For a law firm, one of the most important responsibilities is to stay organized and manage each client’s case to as best as possible. Having the right document management system (DMS) can save your law firm time and money, as well as help win cases. I have created a list of things to look for when selecting your next DMS. You can also look at this list and compare the DMS you currently have.
1. Does it integrate with your case management, time management, and accounting systems?
A DMS could be the greatest in the world but if it does not integrate with your existing systems, it can hinder back office management. For example, if a junior attorney spent three hours writing a brief, you should be able to attach a link to the document in your time management system.
2. Does it provide check-in/check-out for all documents and keep track of all changes made to documents and artifacts?
In a typical law firm, you may have an intern, junior attorney, and senior attorney review and provide edits to a document. To check the track of changes, the DMS should provide a check-in/check-out system along with a log showing who checked out a document, what they did to such a document, and how long the document was checked out.
3. Does it allow you to communicate with your clients?
An ideal DMS will allow you to not only mail directly from the document system but also convert a document into PDF before sending it to the client or opposing law firm. Look for a DMS that will also allow you to package documents together, convert them to PDF, compress them into one file, and attach them to your mail client system.
4. Can you take your work home with you without removing documents and artifacts out of the system?
I have worked with attorneys who e-mail themselves documents they would like to work on from home, only to have 6 or 7 versions of the document in multiple locations. The DMS should allow you to access your document from various location a smart phone or tablet. When you open and edit a document, it should stay inside the DMS to ensure that the document keeps its integrity.
5. Does it have a built-in backup and recovery system? If so, how easy is it to retrieve your information?
Backup and recovery are normally not thought about until it is too late. Ensure the DMS you select backs up files to a separate location—whether a disk drive or remote location. Depending on how large and busy your law firm is, this process can be performed on an hourly or daily basis.
6. Is it easy for the office to use?
DMSs come in all shapes and sizes and may have really advanced features. Before selecting your DMS, ensure that your staff understands its core features and can adapt to its advanced features as well.
7. Does it support multiple layers of security to keep your information safe and secure?
With NSA in the news lately, the importance of understanding security in your law firm cannot be overstated. Do not assume the DMS vendor has integrated the best security practices. Your documents normally include PII (Personal Identity Information) and you will be held liable if the information is obtained by unintended individuals. I have also heard of situations where the opposing counsel managed to get hold of documents and communication between the attorney and client due to the lack of security. Having a username and password is not enough. Consider using an RSA token and/or a VPN to access information.
8. Does it allow you to apply metadata and tags to each file you place into it?
This point is very important. The DMS you select should allow you to tag documents with case and matter information to allow you to find such information later. Applying tags and metadata will allow you cross to reference similar cases, thereby saving time when writing up briefs.
9. Does the company provide training and support? If so, when is support available?
You should start to think about training before the system is installed. Ensure that the DMS provides training before, during, and after installation.
10. Does the vendor provide help desk support?
Support is normally thought about when processes are not working the way they should, and your staff begins to complain. Ensure that you have a support plan with the vendor that goes beyond the 9 o’clock to 5 o’clock window. Moreover, ensure that a technical person is available in the area to make a site visit if necessary.
11. Does it support workflows and rules?
A DM system with workflows and rules can boost your law firm’s productivity. For example, if you have uploaded a document regarding a case with a hospital, your DMS applies a HIPPA retention policy ensuring your firm’s compliance.
12. Does it require extensive development and customization before it fits your law firm’s needs?
Certain DMSs require an extensive amount of custom development before being compatible with your law firm’s needs, such as integration with existing systems or creation of complex workflows. Ensure that you understand the custom development entailed, and do not assume the DMS will work the way you want it to right out of the box.
13. What type of documents and artifacts does it support?
You may be using Coral WordPerfect or Microsoft Word. Hence, ensure that your DMS can support both formats as well as the metadata in each application provide.
14. What is the Total Cost of Ownership?
Software in general work on a client access license charged on an annual basis. Ensure that you understand the cost involved, and find out if decreasing your license subscription comes with penalties. Does the DMS require extra staff? If so, what is the cost associated with adding additional staff or using your existing resources to manage the DMS?
15. Does it have audit controls built into it to give you “who, what, where, and when” information about all documents stored inside it?
Your DMS should have built-in audit controls allowing you to have constant view into who is accessing your documents. You want to ensure, if you are ever audited, that you can explain engagement letters and closing letters used, how clients are billed, and how documents are kept.
16. Does it support archiving and offline storage?
Your DMS should allow you to archive your cases and store them offline. You should be able to search across an archive even if it has been moved to remote storage. Ensure that your archive cycle is defined to how your law firm works. For example, is a case archived when it has been settled or closed? If a case has not been touched in two years, is it considered archived?
17. Can you scan documents directly to the system? If so, does it support OCR (Optical character recognition)?
Your DMS should be able to scan directly to your DMS and attach the scan directly to your case management system. Scanning is not enough. Your DMS should also process OCR data from your scanner. Scanned documents without OCR will later keep you from index searching later on.
18. Can you electronically sign documents? If so, does it work with other e-signature vendors?
Electronically signed documents allow you to sign and secure your documents using encrypted certificates. Your DMS should allow you to use electronic signatures from third-party vendors.
19. Are all document communications encrypted?
Whether you are using a system that is in cloud or on the premises, ensure that all communication is encrypted. For example, if you access your DMS using a web browser via “http://yourdms,” your information can be retrieved by anyone on the same network. The URL should start with “https://yourdms,” which indicates that a secure certificate has been issued, and your documents will not be exposed to preying eyes.
20. Does the DMS support retention policies?
Your DMS should allow you to setup and use retention policies based on the type of law you practice, but it should also allow you to setup and use new retention policies in case you expand into a different industry. Some retention polices you should watch for include SOX, HIPPA, OSHA, state and federal tax laws, and SOL for each of the states in which you work.
21. Does the DMS have a basic and advanced search features?
Searching matters and cases is critical to your law firm. Your DMS should allow you to search by matter, case, metadata, and words inside of a document. The DMS should also allow you to view related cases and create saved searches for later use.
22. Does the DMS integrate with Adobe Acrobat?
Adobe Acrobat is an important document editor and reader to any law firm. Make sure your DMS converts documents to PDF and supports advanced features, such as annotation, certification, and form building.