Every day, legal professionals face a daunting challenge: how to manage the ever-growing list of files in their possession.
Not only do they come up against the document difficulties faced by all professionals—they are also held to additional strict rules unique to the attorney-client relationship. The situation has bred some particularly brutal challenges for legal professionals. But with the right legal document management tools, many of these problems can be ameliorated.
Here are the top 5 document management challenges, and the tools and practices that can help you overcome them:
1. Multiple Repositories
Many law offices spread their documents across several different repositories. There are paper files, files on a local server, documents stored on individual computers, emails in individual accounts, text messages on individual phones, and sticky notes with information from the latest client call (not to mention Facebook messages and Twitter DMs and on and on and on…).
This disbursed storage leads to lost files, missed deadlines, and a tremendous waste of time as you search for the information you need.
The solution is clearly a central repository where all information can be found. But when legal professionals aren’t careful about the solution they purchase, it can wind up being just one additional repository for the growing spread of content.
Take a full stock of all the ways information comes to you. Make sure you find a document filing solution that can truly host all of that information, in a way that protects context, allows versioning, and makes every file fully searchable.
2. Over-reliance on Email
When email came into our lives, it solved many problems. Then it started creating them. Sending emails has become so central and simple, that email use has crept into areas which the technology isn’t equipped to handle.
One problem with email for legal professionals is that it silos key information into individual email accounts. Maybe a paralegal has communicated with a client, but you never see it. Even if you try to CC others into the conversation, one person could always reply only to the sender, once again shutting off the information into a silo. This leads to a disorganized and incomplete document record.
But even worse, email can introduce new threats to attorney-client privilege. This might come through lack of encryption, or through mistakes like improper use of ‘reply all’ or sending something to the wrong contact (firstname.lastname@example.org instead of email@example.com).
To break the email addiction, look for tools that allow simple communication without these pitfalls, like client portals or secure document sharing. To fix organization and information silo problems, look for case management add-ons that make it easy to add emails into the right digital case file, where all team members will be able to refer to it.
3. Unsearchable Content
Many law offices have a large amount of content that is completely unsearchable. This might come in the form of paper files, mail, or faxes that haven’t ever been digitized. But a huge proportion of dark content lives in PDFs that have never been indexed for full-text search.
In any profession, unfindable content leads to a massive waste of time and effort. But for lawyers, it brings unique risks. You might fail to recognize conflicts of interest when you bring on a new client, or you could skip over documents you’re expected to produce for the discovery process.
Make sure you have a process that digitizes all incoming paper documents. But beyond that, invest in an OCR (optical character recognition) tool. These read through PDFs and other formats of files and create a fully-searchable index, allowing you to find any content on any page.
4. Process Zombies
Law has been slower than other professions to adopt new technologies and practices that boost efficiency. There’s a reason for caution and care when confronting these changes (there are sound professional rules against the adage to “move fast, break things”).
But too much reluctance means that now many offices are stuck with zombie systems. This might be old software that can’t meet your needs, but sticks around because of the sunk costs of time and energy you’ve all put into it. Or it could be the dead weight of paper-heavy processes or a reliance on old in-office servers.
No matter how much effort you put into making them work, these zombie systems will continue sapping life out of your practice. It’s best to cut your losses as soon as you can, and move to document management technology that works for a modern context.
5. Data Leaks
When you lose control of your documents, you risk violating attorney-client privilege.
One way this can happen is through insufficient redaction. The public has made hay with high-profile filings that were badly redacted. Learn from the misery of others, and make sure to use legitimate redaction tools—don’t just highlight sensitive text in black or draw black rectangles over it.
But the biggest privacy and security threats for lawyers come from cybersecurity attacks. Phishing scams, hacked email accounts, and ransomware attacks can seriously jeopardize any legal practice.
The best protection is a technologically-informed workplace. Take the time for regular training of every team member to recognize scams and red flags. Adopt technology with the right security certifications for your area of practice, and an active security and privacy leadership team continuously adapting to new threats.
Document management challenges can be particularly brutal for legal professionals. But with thoughtful investment in document management technology, you can tame the chaos and face the future of the industry with confidence.