What Is Legal Document Management?

Whether for a corporate legal department or a law firm, document management (DM) capabilities for the Legal function are a distinct breed. In this post, I will clarify just what we’re talking about when we talk about legal DM. I’d say “Legal DM” is a pattern of activity that includes the following capabilities.

Baseline Legal DM Capabilities

Baseline Legal DM capabilities are as follows:

  • Library Services: Dynamic DM capabilities that include document profiling/indexing, check-in/check-out, revision history, and audit trail.
  • Configurable Structured Repository: Repository capabilities for managing the range of Legal’s documents, including Legal’s own documents and records, possibly other corporate documents, legal opinions, correspondence and memos, contracts, and collected documents under litigation hold.
  • Advanced Search: “Enterprise” search, although search is typically limited to all same-DM product repositories in the organization, with some capabilities to search databases and other repositories from the same vendor.
  • Guaranteed, Restricted Content: Guarantees and restrictions on content, authorization, security, authenticity, or accuracy (ensuring that exactly the right people can access exactly the right documents).
  • Granular Security: Security on annotations and redaction; security that protects search content based on user access rights; capability to strictly enforce access control.
  • Integration with Desktop: UI integration with (typically) Microsoft Office and Outlook
  • Document Workflow: Process management capabilities, particularly for author-review-approve workflow and document lifecycle management.

Standard Legal DM Capabilities

Standard capabilities include the baseline capabilities listed above, plus:

  • Records Management: Records management (RM) capabilities, including behind-the-scenes capture of content as a record and standardized integration with electronic and paper RM products and modules.
  • Team Project Collaboration: Capabilities for team- or activity-based, document-centric collaboration, focused on providing a common virtual environment to share information and interact on a particular task, project, or activity.

Advanced Legal DM Capabilities

Advanced capabilities include the baseline and standard capabilities listed above, with the addition of the following:

  • Advanced Version Management: Advanced Library services, particularly red-line management and version merging/branching.
  • E-discovery Capabilities: Inherent capabilities and strategic/technical integrations with third-party products for all stages of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), including pre-trigger information lifecycle management.
  • Integration with Legal Software Applications: Strategic/technical integrations with matter management and related legal software applications.
  • Bates Numbering and Other Specialized Legal Capabilities: Includes various specialized legal capabilities not included in other categories.

Which Do You Need?

Considering this division of legal DM capabilities, which are necessary to meet the needs of your organization’s legal function?

  • Baseline capabilities are necessary for any legal firm or department doing anything significant with its documents.
  • Standard capabilities are highly desirable. I don’t put them in the first category because you can “do” adequate team project collaboration and RM without buying and implementing a product with those capabilities (although it’s not easy), and those capabilities are more specialized than the seven capabilities I’ve classified as baseline.
  • Advanced capabilities are highly dependent on your organization’s particular requirements and require specialized components or products.

A good first step is to estimate how far down the list of capabilities you need to go (just Baseline, or all the way through Advanced), and how you might weight your need for each of the capabilities. Then look at your solutions options.

For some organizations, the ECM priority is to get a handle on document management within the Legal function. So in my next post, I’ll take a look at how to start your company ECM program with legal document management.

Rich Medina
Rich Medina
I’m a Principal Consultant and co-founder of Doculabs, and the resident expert in using ECM for information lifecycle management.