Document Management for In-House Legal Teams

Introduction to Document Management for In-House Legal Departments

In-house legal teams are unique in many ways. For example, instead of serving a mix of clients, they’re dedicated to the legal representation of their organization. Another unique attribute is the in-house team’s need for legal-specific and comprehensive document storage and management tools.

In-house legal teams, by default, are often “stuck” with whatever corporate tools the organization uses, from on-premise file servers to Outlook. These tools are often not enough for the robust document management requirements legal teams have, however. Plus, what works for the broader organization may not work for the legal team.  In-house legal departments often have more sophisticated needs when it comes to managing documents, email and other content.

Luckily, there’s a solution: cloud-based document management for your legal department in the form of a Document Management System (DMS). 

In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about document management, from common storage methods to finding the right DMS for your team. You’ll walk away understanding what a DMS is, why you might need one, and your next steps (including how to convince management that you need better tools). 

Let’s get to it.

Common File Storage Methods for In-House Legal Teams

Some file storage methods have become the default for larger organizations that need to manage and store millions of records, customer data, and files. While there are redeeming features of these methods, they don’t quite fit the bill for legal teams.

File Servers

Larger companies often have one (or more) file servers that act as the central storage system for the entire organization. These are often configured as one or multiple mapped drives and are referred to as the “S:\ drive” or “G:\ drive.”

File servers and mapped drives serve the needs of a broader company. They indeed act as a place to store and share files between company departments and across locations. Legal teams, however, require matter-centric organization. 

Legal teams should be able to store everything related to a specific legal matter in one place. This includes everything from documents, video, audio, email, and notes.  That’s something a G:\ drive can’t do efficiently.

Basic Cloud Storage

Another common file storage method is the use of basic cloud storage such as Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive. Using these tools, your files are stored inside of the cloud instead of your on-premise servers.

While moving your files to the cloud in this way is a great first step, these tools are quite basic. They often fall short when it comes to the specialty needs of legal professionals. You can view these tools as basic cloud-based filing cabinets—no more, no less.

3 Key Signs You Need a More Robust File Storage Solution

Not sure if you need something more for your in-house legal team? There are several symptoms you should be on the lookout for that highlight your need for a better file storage solution.

1. Fragmented Files

Do you often need to search for case-specific files inside multiple tools? For example, you might have to search Outlook for case emails and the server for documents. You may even have moments where you have to reach out to other team members to determine where they saved a specific file.

All of this eats up time that could otherwise be spent on more pressing tasks. Centralizing all of your files into a single system results in a “single source of truth” for easy collaboration and enhanced efficiency.

2. Lack of Folder Structure (Matter-Centric)

If you’re currently using a simple cloud-based storage tool or server, you’re probably also using a file-and-folder system. For example, all matter files will be stored inside a matter-specific folder.

While this starts as organized enough, things can go south quickly. Folders can be named incorrectly, documents can be placed into the wrong folders, and files can disappear. A matter-specific system will enforce a matter-centric hierarchy for all files, keeping them organized and available.

Regardless of the specific tool you use, we recommend adopting and enforcing a tight organizational structure for your legal departments matters and documents.  We recommend a consistent structure of folders per matter or project, with uniform sub-folders for different types of documents.

  • Clients
  • Matters
  • Practice Areas
  • Departments

3. Subpar Search

It’s no secret that legal matters result in a massive number of files. Unfortunately, many basic storage systems don’t give you the ability to search through all of your data. This means finding that critical email from six months ago might be an impossible task.

A law-specific system can give you access to Google-like search capabilities. This means you’ll be able to find everything you need quickly.

The Solution: Document Management Tailored for Legal Teams

If you’re struggling with any of the above, there’s a simple solution: a legal-specific document management system, also known as a DMS. 

What Is a DMS?

A DMS is a system that stores your legal team’s documents and provides a comprehensive set of tools to organize and manage them.

Not only does a DMS provide organized, matter-centric file storage, but it also provides the tools necessary for search, annotations, versioning, access management, and so much more. A DMS offers everything you need to properly manage all of your legal files, from basic emails to hundred-page contracts.

