Technology-Lawyer

Document Management and the Mathematics of Technology Investment

I read the other day that, on average, we spend sixteen minutes a day looking for lost or misplaced items. Based on my experience in law firms, sixteen minutes seems a little low. Lawyers seem to spend a great deal of time looking for documents, on their computers and even on their desks.

If we assume that the average lawyer works 250 days a year, then he or she spends approximately 67 hours a year looking for documents. The median hourly rate for lawyers these days is about $ 150 per hour. Sixty-seven hours times $ 150 per hour gives us approximately $ 10,000 as a monetary cost of looking for documents. On average. Your situation might result in a higher number.

Lawyers sometimes question the benefits of technology spending because they see the benefits as too intangible. Let’s try this experiment: imagine a technology that reduces the times you spend searching for documents on your computer in half, or to eight minutes a day. As you will soon see, this estimate is very conservative. Over the course of a year, that technology could save you $ 5,000 . You can see a "return on investment." In fact, if you can successfully implement that technology for under $ 5,000 per user, you pay for the technology in savings in the first year alone.

I like to use document management as an example of a technology with an excellent return on investment because it is a simple, utilitarian technology that does not immediately grab your attention.

Document management software simply provides a way to "manage" your computer files so you do not have to deal with the intricacies and limitations of standard filing conventions of Windows or other specific programs. This industry segment grew up as a means to get around the infamous " 8 and 3 " eleven-character file name limitation of DOS. You may remember the days of using a file name such as TILARTDM .999 for an article written for The Indiana Lawyer on document management in September 1999 .

Users struggled to find ways to name documents in 11 characters and still be able to find them and figure out the shorthand months or years later. Some users established thousands of directories and subdirectories as a way to organize files.

Conceptually, a document management program intercepts the "save" command and presents you with a screen that allows you to give your document an extended name (such as "Smith v. Smith Motion to Modify Child Support") and to provide "profile" information (author, typist, client, matter, keywords). After you fill out that screen, the document manager continues the "save" and files the document for you. When you next open the file, you simply retrieve it out of the document management software, with the extended range of options and ease of use it provides, rather than fussing with the underlying file structure.

The key to document management is that you really don’t care where the file sits on a hard drive, you just want to be able to find, access and use it quickly. Document management software allows you to do this. And a lot more.

Other helpful features let you do full text searches across your hard drive or network, organize your documents in a structure meaningful to you, associate keywords (such as "form") with documents, and share the "knowledge" accumulated in your documents and across your firm.

Full Text Searching . Document managers each use some form of indexing on a regular basis to let do lightning fast full text searches of all your files. Instead of vaguely remembering a memo on postnuptial agreements done 3 or 4 years ago and sending out a team to track it down, with document management, you can search on words and phrases much like you can with a search engine on the Internet or with LEXIS or WestLaw. Running a search on "memorandum and postnuptial" will, within seconds, give you a workable list of likely candidates. In some instances, you might need to refine your search once or twice. Many firms have bought document management programs for this feature alone.

Improved File Structure . In many firms, you find a hybrid of file management structures. Some attorneys have separate directories for each client. Some have directories by document type. In some cases, each attorney has an individual directory containing all of his or her documents. In each case, sharing documents or finding someone else’s documents becomes quite difficult.

Since the physical location of a file does not matter in a document management system, you can specify client, matter and other information for each document and create "views" that allow a user to see, for example, all the documents involving a certain matter arranged in reverse chronological order. Click on the document you want and you can retrieve it. The underlying location of the document simply becomes irrelevant. If you like to see all of the files you have created in one place, you can do that. At the same time, an associate can have another view of all documents relating to a client that includes your documents. Each view exists independently and neither view affects the other.

Profiling Documents . Document managers let you categorize documents and then use those categories for searches. For example, identifying authors will later allow you to retrieve all memos written by a particular summer associate. Categorizing certain documents as forms (and protecting them from editing except by designated individuals) can help you set up an excellent form file.

Knowledge Management . "KM" is a big buzzword these days. You can use profiling and categorizing aggressively to help share important information and even the accumulated knowledge or wisdom across a firm. For example, by using keywords, you might also be able to find easily documents like buy-sell agreements with rights of first refusal favorable to the shareholder leaving the business.

You have a number of choices in document management programs. Four of the "big names" are PCDocs, Worldox, iManage and ProLaw. Each does a few different things in a few different ways. All are worthy of consideration.

Here’s an example. The current pricing structure for Worldox is $ 355 per user for the first year and $ 60 per year thereafter. You’ll also need a modest workstation for indexing and some time of set up profile screens and other features. Other document managers typically require a separate high-end Windows NT server and, for that reason, can be expensive for small and medium-sized firms. But . . . remember the $ 5,000 per year in "lost" time example (and each vendor will tell you that estimate is highly conservative) and consider how quickly your investment might pay for itself.

Document management is an example of using technology to help lawyers right where they live – under a huge stack of documents – and in a way that helps them directly. Some even suggest scanning all documents in your file, getting the scanned document files into your document management system and then literally having an electronic copy of your entire case file retrievable on your computer. The math on document management is surprisingly easy. Your life might well be a little easier too.

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