymore. A document, a contract or a matter could all be considered records.

Matter Management System (MMS)

MMS refers to solutions that are matter-centric. Matter management systems got their start from docketing and case management and have existed for more than a quarter of a century. A matter is any unit of work that requires the organization of people, dates, costs and documents. A matter may be a lawsuit, a contract negotiation or even a special project. MMS solution designs vary in their complexity, but overall create an organizational container that holds documents, a list of people, companies, costs and dates in a “one to many” type of relationship. The advent of ELM (Enterprise Legal Management) is an attempt to combine MMS with electronic billing solutions and rebrand this capability for organization as a platform. While the capabilities of the solutions grow stronger and stronger, it may create some confusion in the analysis of the acronyms. An ELM is not a DMS, a CLM or an RMS. The orientation of the data remains on the matter itself—no matter how sophisticated the solution may be.

Intellectual Property Management System (IPMS)

IPMS refers to solutions that help track the intellectual property of the organization, such as trademarks, patents, copyrights and the licensing and payments surrounding them. While it is common to consider the work going into filing a patent and maintaining it in various jurisdictions as a “matter,” IP management systems have a very prescribed way of supporting the needs of IP, which extends beyond the basic task of management of records or party management of matters. The solutions usually include “many to many” groupings from the IP to the family/category of IP and also to the inventor or licensor. Of all the systems discussed here, this is the most complex and specific.

The “alphabet soup” of solutions available can be intimidating when you have been tasked with fixing a problem inside your company. Remember to ask questions about your specific set of problems. Evaluate a vendor not on the quality of a sales pitch or demonstration, but on the ability to demonstrate it has solved that same problem before for another company. The good news is that you have many options: you just need to conduct a thorough search first. If you apply more than one of these solutions, you must also plan carefully for how they will interact with each other. And don’t view these options as a checklist where you need to “collect them all.”

Instead, build a technology roadmap that allows your department to prioritize and take on only the solutions you need to best fix your specific set of problems. Maintain a clear picture in your mind of how the data is organized, how the solution will help resolve your problems (when used correctly) and how you will maintain your own set of acronyms in the company, and in what order you will build. Do that, and you will be successful.

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