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No. 4, March 1998  

Why Document Management?

Medium and large law firms have long used document management systems to organize, index and control their documents. For a firm with tens or hundreds of thousands of documents, document management is an absolute necessity.

Many smaller firms, however, do not see the need. They feel that with a well-thought out directory structure, judicious use of their word processor's document summary feature, the document indexing feature of WordPerfect 6.1, and, more recently, version control, they can have adequate document management for their needs. They argue that any added functionality offered by document management programs is not worth the expense of additional hardware and software, training, and administration. This article details some of the advantages a document management system offers even a smaller law firm.

How Document Management Works

In a document management system, each document is assigned a Profile sheet which typically contains a long title for the document, author, client/matter information, document type (brief, contract, memo, etc.) and perhaps other items. Both this Profile and the full text of the document are indexed for rapid retrieval. A file name is assigned by the document management system, which decides where to store the document based on criteria set up by the firm (author, document type, client/matter number). This process is transparent to the end-user.

When a user starts to retrieve a document, a list of the last 20 or so documents he or she has worked on, including the long document description, appears first. If document is not on this list, the user enters search criteria on the profile screen and is presented with a list of "hits." Fairly complex boolean searches are generally possible, including on the full text index of the entire document store.

Depending on the program, additional features can provide advanced security options, better reporting on document use, version control, an audit trail showing who has accessed the document, and so on.

The Case for Document Management

What does such a system give a firm that a manual system does not?

Greater Speed of Document Retrieval. In a manual system, the user must know where an existing document has been stored and what its name is. While most users are fairly efficient at finding their own documents, searching for a document created by someone else can take a significant amount of time, which in any event is bound to be greater than the 5 seconds or so it takes a document management system to find a document. In many cases, a user spends 5 minutes or more searching for a document, or even retyping it!

Avoidance of Human Error. The amount of time lost in a manual system due to human error is substantial. A user may have stored a document in the wrong place by accident or forgotten what the document was named. When someone other than the original author tries to access a document, difficulties are compounded. A user may have to look in four or five places before finding a document, or even be unable to find it at all. If the original author of the document is out of the office due to vacation, illness, etc. this can be a serious problem. When people change jobs, this problem is aggravated.

Control over Document Access. Document management typically gives a firm much better control over document security and access. Confidential documents can be made available only to the people who need to see them, whether it be accounting, human resources, trusts and estates or other highly confidential client matters.

By defining what groups of people have access to which kinds of documents, document management systems avoid the problems inherent in passwording documents, which range from forgetting passwords to posting them on yellow stickies on the computer monitor. Security provisions frequently include an audit trail showing who last accessed a document, who made changes, checked it out, etc.

Full Profile and Text Indexing. The fact that the Profiles and the full text of all documents are indexed has other advantages besides increased efficiency in retrieving documents. For example, you can define a search that lets you see at a glance all documents of a particular type that relate to a specific client. Full text indexing can also be of assistance in conflict checking, for example by searching on all documents that refer to a particular business or person. Finally, in some programs, such as WorlDox, when you do a full text search and then "View" the documents in the hit list, the document is opened at the specific text you searched for.

Other Features. Many document management systems make it easy to set up a boilerplate library, where a firm can store forms or basic documents that it uses and customizes over and over. The problem with doing this in a manual system is that someone inevitably edits a boilerplate document that was supposed to be copied first, and the "boilerplate" has to be re-created.

Who Are the Players?

The traditional leaders in legal document management were SoftSolutions and PCDocs. Then Novell replaced SoftSolutions with GroupWise document management, which was explicitly conceived for a "mass market." Novell representatives quite frankly stated that they really didn't care whether GroupWise document management met basic law firm needs. More recently, Novell has reconsidered its stance, and GroupWise 5.5 (available in 1998) is slated to restore most, if not all, of the SoftSolutions functionality that had been stripped from the original release.

In the last several years, a number of new players have emerged, including iManage and WorlDox. WorlDox offers considerable flexibility, which can be attractive to firms that are not convinced they want to totally commit to document management. In addition, WorlDox does not require the overhead (additional server and SQL databases) of either PCDocs or iManage, and is particularly suited to medium and smaller law firms. Document management programs have been porting their interfaces to an Internet format as fast as they can, although most implementations are still works in progress.

Conclusion

In short, a document management system will pay for itself fairly rapidly just by reducing the amount of time spent in retrieving documents. In addition, such a system offers significant additional functionality when compared to a simple directory structure that is accessed manually. This functionality includes better security provisions, audit trails showing who has modified or used documents, and increased ease of creating and using boilerplate documents. Finally, a well-conceived implementation of a program such as WorlDox can be maintained with a minimum of administrative time.

Desktop Publishing

This newsletter is produced entirely using both WordPerfect 7 and 8. A boilerplate form contains the masthead, standard boxes, basic format, styles, etc. The newsletter is printed on an HP 5P printer. Headlines are set in Futura and the main text is Adobe Caslon. The first page is printed in one pass, then page two is printed as a merge file with the newsletter mailing list, which is kept up to date using METZ Phones. For each issue, the mailing list is exported to a merge file and then merged and printed.

Tips & Tricks

  •  Short on disk space? You can delete all the *.avi files (7Mb) from the Windows\help directory. These are little "help" videos that almost no one ever uses.
  •  Want to change how information on the Applications Bar is displayed in WP8? Hold down the Alt key and double-click on the item. It will change from Icon to Text or vice-versa.
  •  Print a list of all keystroke shortcuts from the WP Help file under Help | keystroke | About...keystrokes.

WordPerfect / Dragon Systems

Voice recognition is all the rage, especially with the release of the new continuous speech programs from IBM and Dragon Systems. Corel and Dragon recently announced that Dragon's "Naturally Speaking" will be incorporated into future versions of WordPerfect, beginning with the Legal Edition of the WordPerfect Suite 8, which should be released in the May/June time frame. The Legal Suite is aimed at small and medium size firms and also incorporates versions of CompareRite, FullAuthority, Amicus Attorney, Black's Law Dictionary, and very useful add-ins from Nexal.  


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No.21 April 2002
Future of Case Management Programs
No.20 October 2001
Disaster Recovery Small and Medium Firms
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