Understanding the Legal Content Lifecycle
Understanding the Legal Content Lifecycle
And why it’s important
When evaluating software solutions for managing legal content, it’s important to understand the basic life cycle of legal content and the unintended consequences that often arise during that cycle. Why? When a software solution enables that life cycle, lawyers are more productive and firms are less exposed to risk.
Legal content lifecycle
The legal content life cycle is constructed of three parts that form a continuum of closely related content:
- Work-in-progress (drafts)
The practice of law is primarily about the creation of documents. The internal drafting of a document is often a collaborative effort between multiple lawyers, secretaries, and document processing. As the document is passed among individuals, and as internal comments are received, separate versions are typically created to track and compare changes.
Once blessed internally, the document is often shared with outside parties for comment (contracts negotiation), published (website, brochure), sent (letter), or filed (court or government agency). Contracts or agreements are a unique legal process.
Many documents law firms create are based on prior work product or practice-area templates. In most cases, lawyers in transactional practices will either use a template that has been published for their practice area or use one of their own prior documents as a template.
When no appropriate document exists in those two collections, the lawyer typically seeks out documents generated by other lawyers. It makes sense. Why reinvent the wheel? Selecting another lawyer’s work product will be dependent on the internal reputation of the lawyer and the age of the document.
Litigators seek out prior work product for a slightly different reason—to speed up the drafting of a new pleading or brief. Litigation documents are usually a combination of facts and legal standards or arguments. In most cases, litigators will be interested in harvesting the portion of the document that contains the legal standard or argument because the facts change in each case. Other information considered “knowledge” includes practice notes, notes on case law, client advisory, checklists, and similar documents.
A significant challenge with legal documents, especially contracts, is that they often use the same words, which sometimes makes it difficult to use full-text search to locate an agreement. In this case, a good title, document name, and classification (such as document type) are helpful in facilitating searches. The rub is that when people draft documents, they have no incentive to give it a description or document type. The result is that in almost every traditional DMS deployment, documents are profiled as a document or miscellaneous—neither of which facilitate searches.
The organization and grouping of records is critical to the practice of law. Lawyers need records to further their case, and firms need records to mitigate risk in case the firm is sued or the firm needs to return the file to the client.
Records comprise all the final documents the firm generates, including externally distributed drafts, lawyer’s notes on how to process the case, and third-party content that the firm has received. Third party content can include:
- Client documents
- Received correspondence (email or physical letters)
- Documents from opposing parties
- Pleadings filed by the other side
- Agreements and draft agreements
- Court orders and other government documents
Lawyers typically group document into folders according to the appropriate type. When a document is critical to a case, that single document may be stored in a folder.
Clients own most of the file. Without good records management, a firm cannot implement retention policies internally. Nor will the firm be able to satisfy their client requirements for retention of their content. The failure to comply with retention policies or to satisfy the ethical requirements to protect client property can result in malpractice or sanctions for spoliation of data.
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