The heart of any legal practice should be a robust Document Management System (DMS). Without one, you will spend too much time hunting for documents, or worse, recreating them from scratch when a good precedent can’t be found.
The features that you should look for in any good DMS are:
- Ease of use
Boiled down to its essence, a DMS should have “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Your DMS can be organized by any system that works for you and your firm, whether by Matter, Client, or Practice Area. However, once an organizational hierarchy is set, it must be used by everyone in your firm. Any documents, whether draft or final, should not be stored in any location that is not part of your DMS. This gives you the confidence that you can find any document you need, and more importantly, the document you find is the most current and up-to-date version.
Access and Security
Your DMS should allow everyone in your firm (and perhaps even your clients) to access and edit documents. In the “Before Times,” i.e., pre-COVID, many firms used a shared drive on local servers – and they worked well. However, we all know now that physical access to your office may not always be possible and that VPN or remote access to your server is not ideal. With a cloud-based DMS, you can ensure that everyone at your firm always has access to the documents from any computer. Further, most closed-based storage solutions offer the security that you need – encryption at rest and in transit. Quick note: emailing documents is not the most secure way to share information internally or with outside parties. Look for a DMS that gives you options to share access to documents for better security. For bonus points, your DMS should also allow you to restrict access to some files or matters, giving you control of who in your firm can access or edit files.
To work effectively, everyone in your firm should have access to the files they need. Moreover, your DMS system should have a mechanism to share documents easily within the firm, with your clients, and allow multiple users to edit documents simultaneously. Emailing a document as an attachment to an email is not efficient. Yes, the recipient will get a copy quickly, but to edit the document, they must save a copy, make changes, and then email the new version back to you. In the meantime, you can’t make changes or consolidate any changes with the new version. So, you wait. In some DMS, you have to Check-out or “lock” documents for editing to prevent conflicting copies. Again, you must wait for others to complete their edits. If you can have simultaneous editing, all these steps can be eliminated, reducing the time and effort to finalize the documents collaboratively.
Ease of Use
Lastly, despite all its fancy features, any DMS you choose will be useless unless your entire firm adopts it. So, for example, any DMS that requires two or more steps to open and edit a document and then two or more steps to re-save it will be quickly ignored.
The best DMS are those that work effortlessly and seamlessly in the software that you use already, like Microsoft 365, or are deeply integrated with your Practice Management System, like Matter365.