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SharePoint: Document Management and beyond at Clifford Chance

Joanna GoodmanGreenwood: "Half the firm is live. 3,000 people are working on SharePoint now"

For quite some time now, Magic Circle giant Clifford Chance has been working on a project to replace its existing OpenText DM5 Document Management platform with a SharePoint 2010 based system.

Legal IT Professionals  caught up with Clifford Chance CIO Paul Greenwood for an update on the firm’s global SharePoint project. Joanna Goodman reports.

Clifford Chance was using DM5 for document management. Why did you need to change your DM and what were the business drivers?
“Over time we had created our own separate systems for managing various types of content.  As well as DM5 for document management, we had a web content management system, a system for managing team sites and a system for wikis, blogs and communities. We had built File-As-You-Go for managing email content as well as separate knowledge management and expertise location systems.  Our strategy is to move away from home-grown systems towards a single system for managing all types of content.”

So the Clifford Chance SharePoint project goes beyond traditional document management in the sense that you also want to manage other repositories?
“Exactly. In fact, we want to stop thinking about DM as a category. As far as possible, people should be working in Word or Outlook and other familiar Office applications without having separate software to manage documents.

SharePoint brings important benefits. It integrates into the Microsoft desktop so users can access content from any Microsoft application. It is broader than most document management systems or content management systems that have grown out of document management systems. Users no longer have an additional dialogue box that pops up when they save a Word document. They get the same Microsoft save dialogue box that they would get at home.”

But you still have to save your documents to a specific location, right?
“Users have to select a SharePoint site when they save a document, in the same way as a home user would have to select a folder, but when a document is saved to a SharePoint site, it deals with the profiling – because the SharePoint site has all the metadata.”

What is the difference if you compare it to systems such as Worksite, that actually does the same?
“It is a similar concept, but Worksite is focused primarily around documents whereas SharePoint has a broader content management focus.”

Paul Greenwood

Greenwood: "Microsoft has been a strong partner"

When you decided to embark on this project did you go through a formal RFP process or was the SharePoint decision already made?
“We were aware of the two main document management vendors and we understood their products which are both strong. But our decision was based on strategic direction. We felt that it was inevitable that firms would gravitate towards SharePoint because it integrates with everything on the desktop and it is included in the Microsoft general licence.  When you talk to senior people at Microsoft you can see how strategic the product has become for them, and how much investment is going into it – a level that no niche vendor could come close to.  So we decided to bite the bullet and work with Microsoft to fill in any gaps in the out-of-the-box SharePoint solution, and therefore help steer the product in the direction we wanted, rather than trying to identify all our requirements and look for a system that already fulfilled them today but that may not be as good a long term bet.”

Biting the bullet for one of the Magic Circle firms is quite something. Innovation in the law firm industry tends to come from smaller firms. Do you agree with that assumption?
“I think Clifford Chance has always been an ambitious and innovative firm, and have often been the first to make strategic moves. There are numerous examples of firms using SharePoint 2010 as their DMS, but Clifford Chance is the first global firm with multiple libraries, regional infrastructure hubs and multiple language requirements to do so.”

There is a lot of debate in the Legal IT world about using SharePoint as a Document Management System. Some people think SharePoint is the future, others disagree. What is your view?
“SharePoint cannot do everything out of the box and feedback from lawyers is that it doesn’t always work in the same way as DM5 so they sometimes have to change the way they work. We might have to fill in some gaps, but it is often a case of getting people to do things slightly differently, which is always a challenge. However, most people like the way SharePoint looks and the way it works. It is very similar to using a Microsoft desktop at home, and it is a lot easier than learning to use a piece of additional software that keeps popping up and getting in your way all the time!”

There are a lot of rumours about the extent of Microsoft’s investment in the SharePoint project. It is said that they invested over £1 million in consultancy. Can you elaborate?
“It wouldn’t be right for me to mention any figures, but certainly Microsoft has been a strong partner. They recognised the opportunity in the legal sector and they worked closely with us. We are sharing the risk on our project.”

The investment in your project and the fact that Microsoft dismantled their legal vertical team seems contradictory. What’s in it for Microsoft?
“I don’t think it means that they do not want to sell to law firms, but not many industries have that vertical support structure around them. That is not the way Microsoft is organised, so they felt it was something of an anomaly. Law firms felt that sent a mixed message but this certainly has not affected the way we work with Microsoft or the scale of their commitment to our project.

At what stage is the project currently?
“Half the firm is live. 3,000 people are working on SharePoint now.”

Is that including all functionality you mentioned before?
“No, this is the first phase – document management and management reporting only”

How did the implementation go so far?
“The implementation is on schedule and on budget, but as it is a new global system we have had to work around different working practices and cultures in different offices.

The biggest issue has been version control. SharePoint out of the box provides two options. With auto-versioning, every time you open the document, a new version is automatically created. No user intervention is required and you never risk overwriting a previous version, but as a result you end up with a lot of minor versions. The alternative is the traditional check in, check out method, which requires more clicks but gives you more control over version numbers, with fewer minor versions.

When we first discussed the options, everyone preferred check in, check out, but after the first pilot, everyone then wanted auto-versioning.  And now we are rolling it out, we are finding lots of different opinions. That’s typical of what you get when you try to introduce a global system. The issues are more involved with exposing different processes and working practices than complex technical features.”

Will you migrate existing documents to SharePoint?
“We are also migrating documents from an agreed date into the new system. Although we will not migrate every document, all our older documents will be archived and accessible via Citrix.”

When will the first phase of the project be finished and what can people expect in phase 2?
“We are currently finishing implementing the first release in Europe and preparing for the America and Asia Pacific deployment. Release 2 will involve replacing our home-grown systems for knowledge and bound volumes collections with SharePoint systems. Release 3 will cover the intranet and social media aspects.”

What are you doing with email management?
We are still deciding how best to present email content in SharePoint. At the moment we are still using File-As-You-Go as the primary repository.

So basically you don’t have and will not have for the foreseeable future one folder or site-collection with all your matter related data including knowledge, email and related documents?
“Not at the moment, but our search engine covers all content.  And you have to be careful what you wish for as these different types of content often need different means of presentation so it is not totally clear to me that a single folder for everything is going to be what people actually want.”

What about integration with your practice management systems?
“When a new matter is incepted in the Global Practice Management System (GPMS) it automatically creates a SharePoint site with the appropriate metadata in place.

SharePoint was designed by Microsoft to be the primary presentation layer that sits between the infrastructure and the user. Nearly all Microsoft tools now flow through the SharePoint layer. We are adopting a similar approach. For example, the management information project, which is getting more detailed and interactive financial analysis in front of lawyers, is also presented through SharePoint. That information will sit by side with the matter related content – it will all be accessed through the same view.”

In an earlier interview you mentioned that in 2014 all Clifford Chance’s content would be in the cloud. Is this still on schedule?
“We have now moved a lot of systems to the cloud but the various data regulations in different jurisdictions make this topic far more complicated than it is in other industries particularly around client information in a couple of jurisdictions. For the moment, at least, we are retaining some systems in-house.”


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