Law firms face unique document management challenges. Largest among them: the very high quantity of paper documents legal practices use. Legal documents are also subject to varying confidentiality and privacy regulations, which mandate how these documents can be accessed, stored, changed and distributed.
Within the broad genre of content management software (CMS) is a category that addresses the specific challenges law firms face: legal document management software. To help your law firm better understand this software and make a more informed purchase decision, we’ll cover the following:
It's is a form of document management software made specifically for lawyers, law firms or any entity operating in the field of law. It is distinct from legal practice management software, which has a broader set of functionality, including tools to keep the firm’s internal processes and external filings on time and on track.
Legal document management software is intended to help firms achieve a variety of goals. Speaking broadly, these goals include:
To achieve the above-listed goals, software products will include some or all of the following features and tools:
|Document capture tools||Scan paper documents and convert them into digital files, including image files, PDFs and text files.|
|PDF tools||PDF is the file format of choice for most legal document management systems: PDF tools help create, edit, manage and add signatures to such files.|
|Advanced search||Helps users find documents quickly by looking for specific text strings within documents and by filtering with metadata.|
|Access control||Controls who can access, change and distribute digital documents. Keeps logs of access activities and summarizes them in reports.|
|Organizational tools||Automates the documentation and management of cases, including approvals, role permissions and other necessary steps.|
|Version control||Ensures that changes to documents do not delete older versions, preserving them in case they need to be used again.|
|Integration tools||Incorporate document management functionalities directly into other software tools, such as email clients, CRM systems and court filing systems.|
Some specialized software may also include, or integrate with, electronic signature functionality, which facilitates the legally-binding signing of documents on computers or mobile devices.
Here are some key points to keep in mind during your search for a legal document management system:
Data security. Along with health and financial information, legal information is subject to some of the strictest regulatory oversight, and its management can be subject to local, state and federal statutes. Protecting digital information from theft and unauthorized access should be the primary concern for law firms considering implementation of a document management system.
Legal document management platforms increase data security in a number of ways. Many make use of a centralized portal through which all access to the system is controlled. Others use two-step authentication methods to ensure that new logins have been authenticated through two different means (e.g., email, phone or text message).
Extent of digitization. When implementing legal document management software, many law offices mistakenly believe that all existing and future paper documents will be converted to digital. This incorrect assumption can lead to problems and delays down the line.
As suggested by the American Bar Association, law offices should use document management systems to increase the number of “low paper workflows.” Working toward an entirely “paperless office” can be practical in some industries, but because of the sheer volume of paper documents involved, this is an impractical goal for law firms. Instead, firms should identify which processes stand to gain the most from digitization, and began with the documents associated with those.
Legal document management software is available in both cloud-based and on-premise solutions:
Cloud-based products are typically sold via subscription license, meaning law firms would pay a recurring fee to use the software. Subscription licenses are commonly priced per user per month (some vendors offer discounts for annual contracts). This fee includes the cost for support, maintenance, annual updates and hosting.
Hosting on the vendor’s servers means that law firms won’t incur the IT costs associated with maintaining legal files on their own internal servers. As such, cloud-based software generally is less expensive upfront, although over time the costs of on-premise and cloud-based systems may converge.
Due to data security requirements, law firms should make certain that any cloud-based system they consider offers encryption services, bank-grade security and frequent data backups to ensure the safety and confidentiality of their clients’ legal documents.
Examples of cloud-based legal document management systems include:
On-premise solutions are most-often sold via perpetual license, meaning law offices pay an upfront fee to own the software. Firms would also be responsible for the costs associated with maintaining client data on their own internal servers, a responsibility that would likely necessitate on-site IT staff.
Examples of legal document management software available as on-premise solutions include:
Additionally, law firms can purchase document management software as a standalone, or best-of-breed solution, or as an application within a larger practice management platform. Firms purchasing a standalone system should check that the product integrates with the other software they are currently using, such as their case management solution or legal accounting system.
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