Tim Clauss.
Tim Clauss. (Courtesy photo)

Information governance is the term on many organizations’ lips these days, but the practice has a long rooted history in many organizations and law firms.

For over 12 years, Tim Clauss has had a ringside seat to this evolution. Recently announced as InOutsource’s information governance implementation manager, Clauss comes to the company after serving in leadership and information governance implementation and enhancement for Revolution Software, Thompson Cobourn and Clauss Consulting, which he co-founded.

In his new role, Clauss will be tasked with helping Am Law 200 firms kick off their own information governance programs. LTN got in touch with Clauss to discuss how information governance has changed during his time in the industry.

Plugged In

LTN: How have you seen information governance change over the past twelve years?

Clauss: I would start with the name itself. When I began working in this area, it was called Records Management. Now, it has expanded to include information of all types. We have a much heavier reliance on technology today, as well as a broader understanding from attorneys that this is no longer just the job of the records clerk. There is a shared obligation by the firm to understand what information they have and what the lifecycle should be. Clients are also making demands for the firm to be transparent, and in some cases, forcing their own policies to be used by the law firm.

What do you credit for this change?

Change comes from a greater awareness by everyone regarding how much information we generate, process, and disseminate every day. The apparent risks handed down by a few key court cases do not make as much of an impression as seeing news stories about crises resulting from the mishandling of small pieces of information.

There has also been a continuous evolution in the systems provided to attorneys to manage their information. At the same time, the competitive pressure of the industry has reduced the attorney to secretary ratio. Lawyers and support staff today are more technologically savvy than ever before.

Where are law firms falling short with information governance, and what can they do to stop their current issues?

The top of the list of information governance failures is not making it a priority. Usually this is because law firms don’t think there is a risk, it costs too much, and will take too much of their time. If a firm does focus on it, they tend to not be able to stay focused. A comprehensive program can take time.

The best way to stop is to find a champion for information governance at the firm and give them the support they need to implement a program. Many firms have highly trained, certified records managers working for them who feel they do not have the authority to make decisions for the firm. Proper information governance reduces risk to the firm full stop. A properly executed disposition policy can save the firm millions by lowering their inventory of boxes in physical storage as well as bytes in electronic storage.

What are some of the greatest challenges to law firms trying to get their information under control?

One of the greatest changes for law firms trying to get their information under control is policy. A firm must have one. The policy needs to be encompassing, but not overly complicated. Firms that cannot maintain focus on getting this first step done will often flounder for years with their information governance plans.

Next, law firms have to deal with the decades of history. This is an industry where you have a whole lot of entrepreneurial attorneys working together under one roof. They will squirrel information away everywhere, with much of it in completely inaccessible formats like paper. Hard decisions must be made regarding the value of that old stuff. Should it be cataloged and scanned? Should it be dumped into the shredder?

Some dos and don’ts for law firms in implementing an information governance program?

Start with policy, and make sure that policy is straightforward. I can’t stress enough that policy is the foundation of any program. A firm must know what they can and will do before they do it. Empower your information governance professionals. If you don’t have one, hire one. Then trust them to do their job. Plan to incorporate all of your different media types, but understand that you often will need to bite them off in chunks. Waiting for the magic system that does it all at once means nothing will ever go forward.

Don’t lead with technology. Humans created this information and humans are invested in it. Keep them involved. Don’t get overwhelmed with the exceptions. The 80/20 rule applies to information governance. You can clear out the easy things easily and come back for the complex things later. Don’t quit. Information governance programs are long-evolving systems.

Biggest info gov folly you’ve ever seen?

I’ve seen some pretty amazing things. Attorneys providing passwords to interns so they can log in as them. Keeping a couple of Windows 95 computers around to access documents written in a word processor no longer available. A whole room on a floor not rented by a firm that contained boxes and boxes of information from a large client “because the client no longer had them.”

The best info gov programs have…?

The best information governance programs all have the same things in common. They are straightforward. They give authority to the information governance professionals to be professional. They have buy in from the firms, which commit with time and money.

