Document Management for the Distributed Firm
For the Distributed Firm, in which employees regularly work offsite and connect to firm systems using a variety of devices, efficient document management can be challenging. Team members need to be able to retrieve, review and edit their files efficiently, in an organized structure that is accessible both in and out of the office.
As paper documents and in-person revision meetings are no longer an option, the firm needs a centralized platform that facilitates efficient document management and collaboration from any location.
Document Management Software
Most firms start out organizing their documents with a basic file tree in Windows, with some form of naming convention to identify clients, cases and matters. This approach invariably breaks down, as document volumes increase and staff members on files change over. Folders structures vary and document retrieval is restricted by Windows’ limited search functions. There are also compatibility challenges with some files, for example email and faxes. Documents become more difficult to locate and this challenge is amplified by remote work.
Document management software (DMS) transforms a firm’s file system into an organized, searchable database. The benefits of this are dramatic: a DMS enables high-speed searching across your firm’s files based on profiles and text in the documents. This 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.
A DMS enables firms to control, organize, and manage all information coherently, with employees able to access the documents they need from any location.
Firms improve productivity and put an end to frustrations like:
- Endless document quests
- Making one team members’ documents available to another
- Overlooking crucial information in files or email messages
- Interpreting obscure file names or which client a document is associated
- Navigating multiple applications, drives and folders
Document Management Features
The essential features in a DMS for law firms include:
- High speed content searching of many file formats, most importantly MS Office and PDF
- OCR capability to turn scanned documents into searchable text
- User directed document versioning so that drafts and revisions can be managed and compared
- Simple and powerful email management to track client correspondence
- Security that allows fine-grained control over who can create and edit documents providing for internal security and ethical walls
- Audit history to view document opens, edits and other actions. This is a requirement for some large institutional clients
- Robust remote access so that users can work seamlessly with documents when they aren’t in the office
Law Firm Document Management Options
Many systems advertise document management capabilities, but because law firms’ needs are so document intensive, it makes sense to focus on dedicated document management software.
For medium and small law firms, NetDocuments is a popular, cost-effective choice. With thousands of installations at firms around the globe, NetDocuments is a cloud DMS with robust features and has a minimal IT footprint for the firm, not requiring any on-premises servers. This software integrates with legal software packages such as accounting and has extensive customization options, so it’s a powerful and safe option for law firms looking to get control of their documents.
Remote access to documents, including collaboration features, is critical to working productively in a distributed firm, and careful planning during implementation pays off.
Programs like NetDocuments use a cloud-based document management system. In this scenario, the firm’s documents are stored at the provider’s site, and there is no requirement for the firm to implement document management servers or software internally. Documents are accessed over the Internet, edited locally, and uploaded back to the provider’s servers, usually behind the scenes. The software is provided on a subscription basis and is usually very convenient to implement.
Security services on the web server may be robust, but as users open documents on potentially diverse and shared computers, there are new risks that documents will become infected when they are edited. Security planning for protecting user devices against this risk is essential.
Mobile apps are also a common add-on for document management systems. These apps provide great mobility features, such as the ability to search, download, and even edit files. With this said, they are rarely appropriate for full-fledged editing and are usually most useful for review and quick changes on the fly.
While the firm may give up physical storage of their documents, steps can be taken to mitigate any risks associated with this. NetDocuments is a good example of a cloud document management system with robust features designed for law firms.
Finally, for firms with a virtual desktop infrastructure, remote access to all software including document management comes built in. The DMS and the firm’s full software complement is available anywhere users have access to the Internet.
Document Management Software delivers access to robust tools that transform common productivity challenges in the Distributed Firm.
When combined with the full-featured remote access capabilities of a Private Cloud and document management, it empowers firms to improve productivity across the firm, inside and outside of the office.
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