Document Management Features for Legal Teams

To understand the difference between a true DMS and your server or cloud-based storage tools, we must dig into the features found inside a DMS. Although features will vary between tools, there are several standard features of true DMS’s, including:

  • Document tagging capabilities: Want to tag a document as a contract, motion, or even a letter of intent? DMS tools offer document tagging and metadata capabilities to make finding and managing your documents easier.
  • Robust full-text search functions: Every document and its title, metadata, and content can be indexed and instantly searchable. This isn’t a capability within your server or basic storage tool.
  • Automatic OCR: A DMS can convert any image-based PDF files to text-enabled and searchable documents. This means your scanned documents are automatically OCR’d and ready for view.
  • Version management: Using a DMS, you can give each file its own ID. Plus, every iteration of a document can be saved as a new version, allowing your team to view, restore or compare previous versions simply.
  • Check-In/Out: No longer will you struggle with multiple people editing a document at the same time. You can check documents out as you work, locking them and preventing further changes. Then, simply check it back in when you’re finished.
  • Software integrations: A DMS will integrate with other existing tools your organization uses such as Microsoft Word and Outlook.
  • Permissions / Access management: You can quickly protect your documents and files by restricting access to specific data. This is especially important for in-house legal teams that must be discreet.
  • Email management: A ton of work happens via the email inbox. A DMS will enable you to save email messages directly to legal matters.

Sidebar: The Importance of Email Management

Oftentimes, the email management tools used by the organization as a whole don’t meet the needs of your legal team. You need the ability to save emails to a specific matter or project. You also need to be able to share emails with others inside of your team alongside case documents.

Unfortunately, saving emails can be a clunky process. And it’s often forgotten. You can prevent this by using a DMS with email management capabilities. Typically, a DMS will integrate with services such as Outlook via an add-in. This makes it simple to save emails to specific matters with just one click.

Learn the ins, outs and best practices of managing email as an attorney.

How to Evaluate & Choose the Right DMS for Your Legal Team

A DMS can truly transform your processes by providing seamless and efficient document storage and management. Fortunately, there are many options out there to choose from. Your next step is to evaluate and choose the right one for your team.

4 Questions You Should Ask When Evaluating Any DMS Tool

When looking for document management for your in-house legal team, you’ll need to do some test driving. You’ll want to select a group of tools you and your team can try out to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

To help you select and evaluate some potential contenders, here are a few questions you should ask.

1. Is the DMS Cloud-Based?

The benefits of working in the cloud are no secret to virtually any business out there. In all likelihood, your organization uses some cloud-based tools already. After all, the cloud delivers improved collaboration, security, and efficiency. This is why we always recommend cloud-based tools for legal teams.

What are some of those benefits? First, there’s enhanced security. DMS tools offer security measures such as data encryption, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and geographically redundant backups. 

Beyond security, cloud-based tools enable you and your team to access files from anywhere and spend less time tracking down critical data. Plus, cloud-based tools are scalable to meet the needs of your growing team.

2. Is the DMS Matter-Centric?

The right DMS for your legal team is built with law firms in mind. It will allow you to store and manage files based on each matter automatically, eliminating the clunky mess of folders inside your server or storage tool.

When you or someone on your team needs to find a specific document, file, or email, you’ll find it inside the matter it pertains to. No questions asked.

3. Is the DMS Easy to Use?

Any tool you adopt should be easy for your team to use. Otherwise, it creates more headaches than it solves. Plus, software that’s easy to use will be more easily accepted and championed by your team than a clunky tool.

The DMS should have a simple interface that’s easy to navigate. And, since you’re a busy legal team, it should be easy to learn with a fast implementation process. Remember: support is critical. Make sure the vendor you choose is available for questions and concerns as you go along.

4. Does the DMS Have the Features You Need?

The DMS tool you choose should have all of the features your legal team needs. Don’t skip this step—it’s better to choose a tool that fits now instead of wasting time and cash selecting one that doesn’t end up working for your team.

To ensure the tool fits the bill, get your team involved in the selection process. Ask them questions such as:

  • What document storage and management processes would you improve?
  • What features would make your day-to-day job easier?
  • Which features are must-haves and which ones could you live without?