Information governance is the term on many organizations’ lips these days, but the practice has a long rooted history in many organizations and law firms.

For over 12 years, Tim Clauss has had a ringside seat to this evolution. Recently announced as InOutsource’s information governance implementation manager, Clauss comes to the company after serving in leadership and information governance implementation and enhancement for Revolution Software, Thompson Cobourn and Clauss Consulting, which he co-founded.

In his new role, Clauss will be tasked with helping Am Law 200 firms kick off their own information governance programs. LTN got in touch with Clauss to discuss how information governance has changed during his time in the industry.

Plugged In

LTN: How have you seen information governance change over the past twelve years?

Clauss: I would start with the name itself. When I began working in this area, it was called Records Management. Now, it has expanded to include information of all types. We have a much heavier reliance on technology today, as well as a broader understanding from attorneys that this is no longer just the job of the records clerk. There is a shared obligation by the firm to understand what information they have and what the lifecycle should be. Clients are also making demands for the firm to be transparent, and in some cases, forcing their own policies to be used by the law firm.

What do you credit for this change?

Change comes from a greater awareness by everyone regarding how much information we generate, process, and disseminate every day. The apparent risks handed down by a few key court cases do not make as much of an impression as seeing news stories about crises resulting from the mishandling of small pieces of information.

There has also been a continuous evolution in the systems provided to attorneys to manage their information. At the same time, the competitive pressure of the industry has reduced the attorney to secretary ratio. Lawyers and support staff today are more technologically savvy than ever before.

Where are law firms falling short with information governance, and what can they do to stop their current issues?

The top of the list of information governance failures is not making it a priority. Usually this is because law firms don’t think there is a risk, it costs too much, and will take too much of their time. If a firm does focus on it, they tend to not be able to stay focused. A comprehensive program can take time.

The best way to stop is to find a champion for information governance at the firm and give them the support they need to implement a program. Many firms have highly trained, certified records managers working for them who feel they do not have the authority to make decisions for the firm. Proper information governance reduces risk to the firm full stop. A properly executed disposition policy can save the firm millions by lowering their inventory of boxes in physical storage as well as bytes in electronic storage.

What are some of the greatest challenges to law firms trying to get their information under control?

One of the greatest changes for law firms trying to get their information under control is policy. A firm must have one. The policy needs to be encompassing, but not overly complicated. Firms that cannot maintain focus on getting this first step done will often flounder for years with their information governance plans.

Next, law firms have to deal with the decades of history. This is an industry where you have a whole lot of entrepreneurial attorneys working together under one roof. They will squirrel information away everywhere, with much of it in completely inaccessible formats like paper. Hard decisions must be made regarding the value of that old stuff. Should it be cataloged and scanned? Should it be dumped into the shredder?

Some dos and don’ts for law firms in implementing an information governance program?

Start with policy, and make sure that policy is straightforward. I can’t stress enough that policy is the foundation of any program. A firm must know what they can and will do before they do it. Empower your information governance professionals. If you don’t have one, hire one. Then trust them to do their job. Plan to incorporate all of your different media types, but understand that you often will need to bite them off in chunks. Waiting for the magic system that does it all at once means nothing will ever go forward.

Don’t lead with technology. Humans created this information and humans are invested in it. Keep them involved. Don’t get overwhelmed with the exceptions. The 80/20 rule applies to information governance. You can clear out the easy things easily and come back for the complex things later. Don’t quit. Information governance programs are long-evolving systems.

Biggest info gov folly you’ve ever seen?

I’ve seen some pretty amazing things. Attorneys providing passwords to interns so they can log in as them. Keeping a couple of Windows 95 computers around to access documents written in a word processor no longer available. A whole room on a floor not rented by a firm that contained boxes and boxes of information from a large client “because the client no longer had them.”

The best info gov programs have…?

The best information governance programs all have the same things in common. They are straightforward. They give authority to the information governance professionals to be professional. They have buy in from the firms, which commit with time and money.