A Document Management System often lives at the epicenter of a law firm’s technology, housing all of the firm’s important, matter-related documents, email and other kinds of content. Especially as law firms grow out of the 5-staff-or-less size, the need for a capable system to store, organize and manage all of a firm’s data becomes more and more acute. One prevalent document management system used by law firms (among other industries) is NetDocuments. In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive NetDocuments review, covering the features, benefits, caveats, and ultimately what you need to know before you buy NetDocuments.
Let’s get started.
NetDocuments – A Brief History
Before we get into the meat of our NetDocuments review, we’ll start with a (brief) history of the company. NetDocuments was founded in 1999, and to their credit they were one of the first true cloud-based, online document management platforms. The company was later acquired by a private equity firm, where it continued to grow and serve industries including healthcare, financial services, law firms, and corporate legal departments.
Today the company and the product remain prevalent, and has a large network of resellers throughout most markets.
Overview of NetDocuments
Next we’ll provide a high-level overview of the software in our NetDocuments Review.
NetDocuments is a general-purpose, cloud-based document storage and management system. Because the software is made to fit a range of different industries (not just law firms), it’s general enough that it can be fitted into a number of different kinds of businesses. The software is mostly (but not entirely) cloud based. Users access NetDocuments primarily via a web browser (as with most SaaS applications); no server required.
NetDocuments works well on Windows PC’s namely via its Office add-in, called ndOffice. ndOffice is an installed, desktop component that allows users to save documents directly to NetDocuments (which is nice). ndOffice, however, is only available for Windows, and doesn’t work on Macs. Which means if your firm uses Mac computers, you’ll have to use Parallels or similar software to run a Windows instance within your Mac computer.
NetDocuments also includes an option for ndMail, the Outlook add-in that allows you to save emails to the NetDocuments repository. ndMail is also Windows-only (no Mac support).
In NetDocuments, you create a workspace, which serves as the top-level container to store documents and other kinds of data. A workspace is, essentially, a top-level folder that you can create subfolders in (so-named to accommodate the needs of a variety of types of organizations). Law firms can use the concept of a workspace to loosely relate to a particular client or matter in which to store files in.
Feature of NetDocuments
Next up in our NetDocuments review we’ll dive into the specific features of the software. NetDocuments is more than just a fancy version of Dropbox, it provides a lot of tools to manage documents beyond simply storing them.
Office 365 Integration. NetDocuments Integrates with Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Office, and Adobe Acrobat.
Outlook Integration. NetDocuments, with it’s aforementioned ndMail app, allows users to save emails to a particular workspace.
File Sharing. NetDocuments allows you to securely share documents with others (outside parties) in addition to members of your firm.
Apps. NetDocuments includes its main web application as well as ndOffice and ndMail desktop applications as well as Android and iOS apps.
Search. NetDocuments includes full-text search to search across specific workspaces or your entire data repository.
Sync. ndSync, another NetDocuments app, allows you to sync data to a local device for backups or offline access.
Check-In/Check-Out. NetDocuments allows users to “check out” a document, which keeps others from editing it while you have it checked out.
Our NetDocuments review wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t cover what isn’t included in the software. While NetDocuments is generally good software, and certainly better than storing documents on a simple file server (EG: “the S: drive”), it’s missing a few elements that your law firm may need.
OCR Not Included. OCR is the technology that converts scanned files into text-enabled files. By default, when you scan a document, that file (a PDF, for instance) is little more than a photograph of the document you scanned. OCR converts that photograph into an actual text document that will be indexed and becomes searchable. NetDocuments doesn’t include OCR, and instead suggests you purchase separate OCR software that integrates with their software.
Matter-Centricity. Being made for the masses, not just law firms, NetDocuments lacks any semblance of a client or a matter. To work around this, law firms will create workspaces named after each client or matter in their practice (though NetDocuments lacks the ability to assign matter-specific attributes, such as client, case type, and so on).
Mac Support. As mentioned earlier in our NetDocuments review, NetDocuments does not include full Mac OS support, as many of the NetDocuments add-ins and modules do not run natively on Mac OS.
Onboarding & Migration. NetDocuments (the company) does not perform onboarding of new clients. Meaning: You can get the software from them, but they will not help your firm with setup, implementation and (most importantly) data migration. Instead they will refer you to one of their outside “Consultants” (resellers), at an additional cost. In fairness, some NetDocuments resellers do this job very well, but others don’t, so do your homework.
Benefits of NetDocuments
Net in our NetDocuments Review, we’ll describe the benefits of using NetDocuments. As a law firm, there are certainly a handful, including:
Good way to go paperless as a law firm.
Better reliability and security than using an on-premise file server.
More nuance and tools compared to generic cloud storage (such as Dropbox, Google drive, etc.)
NetDocuments integrates with applications you may already use like Office 365 and Clio.
Cloud-based software like NetDocuments is often better than legacy, premise-based document management software.
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Drawbacks of NetDocuments
Next up in our NetDocuments reviews we’ll cover the potential drawbacks of NetDocuments. NetDocuments is certainly better than consumer-grade cloud storage or a file server sitting in a coat closet, but it does have a handful of limitations, particularly for law firms.
Less matter-centric. NetDocuments has users organize files and folders into workspaces rather than clients or matters. You can name a workspace after a matter, but cannot set matter-specific attributes.
No Mac support. As we mentioned earlier in our NetDocuments review, you cannot run NetDocuments on a Mac without Parallels or some other Windows desktop virtualization software.
No data migration. NetDocuments will not perform any onboarding or data conversion services, you’ll have to do this on your own or hire a separate consultant/reseller.
No OCR. NetDocuments does not provide native OCR support, and instead requires to you acquire and integrate a third-party OCR solution.
Non-transparent pricing. As we’ll define below in our NetDocuments review, pricing is difficult to ascertain, as the company does not provide pricing publicly on its website.
Sometimes the best way to size up a potential software solution is to get a sense for what other law firms think of the product. For our NetDocuments review, we’ll share a handful of recent reviews from current and former NetDocuments users.
Finally in our NetDocuments review we’ll cover pricing.
As we mentioned above, NetDocuments does not provide public pricing information, for the software, for implementation, per-user fees or storage. To get pricing for your firm you’ll need to engage with a NetDocuments sales staff or work with a local NetDocuments reseller. We recommend that you very clearly and thoroughly understand all costs and pricing, including:
The cost for the software itself
The cost for additional users (logins)
The cost for additional storage
The cost for implementation (data conversion)
The cost for training
Any other one-time or recurring costs
The bottom line of our NetDocuments review: NetDocuments is a capable, versatile document management system. Using NetDocuments is certainly better than an on-premise file server without any DMS capabilities, and better than generic cloud storage services like Dropbox and OneDrive.
NetDocuments is also a favorite of many legal software consultants, in part because performing NetDocuments migrations is a revenue-generating service they provide.
Some of NetDocuments’ drawbacks and limitations may keep it from being the DMS of choice for certain law firms, depending on the needs of each firm. We encourage law firms to clearly define their own requirements and carefully evaluate any document management platform before making a decision when selecting a document management system.
Looking for Document Management? Take a Look at LexWorkplace
If you’re looking for a document management solution for your law firm, take a look at LexWorkplace.
LexWorkplace was born in the cloud and built for law firms. It’s a matter-centric DMS that delivers robust document management functions with the simplicity of a web browser: No servers required, no software to install.
About the Author: Uptime Legal Systems Named an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Company in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Uptime Legal is North America’s leading provider of cloud services to law firms. As a full service legal technology provider, Uptime’s offerings include Private Cloud for law firms, Document & Email Management and Web Design and Internet Marketing.
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