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This is an important question for every law firm to consider. Every firm has a “system” for managing their documents. The system may simply be a shared directory with a file naming convention to organize documents by client, matter, and type of document. Alternatively, many firms employ specialized document management software such as iManage, Opentext/Hummingbird, or Worldox.

In the absence of document management software, folder organization and file naming conventions are critically important. As the number of documents and people involved grow, chances for inconsistencies increase.  As a result, the amount of time wasted searching for documents spikes dramatically. In my experience, most document management projects are a direct result of a few frantic searches for missing documents.

Document management systems help file documents and e-mail in a more organized and structured manner, allowing you to easily save documents with a wealth of additional information that you can use in future searches. These systems accommodate very quick and easy document retrieval even if you know only a few items about the document you are looking for, such as a keyword or a date range. The additional reference information combined with powerful and fast full-text searching capability help ensure that a document is never “lost” even if it’s misfiled.

The goal of document management software is to minimize the labor spent filing and searching for documents. Even a few seconds or minutes per document can add up quickly. It is also important that your system makes filing a part of normal workflow rather than a cumbersome additional task. Otherwise, poor adoption of your system will limit its effectiveness.

What is the trigger point at which your firm would benefit from specialized document management software? As a rule of thumb, firms with one or two attorneys often operate fine with a basic filing system. As firms increase in size, limitations inherent in the shared folder approach become more pronounced. Once a firm reaches a total staff size of 10 people or more, it really makes sense to start considering document management software. Most firms with 50 or more people will already have document management software in place and generally can’t operate efficiently without it.

The “paperless” office is no longer a pipe dream. With today’s affordable, efficient scanners, it is very cost effective to dramatically reduce the magnitude of actual paper documents that are filed.  I have a client who completely eliminated their file room, creating revenue producing space, and has eliminated their “file clerk” position. Becoming paperless is not an overnight process, but it is achievable. The first step is properly managing your documents with the right software and processes.