Matter Centricity 101

Matter Centricity 101

How we got there and why it matters

The concept of Matter Centricity, coined in 2002 by Prosperoware’s president when he was at iManage, centered on constructing an electronic environment equivalent to the 1990s paper file.

In the 1990s, which was pre-email, you could pick up a paper file in any law firm in the world, and it would contain all of the information associated with a matter. The paper file typically consisted of a number of folders that separated such things as drafts, correspondence, pleadings, client documents, and lawyer’s notes. Except for the folder containing the drafts, all other folders contained records (finished or completed documents). The firm, the client, opposing counsel, and other third parties generated the records. The paper file was secured in a physical location, which meant you needed to put your hands on it to read it.

And then came email

With the advent of email, which replaced traditional, paper-based correspondence, followed quickly by voicemail and the practice of holding meetings on briefs via phone calls, the paper file started to lose its utility. The challenge was twofold: email fractionalizes communication and, as a result, the quantity of email exceeds the quantity of traditional correspondence exponentially. The onslaught of content increased the number of people actually filing content. Lawyers and other professionals began to organize email in their own inboxes instead of focusing on getting copies of the email into a paper file. In parallel, the electronic format of the content created additional burdens. If litigation arose related to the case, the firm was required to produce the electronic version of the email rather than the printed version. This meant that the firm had an affirmative duty to preserve electronic files.

Who owns the file?

As a matter of global practice, lawyers are required to maintain a file. The basic rule around the world is that the client is the owner of most of the file. (Typically, clients do not have ownership of documents related to the firm’s administration of the matter—such as engagement letters and bills nor do clients own notes related to the lawyer’s strategy.) In ethics opinions, it has been held that if the firm has not maintained an electronic matter file and the client asks for a copy of the file, it is the firm’s duty to produce it at their cost. This requires an e discovery process against individual inboxes, which can be time-consuming and expensive.

Why Matter Centricity Matters

Matter Centricity has efficacy for both lawyers and the firm: for lawyers because it makes their job easier and them more productive and, for the firm, because it mitigates risk. Together these elements represent a huge advantage in light of today’s downward pricing pressures and the security threat hackers represent.

From the lawyers’ perspective, collaboration via a Matter-Centric electronic file returns us to an environment that captures all of the relevant content related to a matter in one centralized location—including email. In many cases, it will still include paper documents, such as executed agreements and wills. However, maintaining paper documents in an electronic file is simply a matter of scanning them and converting them to pdfs. The productivity advantages of a centralized location for matter content are obvious.

Upping the ante

Advancements in technology have given the electronic file another advantage. Once all of the matter content is online, it can be easily consumed anywhere from any device—including desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Universal web access to matter content means that lawyers can be in a courtroom, a meeting, working from home, or on the road and still quickly access any relevant document pertaining to the matter. When time is money, this is hugely advantageous.

Matter Centricity ensures that a particular email or document is never locked away in someone’s inbox or desktop. This is important not only from the standpoint of lawyer productivity, but it also from the standpoint of mitigating risk for the firm. It is widely acknowledged that there is a large risk management element associated with decentralized client-matter information and the inability to track email associated with client matters because it is siloed on desktops and mailboxes. In fact, mitigating risk is often the primary driving force for a firm to adopt Matter Centricity.

Everything else can seem like a bonus.

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