If your law firm is like many small-to-medium-sized Canadian firms, you're facing an increasing volume of electronic files and correspondence. Your firm may also face related challenges around reproducing work, collaborating on and versioning documents and responding quickly to client demands. Let's explore how Document Management Software (DMS) can help you manage your electronic documents efficiently and effectively.
The primary challenge DMS is designed to solve is managing large amounts of electronic documents. Firms without DMS typically use some form of folder naming convention where files are supposed to be saved the same way across the organization. This approach invariably breaks down. Compliance is the main problem: how do you get everyone to save everything the same way every time? Searching is also limited with this method. You are restricted to standard Windows search tools which will not allow things like text or Boolean searches that can drastically cut down on time spent looking for documents. Finally, this approach cannot save file formats that although crucial to your matter, don’t fit easily in Windows. Email is the most relevant example of this, but faxes are also a common example.
An effective document management system is the answer to these simple but critical problems. Generally speaking, a DMS will turn your current file system into an organized, searchable database. The benefits of this are usually quite dramatic. A proven system will enable high-speed searching across your firm’s files based on profiles and the text in documents. This comparatively rapid ability to search for files using a wide array of information translates into less time wasted looking for documents, less re-creation of existing work and better re-use of documents already created. These core benefits have the cumulative effect of driving higher levels of productivity, transparency, and collaboration.
How does it work?
If you’ve never used DMS, you have likely had the experience of trying to find files in a system where everyone has their own way of naming documents. Unless you know the file path, you can have considerable trouble finding the document. When someone leaves the firm or is on vacation, access to their files becomes a problem. With a DMS, this flawed approach is a thing of the past. Everyone across the whole organization is compelled to save each type of document the same way, every time.
The system will enforce this by, for example, taking over the regular “Save” function on a Word or PowerPoint document. When a user attempts to save, they will be asked to fill out a “Profile Card”. This card contains required information agreed upon by the firm for that particular type of document, such as Client, Matter, Author, Document Type, etc. This is called “Enforced Profiling”. Now, because there is consistency in how files are saved and no way to go around the system, a person can have confidence that anything they are searching for can be pulled up in a variety of ways. Instead of a defined file path, users now have something more akin to a search engine. Any information you know about a document from its title, author, matter or even any text remembered from the document itself, can be used to swiftly retrieve it.
This new approach enables some powerful features that do not exist in a Windows file approach. The key one, as described above, is high speed full text and profile info searching. In addition, many law firms find the following features extremely useful:
- Email integration to allow email correspondence to be easily added to the document database.
- Support for hundreds of file formats, including scanned documents.
- Security settings to ensure confidentiality and controlled access.
- Audit trail to track actions performed on documents, and by whom.
- Document versioning to track the evolution of documents.
- Check-in/check-out to allow documents to be edited when users are not connected to the network.
- Remote access/web access/mobile access to allow documents to be added and retrieved when working offsite.
- Cabinets to allow documents to be divided into business groupings such as Client Files, Administrative, Accounting, and Partnership documents.
Your files are the currency with which your firm operates. Like all currency, an efficient, prudent, and organized approach to managing them is always preferred. With a DMS, your firm has access to a robust set of tools that have the power to transform this crucial aspect of your practice.