Knowledge Management Series – Part 2: Benefits of Implementing a Document Management System

In Part 1 of my Knowledge Management Series, I outlined the issues associated with organizing and storing documents by using file folders on a networked shared drive. There are several potential solutions that would help alleviate these concerns. Each solution’s effectiveness may depend on the size of the firm/organization and how well it is implemented.

    1. Document Naming and Saving Policy

Firms that are unable or unwilling to commit to a more comprehensive system may wish to, at the least, implement a firm-wide document naming and saving policy. This policy will create specific rules as to how documents are named, numbered and dated. It will also create rules to govern where documents are saved depending on factors such as the type of document, area of law or the document-owner. Some concerns with arbitrary names and locating files may still exist as such policies are unable to cover every type of document or scenario. Furthermore, this solution will not help with the integration of e-mails and does not contain the added practice management benefits that other solutions have.

    1. Practice Management Software

Many small firms and sole practitioners have implemented practice management software to: keep track of matters; manage contacts/clients; input time dockets; maintain an electronic calendar; and perform conflicts checks. Some practice management software options also contain basic document management functionality, whereby documents (and even e-mail with some available options) can be associated with a particular matter. As a result, many smaller firms have had success implementing this cheaper, albeit less powerful option.

    1. Document Management System

A dedicated document management system (DMS) can be significantly more powerful than the document management functionality contained in practice management software. Documents and e-mails can associated with a number of “properties” and “tags” such as practice area, responsible lawyer, document type, matter/file #, etc. As a result, users can easily parse through data or conduct high-powered searches. For example, a lawyer can easily locate all research memoranda (document type) drafted by John Smith (responsible lawyer) in the area of copyright (practice area).

Generally, the DMS will also permit the creation of a document retention policy, document versioning, document automation (i.e. creating template documents), shared calendar features and task management. The DMS can also contain controls to limit which users are able to view a particular matter or document.

While some options can be expensive, most DMS solutions can be highly customized and scalable to the needs of the firm.

In my next post, I will discuss the benefits of implementing the task management features of a DMS or practice management software.