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Law Firm IT: Overcoming Document Management Challenges

Electronic document management solutions can make things a lot easier for every law firm.

In 2011, Jim S. Adler & Associates, a personal-injury law firm with four offices in Texas, deployed an EDM solution to tackle a growing mountain of paper files and improve existing processes.

A significant factor in the law firm’s decision to use EMC’s software and hardware solution, which includes EMC Documentum, Captiva, ScanPlus and IndexPlus, was the ease with which the firm could integrate the system with its established software.

A year into the deployment, the number of electronic pages the firm generates has jumped from 3 million to 5 million pages. While the number of employees needed to index electronic documents has been reduced by 75 percent, according to Director of Information Technology Dustin Engle.

But not all firms have adopted this approach. Relying on word processors, e-mail and other forms of electronic communication — without a strategy for managing the documents they generate — creates its own set of issues.

Establishing a repeatable workflow can increase productivity and ultimately reduce the costs associated with managing the litany of materials that every case generates. EDM solutions are especially helpful to firms striving to ensure or preserve:

  • Security: Even documents that aren’t regulated by legal or governmental authorities may adhere to other confidentiality standards. In general, electronic content can be secured more easily than paper files and documents. And lawyers can use EDM to define the types of documents that must remain confidential.
  • Compliance: Regulations ranging from confidentiality to record retention are pervasive. Flexible, customizable EDM solutions allow firms to specify what it means to be in compliance and see when documents have been handled inappropriately.
  • Access: Compliance and confidentiality requirements often dictate that certain documents are accessible only to select people inside or outside the firm. Controlling that access and being able to account for who has seen or worked on a document are critical functions of an EDM system.
  • Version control: If multiple people have modified a document, it’s important to know at a glance which version is which, and whether the most current version includes all approved changes. EDM provides the paper trail necessary to show how documents have been handled and modified.
  • Cost: Handling and storing massive amounts of paperbased documents isn’t cheap. Paying couriers for offsite storage and junior staff to enter or find materials adds up. With EDM, firms can take advantage of the enormous efficiencies of today’s storage technologies to centralize terabytes of electronic data and make it available over highspeed networks.
  • Disaster recovery: Natural and man-made disasters plus other misfortune affecting law firms does happen. With EDM, it’s easy to store multiple copies of documents on inexpensive, redundant disk drives so authorized employees can access them and remain productive even when the unexpected occurs.
  • Lifecycle Management: When hundreds of thousands of documents live in boxes and file cabinets, it can be hard to know when some of those documents can (or must) be destroyed. Employing the electronic retention scheduling function of an EDM system can ease that burden.

Many firms employ case management software to track cases from start to finish, but a case’s journey through the system often is tied to or requires actions pertaining to specific documents. If the documents are paper-based, information must be entered manually (and correctly) into the case management system.

Today’s EDM systems can integrate with a firm’s case management system so that, for example, when action has been taken on an electronic document, the case management system sends triggers or alerts to signify that the case has entered the next phase in the process.

Many EDM systems also align well with other IT initiatives. For example, if a firm’s IT department is virtualizing its data centers, it can virtualize its document management system.

For more on legat IT and electronic document management for law firms, read CDW's white paper.

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Jun 15 2012 Spice IT

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