When envisioning a busy attorney’s office, the traditional scene includes a desk cluttered and stacked three feet high with paper files. Traditional small firms continue to be paper filled in part because the legal profession is slow to adapt to new technology. Big and midsize law firms have adapted to their needs ridding paper-based practice with the implementation of Document Management Systems, “DMSs”. What is Document Management System? In big and midsize law firms, using a DMS is absolutely necessary in order to organize, index, and control hundreds of thousands of documents. These firms have realized the upfront purchase cost pales in comparison to the efficiency and productivity of the system. More firms should leverage their DMS’s as a key strategic asset.
One could view a DMS as traffic stop because it brings order to the chaos of so many documents. In large firms or corporate practice, DMS’s are a centralized force that unifies a firm in classifying and labeling documents to best prepare for retrieval of all relevant documents in response to an electronic discovery request. With proper training, employees will be on the same page in how to store and name documents so long as there is employee compliance. Additionally, with large firms, there is a great deal of employees that should not have access to confidential documents. DMS provides confidentiality and restricted access to documents. Productivity is enhanced with DMS because multiple attorneys and legal support staff can work on editing documents using audit trails that record the progression of documents while also allowing different employees to simultaneously work on it.
Death by Paper
Scanning hard copies of documents into a DMS can be your solution. Depending on the size of a firm and the pay of an employee, paralegals scanning in documents is more expensive than outsourcing the work. Young associates in large firms should not scavenge large off-site storage facilities filled with piles of paper. Document management systems have invaluable retention capabilities of archiving old documents off the main serve to save valuable space but still making them more accessible than paper-filled warehouse. The key piece of scanning documents is producing them as PDF’s, not image only PDF’s, which cannot be text searched. Purchasing newer software packages like Omni Page Pro for a scanner allows a scanned document to be recognized by each individual word and opened for editing within Word Processor.
New Rules of the Game
Today attorneys are swamped with information that goes beyond the traditional documents generated by the firm to include emails, faxes, inter-office messaging, scanned documents and pages saved from the Internet. With the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requiring parties in litigation to preserve documents that exist only in the electronic form, a DMS is critical. A document management system allows organizations to prepare for e-discovery with the help of tools like document profiling, or metadata preservation, version control, audit trial, security and document retention. Another benefit of managing such electronic documents and data is managing and avoiding employee misconduct.
While a truly paperless world is an environmentalist law’s utopia, it is not a reality because some types of documents must remain in “original” paper form. However, for the vast majority of documents you should start scanning and enjoy the shredding.