We see it time and time again: A law firm’s local file server has reached its end-of-life and has become a headache to maintain. So the firm looks to the cloud to modernize its file storage and document management. Wouldn’t it be great to get rid of that server and be able to access documents from anywhere?
A solution search often leads the firm to “public cloud” services like DropBox, OneDrive, or Box. The firm transitions to one of these consumer-grade cloud storage services, only to find it woefully lacking in functionality, security, and reliability.
The Problem with Consumer-Grade Cloud Storage
Consumer-grade cloud storage services, such as DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Box are designed for home and consumer use, not for businesses, and certainly not for the sophisticated needs of law firms. These products:
- Lack structure or matter-centric organization. Rather, they become unorganized dumping grounds for files and folders, leaving organization to the discretion of each member of the firm.
- Lack security and compliance. Many of these services do or can replicate your data to overseas datacenters, creating data sovereignty and ethical issues. Add to that, most services lack the document audit trails required by some compliance standards.
- Lack document management features beyond simple storage, including version management, indexing, search, metadata, and more.
- Attempt to sync data to each user’s computer. A fundamental problem with all of these services is they attempt to synchronize to each of your user’s computers. This works okay for a couple of people, but when you get to more than a few users, the synchronization becomes inefficient and inconsistent, leading to inconsistencies in data from one person’s computer to another.
Consumer-grade services are great for personal use, quick-and-dirty storage, and sharing of files. (Even this author uses Google Drive for certain personal cloud storage needs.) But they are not robust, they don’t scale well, and they lack features required by most law firms.
Features of a True Document Management System
The term Document Management will vary a bit depending on whom you ask to define it. Some consumer-grade cloud storage services even self-describe their products as Document Management solutions. Semantics don’t matter–what matters is the functionality your law firm requires.
A true Document Management System, or DMS, will include:
- Matter-centric document storage & management.
- Email management: Saving emails to a matter, just like any other document.
- Microsoft Office Integration: Saving documents directly to your DMS from the Office suite.
- Indexing & Search: Indexing is the key to quickly locating a specific document. A good DMS indexes the contents of every document (and email) so you can quickly search all content across your entire system.
- Version Management: See, compare, and restore prior versions of a document.
- Check-In/Check-Out: Checking-out a document prevents other users from modifying it while you are working on it.
- Favorite & Recent Documents: Quickly access your favorite and recent- documents.
- Document Profiling or Tagging: Tag or code documents as different types, such as contracts, motions, pleadings, and so forth…or a different status, such as draft or final. This functionality helps you to organize, sort, and find documents by type, status, and more.
- Document alerts: Receive notifications when a specific document is updated or changed.
Conclusion: If your law firm needs any of these features, you need a true Document Management System.
Sidebar: Practice Management ≠ Document Management
Many legal Practice Management applications build in some rudimentary document storage features. The functionality is usually limited to simply linking documents that are stored elsewhere to a specific matter. This is problematic when you have many documents for a matter that may be stored on different computers or servers. What’s more, the functionality within traditional Practice Management software usually lacks the important features of document management, including check-in/check-out, version management, index/search, and more. For this reason, many firms also implement a stand-alone Document Management solution.
The Uptime Verdict
The term Document Management is used so loosely that it’s become difficult for law firms to cut through the buzz to find a solution that meets their needs. The Cloud is a great way to modernize your law firm, and specifically the storage and management of its documents, but be sure you understand your firm’s specific needs and what products meet them.