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Document management is a term of art in the legal technology industry — and other industries, too — referring to a system of both software and hardware that enables firms and legal departments to handle massive amounts of both electronic and paper documents produced and received on behalf of clients. You are most likely using a document management system right now. It may not be one that is well thought out or provides the access needed to your documents, but you are creating and storing documents for your clients. How many wasted minutes a day or — worse yet — completely lost documents are acceptable for your firm’s bottom line and your clients’ confidence in your services? How well protected are your documents from a disaster? Can you easily access documents from outside the office in the event of a disaster? STEP ONE Computers are well designed for repetitive tasks relying on simple directions. A good document management system forces the labeling of documents with a few fields of data (such as title, client and matter, to name a few) and then handles all the indexing and saving of that document to a particular location repeatedly and seamlessly. Employing a document management system means the electronic documents created and received from clients can easily be saved and retrieved through full-text searching at any time. In addition, before embarking on costly legal research for a client (costs being both those of time and subscription fees for online legal databases), a quick search of your own firm’s network ought to be the rule. With document management in place, the combined intelligence of every attorney, paralegal and summer associate — both past and present — is readily available before ever spending a penny on online research costs. As a general rule, the plodding pace of change in the law means that even a brief or memo that is a year old provides most of the legal analysis needed on an issue, enabling you to spend little time and money updating that document with current research. Document management systems make finding a document a regular feature of your work — without even having to know it existed before a search. Imagine how much time and money this type of search would have saved compared with researching and re-researching year after year, unable to know what your colleagues have done on a particular issue. PAPER DOCUMENTS NOT FORGOTTEN One of the most poignant scenes of the aftermath of Sept. 11 was the mountains of paper that flew out of the World Trade Center and scattered on the ground below when the dust cleared. Those papers represented some of the intelligence of the companies housed in the twin towers, including many law firms. Those documents meant something to someone and their loss undoubtedly caused damage to customers and clients ranging from annoying delays to outright financial disaster. And so it is with document management. But simply capturing electronic documents is not enough. It is important to appreciate the reality that people (including opposing counsel) are still producing large amounts of paper correspondence, contracts and other things that need to be saved, organized and retrievable later on. Ideally, a document management solution will include the electronic capture and storage of every paper document generated or received by your firm. Both electronic and paper documents can then be searched and retrieved as part of the same database of knowledge. Once your document management system is in place, you need to be able to do things with the documents that you have so efficiently captured. Your document management system needs to permit the manipulation of those now electronic documents for revision, annotation and distribution. This brings to your firm and your clients the true value of a paperless office: Document management saves money over printing, faxing and business shipping. Properly deployed document management eliminates paper, not just for the sake of becoming “paperless,” but for a legitimate business purpose that extends efficiency and functionality to electronic documents that is impossible with paper documents. DISASTER RECOVERY While the likelihood of another tragedy with the magnitude of Sept. 11 remains remote, everyday disasters — such as servers failing — remain ongoing concerns. Document management by its structure, brings all your documents into a single location, providing for efficient and secure access and backup. Without document management, a backup system is merely a backup of what is on the server. That necessarily excludes all paper documents and all files employees are saving on local hard drives. A document management system should be designed to save all documents to a single location and allow limited access to local hard drives to avoid the inability to recover documents in the event of a technology failure. FINAL NOTE The key to deploying document management is both researching the underlying software products and researching the consultants or resellers that will be installing, training and maintaining the system. Top competitors in the legal market include iManage and WORLDOX, products aimed at providing the tools for a complete document management solution. The key here is not so much the product as it is the partner who will work directly with you to implement the system. Choose that partner well and your problems should be few. Dean Boland, an attorney, is the manager of the legal services group at Cleveland, Ohio-based DocMan Technologies, a document management solutions provider.

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