The Problem With Today’s Law Firm Document Management Software
(And What to Do About it)
Recently we announced the Early Access program for our new document and email management system, LexWorkplace. The LexWorkplace product sets out to fix everything that’s wrong with the law firm DMS market today and marks the first significant advancement in legal document management in a long time. Long-time users of today’s document management systems often find today’s DMS software options stale, unwieldy, and dated.
In this article, we’ll cover everything wrong with today’s law firm document management software.
Let’s get started.
The Dinosaur DMS
Long ago, law firms had (essentially) two choices when it came to storing and managing their electronic documents. They could (a) store them on local file servers (eg: “The S: drive,”) which was simple but unsophisticated, or (b) they could implement a DMS (Document Management System). These DMS applications provided a lot of tools for managing documents (search, profiling, check-in/out), but required extensive (and expensive) in-house server infrastructure and specialized IT experts to implement and maintain them. In the case of the latter, the added expense was seen as a necessary evil, even a requisite for some larger law firms to keep their documents under control. These legacy document management applications were purchased, installed and run locally on a law firm’s in-house servers.
To be fair, these document management products were cutting-edge at the time. They were sophisticated, feature-rich and flexible. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, these products were more-or-less considered cutting edge.
But today, they’re showing their age.
Old, premise-based document management applications haven’t changed all that much since their inception. But the needs of lawyers have. The main problems with these Dinosaur DMS’s include:
Big, Clunky and Unwieldy.
Implementing a premise-based DMS is anything but plug-and-play. They’re big, require a lot of (expensive) server power. This often means a law firms has to buy and manage twice the server infrastructure then they would otherwise have to. Add to that, these older document management applications are often clunky to use, difficult to navigate and likely to frustrate your users.
I’ll cut right too it: Premise-based document management software is costly. Most Dinosaur DMS’s are expensive just in terms of buying the actual software licensing. But it doesn’t stop there: The aforementioned requisite server infrastructure itself is expensive–something you’ll need to buy and maintain just for the privilege of using your Dinosaur DMS. Add to that, implementation and support of your DMS will require a specialized consultant, which I’ll cover later, and which is also expensive.
Significant Server Infrastructure Required.
I’ve touched on this already, but this drawback warrants another mention: Every on-premise document management application on the market today requires significant server infrastructure to properly host in-house. This means more cost, more complexity, more management overhead. Many of today’s premise-based document management applications require multiple servers, each of which must be configured in a very specific way. Don’t like being in the business of managing servers and IT? A Dinosaur DMS will firmly plant you in that role, permanently.
Limited or No Remote Access.
Premise-based DMS software, by it’s nature, provides little or no remote access capabilities. This leaves it to you (and your IT consultant) to set up your own remote access solution, such as a VPN, remote PC tools or Remote Desktop. Most of these tools work well enough, but the performance of working remotely will be adherent to your law firm’s Internet upload speed, effectively making your firm in the business of server hosting. Nine out of ten firms we talk to that have done this share that the performance and user experience of working outside the office is awful. Which is a bit silly, when you consider we’re well into the Cloud Age. Dinosaur DMS’s (sort of) address this by bolting-on “cloud” options, presenting a “cloud” option for their software that really isn’t. Which brings me to:
In an effort to the increasing customer demands for cloud-based solutions, the Dinosaur DMS companies had to do something. But software is either fundamentally cloud-based, or it isn’t. And theirs isn’t. So to deal with this, these companies offer a “cloud option,” where they will host their document management software on their own servers, and provide some means for you, the customer, to access it. This usually comes in the form of a remote connection, RDP, Citrix or some other means to connect remotely; but the software is not run in a browser, which you’d normally associate with cloud-based software. Which means these applications aren’t true cloud, but rather a kind of jerry-rigged faux-cloud solution. The practical problem with these solutions is that they’re often clunky to use, slow, require significant client-side setup, and don’t alleviate the other problems inherent to premise-based software.
Confusing, Cluttered Interface
Have you seen legacy document management software recently? The user interface for these dinosaur DMS’s are… awful, to be honest. The interface looks dated (something from the 90’s), text is tiny and hard to read, buttons are densely, crammed together, and finding what you’re looking for is completely unintuitive. You shouldn’t need a degree in computer science to use your law firm document management software, but it certainly feels like that’s what’s necessary to make use of a dinosaur DMS. This flies in the face of current, modern software design trends, which favor clean, intuitive design, simple layouts and a UI that makes it easy to find what you’re looking for, and that (maybe most importantly) doesn’t overwhelm the user.