With COVID office lockdowns not looking like they will end anytime soon, today, law firms of any size, are likely experiencing rising frustration either with restricted access to case files and documents – paper or digital – and/or not easily being able to find them when they do get access. For smaller or family practice law firms, this could have a crushing impact.
For firms that still have a majority of their case file and document data in office file cabinets, if they haven’t already, they should formulate a procedure for taking some steps now to safely extract files from the office – especially ones that are for current and recent cases – so they can at least be scanned into digital file storage. However, regardless the percentage of documents and files firms do and don’t have access to, an assessment should be made of the current technologies remote attorney teams are using to share and work on with each other. Based on that assessment, some important decisions may have to be made sooner than later about upgrading that technology.
Cloud File Sharing—An Imperfect Interim Option
Law firm operations have already been upended during COVID, and as the legal profession has always been so document-intensive and document-dependent (even before COVID), firms should not need to have any concerns about critically important case files and data they are working on and need to keep close track of, especially now!
If, for example, a firm’s file sharing and document management technology was server-based and could only be accessed by being in the office before COVID, steps already should have been taken to transfer those functions to the now post-COVID predominantly remote team office environment. To mitigate losses in productivity from moving to remote offices from physical offices, firms can provide their attorney teams with free cloud-based document sharing technology platforms like Google Docs, Dropbox or Box, which can save them tremendous amounts of time in enabling them to edit, comment and work on case documents, They can also see each other’s changes in real time vs emailing document attachments to each other (already marked up and redlined using Microsoft Word editing tools) and requesting input. Many times, also, case document and data files may be too large to send via email, so these cloud file sharing programs offer a convenient, albeit short-term, solution.
Cloud DMS—Lifesaver For Small Firms
However, due to the sheer volume of documents law firms produce, these cloud file and document sharing platforms, which may be beneficial as a short-term patch in the transition to remote, will soon prove to be inadequate and ineffective. Many firms may already have a hybrid mix of a cloud file sharing platform like Google Docs alongside a server-based document management system (DMS), but that is now useless in a remote work environment, which likely will be a longer term scenario at this point. With increasing pressure on law firm operating workflows because of COVID, now is the time for firms to seriously consider a solution that will replace this hybrid cloud file sharing/server document management band aid. That solution is taking the best of both, enhancing it further, and moving it to the cloud.
A cloud-based DMS has several advantages over hybrid cloud file-sharing/server shared drive DMS patchworks. The cloud DMS has much greater security features over cloud file-sharing programs, which is critically important for remote attorney teams working on highly-sensitive case documents. Any document created and shared by attorneys over a free file-sharing platform can be taken by an attorney when they leave the firm. Also, Google Docs-type programs have limited capabilities for keeping track of the dozens and dozens of case files remote attorneys work on that could result in a wrong or not most updated document being worked on. A cloud DMS has robust storage, indexing and retrieval features, enabling fast location of every document a firm has. Additionally, with a cloud DMS, no file or document will ever be lost or corrupted – as could occur with a server-based DMS — as they will be replicated and backed up in the cloud. A cloud DMS also allows the firm to control who has access to which documents, creating more efficient and secure document workflows. A cloud DMS further allows firms to set policies and controls around document retention and compliance requirements that may be associated with certain cases, as well as for audit purposes.
There are a number of options to consider when selecting a cloud DMS platform, but most important is that should be scalable and customizable to a firm’s particular case file and document needs. One option could be NetDocuments (https://3545consulting.com/netdocuments/), a company that has been around for more than 20 years and has developed a robust cloud DMS platform for smaller law practices with the features and protections discussed.
Cloud document management systems in the new normal remote COVID environment are no longer a nice to have but a must have for smaller law firms – for their security, for their optimal workflow efficiency, for their competitiveness against larger firms, and for what could be, their very survival.