What is Law Firm Document Management Software?

We get asked this all the time: “What is law firm document management software?”

Fear not, it’s not a dumb question. Many, wildly different type of software and storage are often described as “document management,” and the term is often misused.

Document Management software is special software that stores, organizes, and provides tools to manage all of the documents and emails within a law firm. Law firm-centric document management software typically organizes all data by client or matter.

“So is OneDrive, or my firm’s S: drive document management?”

No. Document management software provides more rich functionality, needed by many law firms, beyond the basic file/folder systems provided with network drives and basic cloud storage.

Related:

  • Document Storage
  • Document Tagging & Profiling
  • Full-Text Document Search
  • OCR
  • Microsoft Office Integration
  • Email Management
  • Document Check-In and Check-Out
  • Document Version Management
  • Unique Document ID
  • Permission and Access Management
  • Managing Favorite & Recent Docs
  • Windows & Mac OS Support
  • Client / Matter Organization
  • Data Encryption
  • Geographic Data Redundancy
  • Multi-Factor Authentication

Maybe your firm already has a document management system. Is it keeping up with technology, and with your firm? Or is it a Dinosaur DMS?

Document management software of yesteryear tended to be premised based, which means that they are expensive, require on-premise server infrastructure and usually require a lot of outside consultants/expertise.

The newest generation of DMS, on the other hand, tends to be cloud-based, which means you don’t have to shell out cash for your server’s infrastructure and that you can take your act on the road.

Cloud-based document management platforms provide all of the following advantages:

  • It can be accessed on a web browser from anywhere and on any device.
  • It doesn’t require costly and inconvenient setup and management by a consultant.
  • It doesn’t require the installation of software
  • It provides a modern, clean interface

One of the primary benefits of cloud-based DMS is that it is updated with up-to-the-minute functionality on a regular basis – keeping your system perpetually relevant with no fuss, no muss on your end. In a word, having cloud-based DMS is liberating.

If you aren’t super sure what the difference between practice management and document management is, you are not alone. Many firms don’t understand the difference, and make a buying decision… only to find out they bought the wrong kind of software. What makes this problem worse is that many practice management software providers describe “document management” as one of the software’s feature… but use this term liberally when describing what is, in effect, basic cloud storage and nothing more.

Practice Management software usually provides:

  • Time & Billing
  • Calendaring
  • Contact / Client Management
  • (Sometimes) Accounting
  • (Sometimes) Form/Document Creation/Assembly
  • (Sometimes) Basic Document Storage

Whereas Document Management software provides all of the rich functionality we described above. We’ve seen many law firms purchase a new Practice Management system, assume that it has “document management built in” (due in part to sometimes misleading or unclear language on the software website), only to find out the software does not include things like:

  • Full-text Search
  • Email Management / Outlook Integration
  • Document Profiling / Tagging
  • Document Check-Out / In
  • Document Version Management
  • Document Folders / Organization

For this reason, we urge law firms to understand the differences, and slight overlap, in these two categories of law firm software.

It cannot be overstated that your firm is unique and that it has unique needs. In fact, within your firm, you have attorneys, paralegals, and/or support staff who perform their own unique jobs and have their own unique document management needs.

The more carefully you assess the big picture when it comes to your team and their document management practices and needs (such as those listed in Core Features above), the better equipped you’ll be to pinpoint your DMS needs and to implement the right DMS for your firm.

We recommend that you gather input from all members of your firm, and ask:

  1. What features would you like to see in a new document/email management system?
  2. Where are the biggest bottlenecks in your daily workflow?
  3. What takes up the most time in your workday?
  4. What are the driving limitations of your current document management system?

We recommend you make a checklist, or a wish-list of things, in your new law firm document management software that are:

  1. Critical (Must-Have’s)
  2. Important (Nice-To-Have’s)

These lists become your roadmap and your compass as you evaluate law firm document management software.

