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Document Management in the Digital Law Office

January 2009

This "Best of ABA TECHSHOW®" article was originally presented at ABA TECHSHOW 2008, the World's Premier Legal Technology Conference. It's just one example of the terrific content offered at ABA TECHSHOW by more than 50 legal technology experts. ABA TECHSHOW 2009 will be held April 2-4, 2009 at the Hilton Chicago.


1. In the beginning -Document management has been around for thousands of years.

(a) Ancient Libraries organized scrolls on shelves by topic (ex. Vatican Library still organizes its ancient scrolls on shelves by topic).

(b) Later -Dewey Decimal System developed to help us find books easier in the public library -researched by card catalogs which helped locate a section, shelf and book. The DDC attempts to organize all knowledge into ten main classes. The ten main classes are then further subdivided. Each main class has ten divisions, and each division has ten sections. Hence the system can be summarized in 10 main classes, 100 divisions and 1000 sections. DDC's advantage in choosing decimals for its categories allows it to be both purely numerical and infinitely hierarchical. This was the first relatively modern era attempt at document management.

(c) Businesses would file papers systematically (offices typically had different systems, different organizational structures, different location tools, etc). But, document management becomes a critical issue. Unless properly managed, total chaos can result in both where documents are stored, how quickly they can be retrieved and how they documents are indexed.

2. Computer Age – in the early days of DOS, documents began to be organized into subdivided drives on floppy disks, or related docs were put on similar floppies, labeled and stored away (usually with a manual card catalog to locate same). For example, a secretary at a firm where I used to work, Donna, would create documents in Word Perfect 5.1 and name her documents by CLIENTLASTNAME.xxx where xxx would be all different types of documents, COM for complaint, ANS for answer, IN1 for Interrogatories 1st set, etc.

This was rudimentary and yet, for its time, creative document management in a DOS based system. By hitting F5 (remember F5 to retrieve docs in WP5.1?), Donna could locate all documents relating to a client with all documents organized alphabetically by client. Paper copies of everything were kept with a manual log of sorts in front of the document "brad" page. Each document had a tab with a number and Donna would "file" each printed document, stick a tab on the side of the first page of each document, hand write a number and the log that document on the index on the top of the brad page of documents. Later, Donna began to store documents on 3.5" floppy disks with a label for each disk with the client's name, matter name and number. Kudos to Donna; a creative document manager ahead of her time.

3. With the growth of Windows and Mac systems which were graphic in nature, the concept of folders became needed for organization of digital media. Folders replaced floppies and documents were stored on the hard drive and later, as servers came into popularity in the late nineties, on server hard drives (although many clung to the floppy disk method). Documents were no longer on paper alone, every paper document had a digital component and as time went on, digital information didn't necessarily have a paper component.

4. In the 21st century, with the advancement of digital media beyond a traditionally typed document, documents are now viewed as RECORDS and BANDS OF DATA which together comprise meaningful digital media (photographs, graphic images, WAV files, emails, spreadsheets, presentations, movies, three dimensional graphic designs, and, of course, typed documents (which could be comprised of any and all of the above). Paper can only be in one place at one time; digital documents are available just about anywhere and multiple people can access simultaneously.


1. Defined: Document Management is a unified system of managing the storage of digital media on a computer, network or web-portal. The system may be further broken down into 4 basic categories:

(a) Manual Management -allowing users to decide not only where documents will be stored, but what the document naming convention will be. In most circumstances, each user has a very loose and inconsistent method of naming and storing documents. Problems include:

i. The proverbial hodge-podge of document names and locations;

ii. Relying on staff to store documents logically without policy;

iii. Wasting a ton of time finding documents;

iv. Undeveloped scanning/imaging policy (or relying on the 'copy guy' to set your policy).

v. Emails are stored by manually storing emails by subfolders in individual Outlook data files on local computers

(b) Firm Enforced Protocols -a system where users are told where/how to store and name documents, but a policy that relies upon user compliance, whether voluntary or somewhat enforced. For example, the firm will teach a new employee to store a word document, as [\SERVER\DOCS\CLIENTNAME\MATTERNAME\YYYY-MM-DD-NAME.DOC]. But this, again, requires employee compliance. There is no guarantee that a rogue employee will not store version 4 of a complex contract on her C: drive in \MyDocuments. Other issues range from lost documents still wreak havoc on productivity time; and scanning/imaging policy under development or underdeveloped (possibly relying on the 'copy guy'). And, as with the situation, emails are stored by manually storing emails by subfolders in individual Outlook data files on local computers;

(c) Using non DMS software to function as DMS software. This is a hybrid between (a) and (b). Most case management systems have some cross reference system to where a document is stored. For example, both Amicus Attorney and Lexis Front Office/Time Matters feature COM ADD­IN buttons (tool bar buttons) in Word and Word Perfect that allow users to manually store and then cross reference the location of a document to its case management file.

