A New Strategy for Going Matter Centric

A New Strategy for Going Matter Centric

Developing an electronic matter file solution for your firm

Adoption of the electronic file is the foundation for organizing matter information critical to the day-today operations of law firms. An electronic file solution is also a requirement for addressing the challenges firms face today around explosive growth of information, growing use of electronic devices, governance and privacy issues, downward pricing pressures, and alternative fee arrangements, among others. A successful solution is one that aligns to the firm’s culture and business objectives.

The electronic file has two primary business drivers: risk management and collaboration. If your firm’s primary focus is risk management, you need an electronic file that has the simple goal of getting the content no matter what form it’s in. If your primary focus is collaboration to drive better customer service, you will want an e-folder structure that makes it easier for teams to work together. As often as not, a firm wants to achieve both goals but needs to turn the dial up for one over the other.

Where does your firm need to turn up the dial?

Sometimes making forward progress requires taking a few steps back to get perspective. In this case, ask yourself what you care most about: the “who” (risk management) or the “what” (standard folder names). “Both?” Now, depending on which bucket you fall into, answer a few questions about your firm’s culture and business objectives and rate their importance on a scale of 1-5. This simple exercise will provide the foundation for developing a workspace strategy that is dialed precisely to fit your firm. Clarity on the following issues are core to your charter and critical to shaping your workspace strategy.

If your primary focus is risk management:

Risk Management culture questions

(Higher levels, naturally, require higher weighting)

Weight their importance 1-5

Litigation profile of the firm – such as subpoenas you receive – high or low?

Proactive nature of insurer – malpractice fees high or low?

Quantity of privacy data being handled – high or low?

Need to keep data confidential – high or low?

Firm-sharing vs. confidentiality – level of importance?

If your primary focus is collaboration and client service:

Collaboration culture questions: I need to …

Weight their importance 1-5

Standardize how service is delivered

Leverage lawyers and staff across multiple offices

Make it easy to transfer files in the firm

Provide client access to file

Make it easy to respond to client inquiries

A review of the basics

For most lawyers, their desktop is their office, and a significant amount of information, including documents, spreadsheets, presentations and e-mails, clutters their systems. Most law firms use a document management system to organize this information and make it available as electronic files, an important first step for both managing risk and facilitating collaboration.

Before we talk about designing a workspace strategy that precisely fits your firm, let’s review a few basic terms associated with document management systems in general and WorkSite in particular:

Workspace

A workspace is a shared electronic storage location for all the content for a particular matter or project—in other words, a “virtual” case file. It can contain tabs, document folders, and search folders. It possesses an independent profile from the documents contained within it. For each matter, you will have at least one and possibly several workspaces for each matter.

My Matters or workspace subscriptions

The concept of My Matter or Workspace Subscriptions provides users with easy access to the matters they are currently working on. Because a large law firm may have tens or hundreds of thousands of matters, the ability for users to create workspace shortcuts gives them rapid access to the information they care about.

 

Folders

Folders are containers for your documents, replacing what in the past was physically kept in a paper folder. Each folder can have its own security level. When a folder is created, all the workspace metadata is copied to the folder (inherited) and document defaults are established. A critical concept to understand is the relationship between documents and folders.

Folders and documents are loosely coupled:

      • A document is stamped with profile and security information from a folder.
      • A change to folder security or metadata does not necessarily affect the document or invoke the file process.
      • A document can have wider security than the folder containing it. (This sometimes means that you can find a file but not be aware of the content associated with it.)

To create new folders (root folders), a user needs full access to the workspace. WorkSite allows you to prevent public folder creation. Search folders can be created to save and secure searches that help you slice and dice data, such as “all documents created in the last 30 days” or “all emails.” Search folders can co-exist with document folders in a workspace.

Tabs

Tabs allow you to organize your folders; they do not contain documents, only folders. Some firms use them as matter dividers or to house “sub-matters,” such as foreign filings in intellectual property cases or serial litigations.

 

Design your electronic file structures

Given the choice, most law firms would prefer to take a balanced approach to their workspace strategy, one that both fosters collaboration and minimizes risk, leaning in one direction or the other according to the firm’s culture and business objectives. Let’s take a look at the traditional approach to foldering with native tools and compare it to a new approach only recently made possible by Web 2.0 technology.

Foldering approaches with native tools

There are three common models for handling folders in WorkSite: a minimalist approach that lets any user create a folder, creating folders by practice area, and creating folders according to the type of matter it is. The minimalist approach, popular in the UK, typically creates one folder for documents and one for email and lets users create subfolders. The generic practice-area approach typically creates lots of folders to cover different circumstances using fixed structures. Crafting folders to the type of matter, while more precise than the practice area approach, also requires the creation of lots of folders using fixed structures. All three approaches are characterized by many empty folders and general chaos. None give users a firm foundation for finding a file or filing a document or recognizes that matters have varying levels of complexity and deal with a wide range of different issues. Frustrated users create their own worlds, and no two are the same.

Traditionally, folder structures are front loaded, which requires the practice group to decide on the “perfect” structure. This process takes too long, requires multiple meetings, and produces sub-optimal results. The reason this approach doesn’t work is that users often do not understand what they need until they begin managing an electronic file. Law firms today need an approach that allows them to minimize the upfront business process and rapidly make adjustments as users begin to map out their structures.

A new approach to foldering

With its Milan platform, Prosperoware takes a very different approach to foldering that starts at matter opening with a simple, common core— working drafts, correspondence, and matter administration— that can be added onto as standards, practices, and adoption evolves. Our approach has several goals:

      • Put the responsible lawyer in charge of the matter
      • Ensure that group standards of the practice are adhered to
      • Improve adoption of the electronic file with an easily understood structure that can be quickly rolled out
      • Turn the dial up or down to quick adjust to users’ needs

Two dimensions of control: who and what

Milan provides two dimensions of control: the ability to control the “who,” who can add/delete/edit folders and the ability to control the “what,” flexible naming standards by practice area. The first dimension of control, the “who,” gives control of folder operations to specific people, typically the responsible lawyer, the lawyer’s assistant, or a designee. This approach has a number of advantages, not the least of which is making the responsible lawyer actually responsible. In other words, Milan gives the matter a file steward who knows the matter, and how it should be organized, better than anyone else. Preventing other users from creating folders stems the chaos that foldering typically creates.

The second dimension of control, creating standards, gives firms the flexibility to create custom naming conventions anything— or fixed naming conventions, such as Witness with prefixes (John Smith Witness) or suffixes (Witness John Smith).

 

Why this is important

Milan’s customized approach to foldering means that firms can align their workspace strategy to the firm’s culture and business objectives. Milan gives lawyers and support staff more latitude in managing electronic files and identifying team members while retaining the firm’s ability to apply policy and confidentiality standards, including information barriers. That latitude improves the adoption of the electronic file and allows your firm to turn the dial up towards risk management or down for collaboration. Start where it fits your general culture the best—perhaps the middle?—and then make it your own.

Evolving as users define their needs

One of the biggest challenges with introducing a new system is that users will not necessarily know what they want until they have experience with the technology. Prosperoware Milan allows you to easily accommodate evolving needs. Our technology allows an administrator to change template rules with a few clicks. With Milan, users can easily add additional folders to their workspace. Compare this to traditional approaches, which require you to globally update workspaces, a process that takes time and is administratively expensive. And, in fact, in many matters the additional folders are neither wanted nor needed.

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