If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that legal work doesn’t always happen in the office. Whether you’re working from home, are meeting with a client somewhere other than your office, are on the road, are in court – or are a firm with a virtual office, to begin with – you need nearly instant access to your documents, and your DMS has to be on point. We recommend cloud-based document management software, which will allow you to access documents and work:

  • From the Office
  • From a Client Site
  • From Home
  • From the Courthouse

And more.

Cross-platform compatibility is a must. We’re all going every which way these days, and DMS that isn’t compatible across platforms isn’t going to cut it. LexWorkplace, for example, incorporates complete Mac OS and Windows compatibility.

Running into issues with incompatibility can really slow you down. Whether your staff is working outside the office, from home, while traveling, or between offices, compatibility shouldn’t be an issue, and with cloud-based DMS, it won’t be.

You are a law firm, and this means that your data security is paramount, and this is never truer than when the data in question is client data.

With rising data breaches and the mayhem created by natural disasters, security and data backup is becoming the lynchpin of document management systems.

If the DMS candidates you’re considering don’t boast security that is both state-of-the-art and best-in-class, it’s time to keep looking. Refer to the next section – Law Firm Document Management: Data Security – for a due diligence checklist.

  • Data Encryption In-Transit
  • Data Encryption At-Rest
  • Geographic Data Redundancy
  • Multi-Factor Authentication
  • Secure Architecture (Secure Code)

It’s very common for a folder-filing system (that starts out small) to evolve into a massive endeavor that no longer comports with rhyme and reason, and that resembles nothing so much as the lawless wild west. With a cloud-based DMS in your corner, you can bring law and order back to your folder structure.

Emails are often critical to legal matters, but law firms have traditionally embraced clunky, outdated means of managing them within the context of their corresponding files.

If the system you use incorporates Outlook folders that leave the emails therein accessible only to the files’ creators or accessible only by manually saving them to PDFs, which are then saved to the filesystem, it’s time to step forward into the light.

Finding the documents you need for the case you’re working on shouldn’t be a journey. If you have to hunt for every document, attorney note, and email, it’s time to upgrade your DMS game.

LexWorkplace, for example, indexes every single word of every single document, note, and email – providing your firm with your own private Google Search equivalent.

You’ve got the documents you need, but accessing them when you need them can be a trick. With document management services like LexWorkplace, you can define your documents, apply categorizations, including type and status, attach unique document tags to them, and keep all those documents that you return to again and again uber accessible and organized.

On-premise servers bind you to the office, and that’s not the way we work anymore. To complicate matters further, on-premise servers are expensive, clunky, always in need of a boost from IT, and are busy becoming obsolete as soon as they are installed.

Further, the security you’re afforded by your on-premise server is only as robust as the proactive security measures you implement in the first place. Cloud-based DMS, by contrast, cycles through a continual loop of improved security measures.

It’s 2021, and security is king. Your firm cannot move forward without state-of-the-art data security, and if you’re still using an on-premise file server, you’re not moving in the right direction. With cloud-based DMS like those offered by LexWorkplace, you’ll have comprehensive, up-to-the-minute security right out of the gate.

If you have data everywhere, it makes finding what you need when you need it more of a guessing game than a matter of convenience and ease. With the kind of DMS offered by LexWorkplace, all of your documents come together in one space that is organized by client and matter number and that is easily accessible at the touch of a key or two.

Gone are the days when every law firm ran solely on Windows computers – with a few Mac firms sprinkled throughout. In fact, gone are the days when every law firm ran solely out of an office.

Your documents need to be available to you regardless of the computer or device that you’re on, and the kind of DMS supported by LexWorkplace does just that.

Your document management tools have to keep up with your document management needs, and this includes providing everything from seamless access to recently used and favorited documents to document check-in and check-out, unique document ID, document profiling, and much more.

About the Author: Dennis Dimka
Dennis Dimka is the CEO and founder of Uptime Legal Systems, North America's leading provider of technology, cloud and marketing services to law firms. Under Dennis’ leadership, Uptime Legal has grown organically and through acquisitions to become the nationally-recognized legal technology company it is today. Uptime Legal continues to innovate and disrupt the legal technology space, and has been named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private for the past six consecutive years. Dennis was also an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist.

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