The worlds of Document Management, Records Management, and Knowledge Management are merging in the minds of IT thought-leaders faster than most software vendors seem to be able to grasp the concept. Several years ago, our firm took a close look at our document and records management systems and realized that we needed a more matter-centric approach that would allow lawyers and staff to seamlessly manage documents, whether electronically or on paper. From a document’s creation, to collaborative editing, to utilization within the life of the matter, to recycling and mining of precedent, to retention and destruction of records, our lawyers and legal staff need to be able to work with documents in a friendly interface that can slice-and-dice the content depending on their needs at that moment.
A Matter-Centric System
Several years ago, it became clear that we needed to align our paper and electronic document management system structures. In 2006, the timing was right to explore new ways of integrating paper and electronic systems and shifting our processes to an electronic platform on a going-forward basis. In my opinion, the matter-centric design framework was the first technology developed by the document management vendors that actually worked close to the way legal teams wanted to work, rather than forcing them to overhaul their work habits to conform to the technology. We could finally provide an electronic interface to work product that mirrored the way they have been working with Redweld files in the paper world for generations.
With approximately 1,500 attorneys and 2,000 support staff in nine offices on three continents, information lifecycle management is an ongoing challenge at Kirkland & Ellis as I am sure it is in nearly every organization. To design our matter-centric environment, we brought together the triumvirate of information management professionals. We started with Document Management experts who understood the capabilities of the technology and the way attorneys and staff interact with work-in-progress. Then we threw in some Records Management specialists who have been helping legal teams categorize and organize data since the time data flowed only from typewriters. Finally, we added Knowledge Management authorities who understood the value of information beyond its initial purpose.
Once designs were created by the task force, presentations were made to individual, practice-specific focus groups comprised of partners, associates, legal assistants, and legal secretaries. This lead to a level of fine-tuning that only hands-on customers can provide. The result was a matter-centric design to be applied across all management systems in the firm to facilitate easy data consumption for our attorneys and legal teams.
Adaptability in Structure
One of the critical components to successful information management and user adoption is adaptability to the nature of the matter, or what we call “Area of Law.” Obviously transactional matters have a different lifecycle than litigation matters, but, to an even finer level, M&A deals have a different information structures from Private Equity transactions. Matter-centric structures need to function like shoes. For a firm with any diversity in matter types, you can not have just a pair of wingtips and a pair of hiking boots. Yet, no matter how many pairs of shoes you provide, each pair needs to fit comfortably and provide functional utility throughout the lifecycle of the matter. The visual organization of the workspace needs to facilitate workflow for the active matter, and the metadata automatically applied to the document needs to facilitate reuse as knowledge in future similar matters as well as retention and destruction rules in the long term.
A Must-Have Tool
There seems to be a shortage of people and companies today that understand both the practice of law and the capabilities of current technologies available to facilitate the business of practicing law. I have known David Kiefer, president of DocAuto, for about 15 years. His background as a lawyer and a technologist allows him to bring a unique blend of skills to his work. I can not imagine implementing matter-centricity without DocAuto’s WorkSpace Manager utility. The key feature of the program is the ability to generate our matter-centric structures automatically based on the nature of the matter. As conditions in the matter change, we can trigger modifications to the structures as well. The fast pace of initiating matter workspaces gives our legal teams a real advantage in being able to quickly begin interacting with documents in a structured, efficient manner.
The document management software vendors have been merging with records management software vendors for several years now. I still cling to the hope that this will someday lead to a single system that allows for document management, records management, and knowledge management within a single interface. Someday an attorney will go to the Pleadings folder in their matter workspace and toggle a button to include all of the paper records in the Pleadings file to get a full picture of all pleadings for the matter. Someday, while drafting a new agreement, an attorney will be able to grab clauses from a similar agreement in the same jurisdiction where one of the parties is a limited partnership. Someday the records management attorney for a matter will be able to quickly scan lists of electronic and paper records where retention periods are due and mark documents for destruction, permanent retention through an approval workflow, or review at some date in the future. Until that day, we will continue to build web portals that get us closer to a unified system.
Joe Fousek is the Associate Director of Customer Support at Kirkland & Ellis. He has been strategically managing IT departments in large law firms for over 15 years. He has led departments spanning Infrastructure, Support, Training, Telecommunications, Records, Applications, and Practice Support, and led initiatives covering document lifecycle management, law firm mergers, time and billing system conversions, DMS implementations, Email system conversions, and data center relocations.
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