Document Management: The Never Ending Debate, By Matt Simmons

When I first decided to get into the Vendor side of the Legal Industry it was on the simple advice of a close friend. His words of wisdom were as follows: "Medicine & Law are the only two industries that will forever remain recession proof." Since I passed out while dissecting a frog in my 8th Grade science class, it should be obvious which path I chose to pursue!

I began my career advising lawyers of all shapes & sizes on the benefits that automation could have in their firm. Whether it is Time & Expense Billing, Document Management or Workflow Processes, the need to streamline is in the now, not the tomorrow. While some of my prospective clients passionately bought into this "electronic" school of thought, others simply limped on down the road of "Big Chief Tablets" and "Scrap Paper Work flows." To say the least, it was and has continued to be, a most bittersweet pursuit to convince such intelligent and forceful leaders to buy into the simple premise of faster is better! It really is based on sound human logic. Would you rather walk to school both ways in the snow with no shoes on or being a person of sound body and mind, prefer a quick ride over on a school bus? The reality of the legal industry is, that while most attorneys, large and small, are more than willing to bill out at ever inflating service rates, these same attorneys balk at the idea of spending money to improve their own internal processes.

Although moving your practice from the stone age processes of hard-copy files and warehouses full of file boxes, into the more current "E-efficient" models may not seem sexy, it will provide you with a more effective way of tracking your massive paper trails that can no longer be ignored!

So, what is Document Management and is it really a cure for the paper cancer? Webster's defines document & management as follows:

doc·u·ment Pronunciation Key A written or printed paper that bears the original, official, or legal form of something and can be used to furnish decisive evidence or information.

man·age·ment Pronunciation Key The act, manner, or practice of managing; handling, supervision, or control: management of a crisis.

For our purposes we should look at document management as the task of, or the practice of managing, handling & supervising pieces of paper that might contain the so-called "smoking gun" that would not only allow us to secure a multi-million dollar verdict for our clients, but also put us well on the road to that beachfront property that we've been eyeing for years. This might seem like an extremely oversimplified conclusion. But is it really? I think not! Why do we need to complicate the issue, when it is really not that complex at all?

The comparisons I mentioned before might seem a little far-fetched but the analogy is really not that far off. The old school ways of sending a paralegal down to a broom closet searching for that "needle in a haystack" document are thankfully over. Litigation professionals from top to bottom are now realizing that their time can be used in much more "revenue driven" areas, instead of spending hours and sometimes days or weeks searching through un-marked boxes of discovery documents. Technological advances over the past decade now afford us the capability of retrieving these documents in a matter of seconds. With the simple processes of imaging and coding your documents, you will now have the ability to share these "treasures" globally to your entire staff, as well as outside counsel or anyone else who is on a "need to know" basis. The technologies available today afford you the potential of handling these issues with several different solutions. Browser-based applications will allow you to store these documents on-line which then allows you instant access from any Internet capable computer in the world, at a very cost-effective pricing schedule. These databases(s) are password protected so you don't need to worry about your sensitive data getting into the wrong hands. You can also go the more traditional route and capture these documents to CD. The only problem here is the increased likelihood for loss of content. In other words, CD's are very easily mis-placed. I tend to lead my clients towards storing these documents on-line because of the efficiency and ease of use, but you really can't go wrong either way.

The American Bar Association estimates that by 2010 there will be 20% fewer attorneys practicing in the US than there are today. Which 20% do you think will go away - the ones who invest heavily in proven productivity-enhancing technologies like Document Management, or the wait-and-seers who say the Internet is a fad? More importantly, which side of this equation do you want to be on?