(d) Using full DMS software. Firms that deploy and employ software to store documents away index every word of every document and retrieve the documents by easy search terms. Document Management software captures all the content associated with a file or matter for requirements such as improved regulatory compliance, enhanced knowledge sharing, and document retention policies (when to keep and when to discard a document). Most DMS systems feature secure content for better protection of confidential information, reduced unnecessary access to sensitive content, and increased control of core assets and expertise. In other words, software centralizes project/matter management for faster access for everyone who needs to view a document, spreadsheet, graphic image, email, presentation, etc whether on site or extremely remote. These firms generally embracing the technology available; properly integrate the technology with other 'sister' software packages; invest in proper training for staff; and they have or will develop a true and robust scanning and imaging policy.


1. Lock Down System -prevents users from circumventing the document management policy developed and programmed into the document management software package. This is a critical component, and is the major difference between true DMS and the other types of search software. Some examples of those are Copernic, X1, Google Desktop, etc. Those programs do a great job of helping you find documents, but they do nothing for locking down a system.

2. Document profiling -requiring users to answer a few simple questions related to the document to assist with proper storage and proper retrieval. Different profiles are created for Client files, Administrative files, Research, etc.

3. Full Text Searching -allowing users to locate document by logical queries of words contained within the document (or within the document profile).

4. Speed Searching -does the DMS, in fact, create a database of words that point back to the document location for fast access (and increased staff productivity)? To give you an example, let’s say you have 150,000 documents (not a lot of documents for a busy small office that has been around a while). In a DMS, you could search through all of those documents for a word or a phrase in just a few seconds.

5. Audit Trail -who is working on the document/record, when did they start editing, for how long, where is the document now, can it be edited by another staff member simultaneously?

6. Mirroring -Off line document access. Allows you to work from anywhere with a laptop, or can give you the ability to copy documents to a flash drive. You could also copy all documents for a particular client/matter to a laptop and take them to court with you.

7. Remote document access -can you easily access/edit or add a new document to the DMS while you are thousands of miles away from the office?

8. Document Versioning -Will the DMS software keep track of different versions of the same document with date and time stamping of the editing of the document? Will it allow you to go back to any previous version without losing current version information?

9. Security Algorithms -Will the DMS permit you to restrict access to documents, folders, functions (i.e. prevent deletion of a document), etc??

10. Document Retention Policies -will the DMS automatically (or by reminder) archive older documents off the main server to save valuable space for current document records?

11. Email Integration -will the DMS allow you to save an email to the system and prompt you to do so when you send?

12. Scanning/Imaging -does the DMS work hand in hand with your scanner(s) in the office permitting you to go "less paper"?

Document Management Systems to Review

1. WORLDOX www.worldox.com – 800-962-6360 – WORLDOX is a leading provider of DMS in the legal market providing a Matter Centric way to keep track of documents and other related electronic files. One of the big differences between WORLDOX and the other popular alternatives (Interwoven WorkSite and DOCSOpen) is that you do not have to have a SQL server to run it – therefore making the cost of implementation and the cost of ongoing support and maintenance less.

2. Interwoven – WorkSite – www.interwoven.com – 888-468-3976 – Formerly known as iManage, Interwoven produces document management software that is SQL database based, and has a lot of flexibility.

3. DOCSOpen www.opentext.com – 800-499-6544 – Formerly known as PCDocs, DOCSOpen has been around for a very long time providing DMS solutions to businesses of all kinds. DOCSOpen also gives you the ability to store documents and other electronic files in a matter centric SQL server based system.

4. NetDocuments www.netdocuments.com – 888-297-2736 – Closely partnered with LexisNexis, NetDocuments offers a true SaaS (Software as a Service) solution for document management. With NetDocuments, all of your data is stored on a secure server outside your office, replicated to at least one other server for redundancy purposes.


