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Establishing Readiness for Document Management Software Implementations

Updated: May 10, 2023

By Nicola Shaver and Lewis Bretts.

Document management is widely acknowledged as one of the most useful software systems for legal teams dealing extensively with documents. Such systems provide features that make it easier for legal teams to create, edit, and save documents. They also allow users to track different versions of the same document, identify more easily which version is the final or most recent version, and find work more easily.

In order to implement a document management system or DMS, there are some key precursors that a team must have considered and put in place in order to ensure readiness for this type of software. This article will provide a framework for establishing readiness for document management software implementation and is based on the contributions of Lewis Bretts, Group Managing Director USA at LOD + SYKE.

Key characteristics of a document management software

A document management software should have a comprehensive user interface that is easy to use; regardless of how feature-packed a document management solution can be, without a comprehensive user face, it will not be enthusiastically adopted by the team.

The specific features required differ in a law firm versus legal team context. Law firms require a document management tool that is akin to a practice management tool aligning with their professional services model. In contrast, legal teams have more straightforward requirements, including security, taxonomy and versioning. The tool should provide structure and taxonomy to documents they are working on while providing flexibility to be used collaboratively with internal and external clients.

Since legal documents are often sensitive documents, having a platform with security features that enable the ability to collaborate on documents with granularity over permissioning is essential. The platform should enable users to make folders accessible to a few people or to a broader group of people.

Within that, users should be able to make a document available to a group of people or another document available to a few people.

Version control to easily retain older versions of the documents or track changes is an equally important characteristic. Additionally, the tool should easily integrate with the company architecture, whether that is G-Suite, Microsoft, etc. Other classic characteristics to consider are how documents are imported and organized within the software, the document search functionality, or workflow automation.

While most document management software includes all the features listed above, some offer better variations of the features. One software could offer greater flexibility with document organization, more customizable document workflow options, greater security features, or better sharing functionalities. Regardless, the migration to document management software is generally driven by larger business objectives. The best time for a legal team to invest in document management software is when a must-have requirement that can't be met with their existing software has been identified.

Establishing Readiness

Before a document management implementation is feasible, having a clear idea of the corporate taxonomy is essential to establish readiness. Clearly defining how documents and the repository will be structured, as well as current workflows is a critical foundation for document management implementation. Teams will often embark on a document management project and only then begin to reflect on the taxonomy, which in turn is inefficient. The taxonomy should be kept simple and focused on the essentials. Additional actions to establish readiness include:

  • Clearly define the functionality required and the current gaps in your existing software architecture;

  • Define the necessary and nice-to-have features;

  • Consider if you will require additional features or integrations in the future;

  • Consider how future technology decisions will impact the document management software (e.g., replacing or adding practice management);

  • Define your budget and consider how many seats are required for the license. Most document management software applications have a ‘per user per month or year’ pricing model;

  • Consider your data model and how it will fit with the proposed implementation;

  • Reflect on the most effective document migration process for your team;

  • Consider the software used by the rest of the team and your outside counsel; and

  • Define how you will measure success at the end of the rollout to maximize the return on your investment.

Implementing document management is not a small feat; a team of five to six stakeholders is generally recommended. To establish readiness within your team specifically, it is recommended to have discussions with stakeholders or users, and to involve them in the software analysis and decisions. Afterwards, the rollout should obviously be supported with onboarding and training sessions for the team to familiarize themselves with the tool; significant process efficiency and overall productivity gains from the software investment are noted when the implementation is supported by a well-thought-out implementation strategy.

Software implementations generally require technical expertise, which often require a consultant or external help as document management technical expertise is not something that most organizations have in-house. Aside from the technical expertise, having a consultant to discuss soft aspects of the implementation can be helpful to understand best practices. In this context, consultants can also advise on leveraging other people's experience for a more successful implementation.


About the Authors

Nicola Shaver is the CEO and Co-Founder of Legaltech Hub, a resource combining a comprehensive directory of legal technology with legaltech jobs listings and high value content aimed at enhancing transparency in the procurement of legal technology. Prior to her work with Legaltech Hub, Nicola was the Managing Director of Innovation and Knowledge at Paul Hastings. She has 20 years of global experience in the legal industry, many of which have been spent driving positive change in legal service delivery. Nicola is an advisor to law firms, corporate legal departments, and legal technology vendors, a regular speaker at conferences around the world, and a frequent writer on topics such as digital transformation, legal innovation, change management and adoption.

Lewis Bretts is the Group Managing Partner (US) for LOD + Syke. LOD + Syke delivers top quality interim legal talent, outstanding managed services, and market leading legal operations and technology consultancy across the United States.

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