Everything Wrong With Today’s Law Firm Document Management Software

February 10, 2020In Document ManagementBy Dennis Dimka

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.

But why?

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.

Expensive. 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:

Faux-Cloud 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 InterfaceHave 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.

BYO SecurityPremise-based document management software is subject to the same security challenges as any on-premise software: It’s only as secure as your servers and your firm’s cybersecurity practices. Threat detection, ransomware, hackers, virus infections, data encryption–is entirely left to you, your law firm and your IT consultant. This almost always results in sub-par security for your law firm and client data.

Pervasive Document Management Problems

Shortcomings and serious flaws aren’t limited to the long-in-the-tooth, premise-based document management platforms. Even current cloud-based document management software is plagued with problems that make them difficult to adopt, and problematic when they are.

No Mac OS Support

Many of today’s law firms use Mac computers. Some firms are all-Mac. Other firms are mixed platform firms, and others still use Windows in the office and a Mac at home. A key problem of today’s document management software, including cloud-based DMS’s, is that they still only work on Windows. Sure, you can install Parallels on your Mac OS computer, install an instance of Windows, then run your chosen DMS on a Mac computer. But most Mac users would agree that this is a huge pain to setup, and is a slow, clunky and often glitchy way to run Windows software. Add to that, document management software often relies on addins for Word and Outlook, which (until recently) simply don’t work on the Mas OC versions of Microsoft Word and Outlook.

Migration & SupportOne phenomenon that you’ll see with all document management software companies, whether they’re a dinosaur DMS or a cloud-based application, is that they don’t manage your firm’s transition to their product, and, in many cases, don’t provide post-implementation support to your firm.

That’s right, most DMS companies outsource the implementation to third-party “consultants” (in actually, resellers) that will perform your onboaridng, including planning, setup, data migration and training. This creates a huge potential quality problem, as the company that made the software will not be the company that plans your transition to the software. And when it comes to legal document management, the onboarding process is often make-or-break; problems that occur during your data migration can have long-lasting effects for years to come.

When you purchase or subscribe to said document management software, you’ll be farmed off to a local reseller in your area, who may or may not understand the software, may or may not understand law firms and may or may not understand your specific needs. I’ve personally worked with dozens of law firms that have been down this path, with very mixed results. Some firms reported that the onboarding, training and data conversion process went well enough; others reported that their assigned reseller didn’t seem to know much about the document management software. Others still have reported disastrous data migrations (including the loss of data).

Unfortunately, it seems that most document management software companies simply don’t want to be bothered with transitioning new customers to their software (the service side of the business), which leaves many law firms in a tough spot. This eliminates any sense of accountability that your firm should (justifiably) expect when setting out to implement document management software. Add to that, getting onboarding, training and support services from an outside reseller is all extra cost that your firm will need to budget for.

Practice Management as Document Management

Finally, there’s the situation where a law firm mistakenly confuses practice management software with document management software. It’s a common mistake (and one that’s not the law firm’s fault).

Document Management software, by definition, includes features like index and search, OCR, document tagging and profiling, email management, folders for organizing documents/email, version management, and (usually) a plethora of other tools to keep documents organized, searchable and categorized.

Practice Management software, on the other hand, typically provides contact/client management, time tracking and billing, calendaring and (sometimes) accounting. Some Practice Management apps include a very basic inline storage system (something akin to a built-in-Dropbox)… and then call it “Document Management.” Which leaves a law firm, looking for document management software, assuming that this practice management application includes all of the features traditionally associated with a (true) DMS.

And it doesn’t.

I’ve personally talked to dozens of firms that jumped into a particular practice management solution, like the time/billing/calendaring functions but realized that, despite the software’s website listing “document management” as a feature, doesn’t actually include much in the way of document management functionality (apart from being a place to put documents). Don’t make this mistake–if your firm needs document management software, consider getting an actual DMS in addition to (or in some cases, instead of) practice management software.

Building a Better DMS

All of these problems are why we set out to build a better legal document management system. Law firms need modern tools to overcome modern document and email management challenges. And from that need, LexWorkplace was born.

Packed with Real Document Management Features

  • True cloud-based software that runs in your browser
  • Secure cloud storage
  • One-click open & save
  • Microsoft Outlook integration
  • Powerful full-text search
  • Automatic OCR
  • Document tagging & profiling
  • Document version management

Made Just for Law Firms

  • Matter-centric document & email management
  • Full Windows and Mac OS compatibility
  • Simple, intuitive user interface
  • Access your documents anytime, anywhere
  • No outside reseller/consultant required

Built from the Ground Up with Security in Mind

  • Data encryption in-transit
  • Data encryption at-rest
  • Native Two-Factor Authentication
  • Define permissions & access
  • Geographic data redundancy

Closing the Loop

Legal document management software hasn’t aged well, and we believe that law firms deserve better. Learn more about LexWorkplace, modern document management, born in the cloud, and built for law firms.