1. What truly is a "paperless office"? -The paperless office is now considered to be a philosophy to work with minimal paper and convert all forms of documentation to a digital form. The ideal is driven by a number of motivators including productivity gains, costs savings, space saving, the need to share information and reduced environmental impact. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paperless_office )

a. Based upon the above, we pose the question, “can a law firm ever become truly ‘paperless’ and completely ‘digital’?” The answer is probably not. A certain amount of “original” documents must be maintained for ethical, authentication, or statutory purposes (e.g. HIPPA, OSHA, Sarbanes Oxley, MSHA, FLSA, etc.), therefore the goal should be to utilize document management to further the concept of document storage and retrieval balanced with appropriate record maintenance. In a nutshell, law firms shouldn’t strive for paperless, but rather, “clutterless”. For example, in Isabel Arias v. U.S. Service Industries, Inc., D.C. CA, No. 95-7158, 1996, the court, in a nutshell, ruled that a certain amount of original records are necessary to meet burdens of proof or to dispute same. Id. Accordingly, the goal of digitizing the law firm and managing the digital media should be balanced with the requirement that original documents may be required by litigants, governmental agencies, or other parties/purposes in certain circumstances.

b. However, in those circumstances where you have a copy of a document as a part of the permanent record (i.e. the original is kept elsewhere – like in the clerk’s office…), consider digitizing your copy, profiling it in your document management software and destroying the paper copy. Should a paper copy ever be again required, simply reprint it.

c. There are many challenges to the paperless office, and they are compounded by the fact that many of our case files exist in paper format only. There is no question that everyone wants to have less paper in their offices, pay less money for storing all that paper, and generally be able to find things quicker, but when you look around your office, the task seems overwhelming.

2. Scanners - (Central copier scanners vs. desktop Scanners). Physically investing in scanner hardware is a productivity question. These writers wholeheartedly believe that the electronic document concept is the here and now, thus the scanning revolution has happened, and, accordingly, your staff will spend more and more time scanning and digitizing documents than ever before. Because of this, we need to balance productivity with the cost of giving each person in the office charged with scanning responsibilities his or her own desktop scanner.

While we may want to give our staff reasons to get up and walk around during the day (i.e. to have to walk to the scanner, stand at the scanner and then walk back to his/her desk to profile the scanned document), the result is that the productivity dollar is likely to suffer. Accordingly, properly balancing the value of each staff person’s productivity against the cost of a onetime purchase and minimal maintenance expenses related to individual desktop scanners, your writers believe that the scale tips in favor of maximizing productivity. Plus, if you buy the gigantic-enormous scanning/copying/faxing/printing/ stapling/collating/grinding/paper-shredding monster machine from your local copy ‘rep’, productivity will come to a standstill when that “ginormous” monster machine breaks down or stops functioning (and it will – bank on that). And the annual cost of that machine, its malfunctions and your lease payment, coupled with the loss of productivity will be greater than simply purchasing small desktop units for your staff to use. And, lastly, if Shirley’s scanner stops working, she could, for short period of time, scan her documents at Hugh’s desk until her scanner can be repaired.

3. Image Scanning vs. OCR – Because scanning is a wonderful option for storage, keep in mind that should your scanned item need editing (i.e. you scan in a set of interrogatories from opposing counsel with the idea that you can simply type your client’s responses – only to find out that your scanner only scans images and does not provide Optimal Character Recognition capabilities). Many scanners work with software that not only scans your document as an image (i.e. think of taking a photograph of each page of the document) which cannot be edited, but most newer software packages (i.e. Omni Page Pro) includes the ability to recognize each individual word of the scanned document so that it can be opened in an editing software (such as a Word Processor). The latter concept is becoming more and more common now, so keep the idea of “OCR” in mind as you begin join the scanner revolution.


Most of the focus of this article has been about storage and retrieval of documents (i.e. media that presents itself typically as words on paper). But document management software will store and retrieve just about ANY type of media that your computer will recognize, including, but not necessary limited to:

a. Graphics Files;

b. Sound files;

c. Pictures;

d. Raw data files;

e. Presentation files;

f. Zipped (compressed) files;

And more…..


The concept of document management, while having been around for a long time, has morphed itself into many different forms, ultimately, today, appearing to be best managed by software created for its very purpose. When data looks more like clutter and is, therefore, unmanageable: (files piled in office closets, under desks, and on top of credenzas, or three feet high on a desk it is time to organize and clear it out), staff members become less productive, overhead costs increase and profits, ultimately decrease. By investing in a document management software system to not just store and retrieve documents, but ultimately to shift the responsibility of storage, location, retrieval, and ultimate management of records and media, balanced with maintaining a minimal amount of original records as required by statutory or authenticity requirements, will help everyone in your firm work smarter, faster, and more productively. And, of course, you too, can become, clutter-less.

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About the Authors

Steven J. Best is the CEO and principal trainer of Best Law Firm Solutions, Inc., and is a certified trainer on time/billing/accounting, case management, document management and document assembly software packages.

Debbie Foster is the founder and President of InTouch Legal based in Tampa Bay, Florida, which provides technology and management consulting services to law firms and legal departments throughout the US and the Caribbean. Debbie is also Vice-Chair of the ABA TECHSHOW 2009 Planning Board.

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