10 Best Practices for MatterCentric Collaboration

10 Best Practices for MatterCentric Collaboration

Improve adoption of the electronic file and mitigate risk

Software adoption is almost always tied to how clearly and compellingly you can address the questions, “Why do I need to learn to use this software now?” and “What’s in it for me?” By the same token, risk to the firm can be significantly reduced when processes mirror how people really work. Matter-centric collaboration is an evolving process, and firms need an evolving methodology to improve adoption of the electronic file and to mitigate risk. These 10 best practices will take you far towards achieving that goal.

Firms need to limit IT bottlenecks. The electronic matter file is intended to enable a business process—any step that requires IT involvement will be a barrier to adoption. Systems that automate the management of the electronic matter file should be part of the firm’s overall information governance program. The system should provide a mechanism that allows foldering rules to be modified as users begin to understand their true requirements and as they become more sophisticated at adapting the system to their needs. For example, in a typical WorkSite deployment, users who don’t have ownership of a folder can’t edit security, which means that IT has to get involved as teams expand to make changes to the team and re-file content. We repeat: any step that requires IT involvement will be a barrier to adoption of the electronic matter file.

To put ownership of the electronic matter file where it belongs—in the hands of the people who know the matter the best—the firm should build a culture that designates a file or matter steward(s) for each matter and makes them responsible for the organization of the matter content. This person will typically be an associate, paralegal, secretary, or electronic file clerk associated with the responsible lawyer.

To support privacy laws and confidentiality, the firm should enable users to easily secure a folder to the entire matter team or to a team of people who are working on the matter without IT support.

To make it easier for users to start building out an electronic matter file, the firm should require a minimal number of folders at matter opening. Prosperoware suggests beginning with the following three folders:

      • _Working Drafts for work-in-progress documents
      • Correspondence for email and scanned images of physical correspondence
      • Matter Administration for firm-owned content (such as the engagement letter, bills, lawyers’ notes)

To make it easier to tailor the file structure to fit the requirements of the matter, lawyers should have the ability to add root-level folders and subfolders. Firms can keep the structure from getting too complicated by limiting the depth of the folder structure to no more than three levels: root folder, sub-folder, and sub-sub-folder.

Firms should have the ability to support multiple naming standards to reflect the needs of different practice areas. Teams of two don’t need naming standards, but large and geographically dispersed practice groups do. Each real practice area (people who actually need to work together) should be able to define the degree of collaboration they need and the naming standards they want to use. Prosperoware suggests at a minimum:

      • Fixed names (Deposition)
      • Fixed names with user-defined prefix (Smith Deposition)
      • Where Deposition is a pre-defined, required name and Smith is a custom prefix created by the user
      • Fixed names with a user-defined suffix (Correspondence 2013)
      • Where Correspondence is a pre-defined, required name and 2013 is a custom suffix created by the user
      • Complete flexibility for naming

To improve email management, firms should not make email “public” to the entire firm. Instead, they should secure email to the matter team. Firms should consider a hybrid security model that maintains the appropriate balance between transparency and privacy. In this model, users are educated to file work-in-progress documents in the “_Working Drafts” folder, which is open to the firm. In parallel, as a general rule, all other folders that hold email and “finished” content (generated either by the firm or by third parties) are secured to the matter team.

The primary goal in most firms is to capture all matter-related content. To ensure consistency in re-filing and a single home location for documents, the end user “Re-file” operation in Worksite should be disabled and the “Add to Folder” command should be removed from the FileSite or DeskSite client. (Because the default re-file prompt is “no,” many documents are not properly re-filed.) Instead the firm should have the re file operation occur on the server, where they can define a set of business rules for re-filing under different circumstances. For example, firms may want different re-filing rules for moving a document from a personal workspace to a client workspace than they have for moving a document between client/matter workspaces.

Firms need to make it easy for end users to access content in a timely manner, such as when they are closing a deal, and to import a variety of material into the DMS, such as scanned documents. Accessing and importing content should be a smooth, solid workflow that does not require IT support. The DMS repository needs to be available to all applications, including Internet Explorer, from a variety of devices, including Macs and tablets.

To prevent unintended consequences arising from premature deletion of documents, firms should give users a mechanism that allows them to stage documents for deletion that they can recover themselves without the support of IT.

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