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The Ultimate Guide To Legal File Management

Each year, a legal firm will handle thousands of paper and digital documents. And any industry that typically manages thousands of documents also offers individual organisations the opportunity to gain a stronger competitive advantage.

Paper processes, for example, can be significantly improved by the right technology solutions and systems, such as legal document management software, creating cost and time efficiencies, and enabling staff to focus on high-value activity.

While legal firms can significantly benefit from technology-supported processes, poor processes carry the risk of negatively impacting client satisfaction and causing security and compliance risks. The bottom line: effective legal document management practices and procedures will result in greater efficiency and potential for an increase in billable hours.

A document management software solution has the ability to capture, organise, share and manage all of your documents in a central and secure repository. Furthermore, when security is of paramount importance, such as in the case of legal document management, an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution can help to manage and track security and compliance requirements efficiently.

The importance of legal document management and its impact on legal firms

Managing documents, email and other content is critical to lawyers in any type of practice. And by implementing a content management solution, your firm can increase efficiency, productivity and security.

In a law firm, there are a number of ways to track, manage and store documents. Document management can be paper-based (e.g. filing cabinets and archive boxes), digital or a blend of both. However, a digital approach comes with some significant advantages over a paper-based solution, such as full text search, version control, the ability to lockdown access to certain users and categorisation based on client, date or other attributes.

Digital systems are usually either locally hosted or cloud-based. When locally hosted, documents are kept on the firm's servers and are often only accessible in the office. With a cloud-based system, content is securely housed in the cloud and is available from any device in any location by authorised users.

While some legal documents are still required to be kept in physical record form, document management software has done much to streamline document management and reduce the number of manual, paper-based systems.

Legal document management security

The security of documents in a law firm is of supreme consequence and not having a secure file management system in place exposes both your firm and your clients to risk. Sensitive legal documents have traditionally been secured in locked filing cabinets in offices with additional physical security systems. The concept of securing documents is the same when stored in a digital system. Electronic document management should include encryption (while content is being stored, managed, sent or created) and regular secure backups.

A professional management solution will include document security classification and associated access rights for users. Controlling which users can access documents will ensure that only authorised people can create, view, edit or delete content.

How effective document management is key to compliance 

A legal firm’s document management policy should be aligned with retention schedules required by law, and compliance with those requirements can be audited.

With an ECM solution, compliance is made simple. Set up your retention schedules within the system and there will never again be the risk that the wrong archive box be shredded. If your firm is audited, ECM supports straightforward and simple document retrieval, as opposed to time-consuming manual searching through physical documentation.

More efficient and productive employees

Searching for and retrieving documents is one of the most time-consuming tasks employees can perform. Whether rifling through filing cabinets for physical materials, or searching a poorly-tagged database of digital content (using a folder structure), employees are, on average, spending 36 per cent of their day looking for information.

Thanks to ECM, legal and administrative staff have the potential to gain hours of the workday back. Additionally, a cloud-based ECM solution enables documents to be accessed by authorised users from any location.

As well as regaining a significant number of productive hours, ECM can give a legal organisation or department the tools to securely collaborate on documents, limit work duplication, manage version control and archive anything not currently required.

With increased productivity comes increased employee engagement, improved retention and agility, and ultimately competitive advantage as individuals and whole organisations find applying their knowledge to be both more efficient and rewarding.

A new ECM will change how people work and affect the way documents are managed right across your organisation. It's not an easy or quick decision to make, but our Enterprise Content Management Checklist will help you consider your options and identify the right ECM to meet your business needs.