Make a list of the features you need and compare each tool. Which ones deliver the capabilities that will truly impact your team?

5. Does the DMS Fit the Organization’s Budget?

Assuming you already have the go-ahead from management to source a new tool, you’ll need to find one that fits the budget. The cost of DMS tools will vary. While some require payment annually, others require a monthly payment as well as a payment per user.

For example, the LexWorkplace document management base package costs $395 per month for up to 5 users with 1TB of document storage. While pricing is important for in-house legal teams, we always recommend selecting a tool based on what fits your team’s document management needs.

Need help? Still not sure which DMS tool is right for you? Our team can help. We’ve helped hundreds of internal teams just like yours move to the cloud. Reach out to us.

Building the Case for a DMS for Upper Management

Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. As an internal legal team pursuing a DMS, you’ll have the responsibility of selling upper management on the idea. 

First, it’s important to communicate that a legal-specific DMS tool meant for legal team use won’t affect the systems used throughout the organization. This means other teams within the organization can keep using the systems they’re used to. This also means there will be minimal downtime required to implement a DMS.

It’s also critical to communicate the features your legal team is missing and how a DMS is the only way to fill those gaps. These features can include anything from matter-centric organization, to version management, email management. Just like the marketing team has graphic design software and the sales team has a CRM, your team needs legal-specific tools too.

Looking for Document Management Software?

LexWorkplace:

Modern Document Management for Law Firms

LexWorkplace is document & email management software, born in the cloud and built for law firms.

Organize by Client & Matter

Organize documents, email and notes by client or matter. Store and manage all data for a case or project in one place.

Go Beyond Basic Files & Folders

Supercharge your firm’s productivity with true DMS functions.

  • Version Management
  • Document Tagging & Profiling
  • Document Check-Out / Check-In
  • Microsoft Office Integration

Search Everything

LexWorkplace is like Google for your law firm.  Search across millions of pages, documents, folder email and notes in seconds. Refine your search by matter, document type, author and more.

Seamless Outlook Integration

Save emails to a matter without leaving Outlook. Saved emails are accessible to your entire team.

Organize Email With Folders & Notes

Organize matter-related emails into subfolders. Add notes to call out important emails.

Works with Windows and Macs

LexWorkplace is 100% compatible with Mac OS and Windows.

LexWorkplace Features

The legal industry has had to put up with dated, clunky document management systems for too long.

No more.

With LexWorkplace, you’ll have access to a wide range of features, including:

  • A Terabyte of Storage: LexWorkplace starts with 1TB of storage for your firm, giving you plenty of room to grow.
  • Advanced security: LexWorkplace encrypts your data in transit and at rest. It also includes enhanced security measures such as permission setting capabilities and two-factor authentication.
  • Geographic redundancy: We have multiple independent data centers across North America. This means we can securely back up your data, so you can trust your data is available to you no matter what happens next.
  • Document tracking IDs: Each file you save to LexWorkplace has a unique ID for easy document tracking.
  • One-click functionality: LexWorkplace can help you move faster. View, edit, and save your documents with a single click, no re-upload required.
  • Document check-in/out: Want to make changes to a document without others doing so at the same time? By checking out a document, you can make the changes you need to make without others on your team interfering. Then, just check the document back in when you’re finished.
  • Version management: LexWorkplace will automatically track each version of your documents, so you can see when changes were made and by whom.
  • Profiling and tagging: You can easily set document types and statuses for each of your files. Plus, you can create tags to keep documents organized based on your firm’s needs.
  • Recent file prioritization: LexWorkplace will place your recent files front and center, so you can easily return to your work. Or, you can set certain documents as important for easy access.
  • Email management capabilities: Easily save emails to each matter file straight from Outlook. Plus, LexWorkplace will provide instant deduplication, so you can avoid saving multiples of the same email. It’s a time-consuming process that LexWorkplace automates on your behalf.

Get in Touch

Want to learn more?  Watch the demo below, or get in touch with our team to learn more about LexWorkplace for your firm.

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