Document management is a fact of life for lawyers. There's seemingly no end to updating and storing materials associated with legal matters.
Having a clear system for document management could help with that. It could also decrease the possibility of errors and make it easier to find what you need when you need it.
Only one-third of lawyers use document assembly software. Of those who use it, 94% said it was extremely important for the operation of their law firm.
Unnecessary time spent creating documents or changing them keeps you from growing your law firm and helping more clients.
Investing in document management practices can help you grow your law firm by streamlining the way you work.
Document management as a practice is important to law firm operations. Having standalone document management software may not be. Depending on what systems you already use, you may already have document management covered.
There are several different document management options available to lawyers. Choosing the right one comes down to the features you need and the tools you're already using.
Over 150,000 people in the legal industry use Clio for both document management and practice management software.
For law firms looking to get a lot out of one single tool, Clio is a good bet. With over 200 integrations available, there's a lot of room to customize things for your law firm. These integrations include Zapier, Google Drive, Dropbox, and QuickBooks.
The best features of Clio include:
- Unlimited document storage with auto-backup to the cloud
- Document searchability
- Document templates
- e-signature capabilities
Because it's in the cloud, you can access documents from anywhere. Clio also has comment threads for every file and a complete version history so you can track all changes.
Clio does come with some cons. Some users note that it's clunky to use or that it feels like too much for a law firm.
With NetDocuments, you can easily find and look at your documents anywhere, including on your mobile phone. Share documents with the click of a button to make things simple for clients or staff members.
This tool integrates with Clio, DocuSign, ActionStep, PracticeLeague, and Legal Sense. Their pricing is custom and requires setting up a session with their team.
The biggest benefits of NetDocuments are their security, integration capabilities, and version management. The drawbacks are that it may be too complex or costly for solo lawyers, and it doesn't run on Macs.
Note: NetDocuments recently acquired Worldox, another population law firm document management tool.
Microsoft SharePoint is very convenient for law firms. Certain Office 365 plans include SharePoint, so you might already have access to it.
Because it's a Microsoft application, it works well alongside Outlook email and Outlook calendar.
SharePoint is compatible across operating systems, so Mac users won't have a problem. It's also reasonably priced at $5/user/month.
Its biggest benefits are that you can create libraries and lists quickly. You can also set it up for use as an intranet system.
If you decide to opt for using it as an intranet, you might need to hire an expert to set it up for your firm. If you plan to use it for simple document storage, you may not need an expert to help you.
Smokeball is both an online and desktop-based tool to help you keep track of law firm documents.
The biggest pro of using Smokeball is that you can easily create custom templates of your most frequently used files. The tool will automatically pull in certain information, like contact info. With unlimited backup storage, you'll never worry that you'll lose things.
Smokeball integrates with LawPay, QuickBooks, InfoTrack, LawToolBox, and Smith.ai.
On the downside, however, Smokeball is not fully cloud-based. This means you don't get the full benefits provided by other cloud-based systems, and you need a strong Windows computer. Mac systems are not supported by Smokeball.
Some users have complained online about how hard it can be to find and edit documents with this tool, too.
Document management only comes with the mid-tier version of Smokeball, which starts at $99/month.
Built specifically for the legal industry, LexWorkplace has solid features for both email management and document management. Their security is top-notch. It's also easy to search and tag documents, too.
This tool integrates with Clio, OneDrive, Adobe, Microsoft 365, and iManage.
This tool is popular because you don't need an outside consultant to set it up to your liking. It also works on Mac and PC.
One of the biggest cons of LexWorkplace is the cost. For just three users, a law can expect to pay at least $395/month.
ProLaw is not strictly document management software. It's primarily a practice management tool. You can choose to add document management, but many users don't feel it's as good as other standalone document management tools.
If you're already using ProLaw or need practice management and document management, this might be a good choice for you.
This tool integrates with Microsoft Outlook/Office and Proforma.
A big downside of this option is that it's not cloud-based. As an on-premise software, you'll need your own private cloud or server to run it.
ProLaw's exact pricing isn't published, but it comes with a hefty starting price point of $30,000 for teams of 15 or fewer litigators.
Rubex by eFileCabinet
eFileCabinet is not made specifically for the legal industry. It also serves insurance companies, accounting agencies, and HR departments at other companies. That doesn't mean it can't work for lawyers, though.
It's built more for business workflow automations, but it does have a document management component. The tool comes with end-to-end document automation software for lawyers, workflow, and management components. Rubex by eFileCabinet comes with substantial storage space. The interface works well with staff members since it looks like an email inbox.
Rubex by eFileCabinet integrates with DocuSign, Microsoft Office, Salesforce, and Active Directory.
A negative aspect of this tool is that it doesn't come with some of the features you'll find in other document management tools for law firms. For example, unlike dedicated legal matter management software it lacks the ability to assign things to specific matters and cases.
Further, limited templates are available in beginner and middle-tier pricing plans. The basic plan starts at $695 per user per year.
Features to Look for in Document Management Software
Before purchasing a standalone document management tool, it's important to know the key features to look for. It's also important to think about how it may fill a gap in your existing tech stack. That can ensure you're not paying for unnecessary software.
Your first choice is between cloud-based or on-premise software. Cloud-based document managers grant you access from anywhere. They also have constant backup and sync features. On-premise software may require its own server, and you can't access it on the go.
At a base level, the must-haves for a document management tool for law firms include:
- Document and file storage
- Integrations with existing tools, such as Microsoft Office or case management tools
- Document version management
- Ability to favorite or search recent documents
- Compatibility with your operating system
- Full-text search
- Matter notes
Plenty of document management tools come with other advanced features. These may be helpful depending on the context of your practice. If you already have these features covered with other tools, you may not need to invest in document management programs with this additional functionality.
These advanced features include:
- Email management
- Document profiling/metadata
- Unique document IDs
- Document check-out and check-in
- Practice management integration
- Geographic data redundancy
- Multi-factor authentication
- End-to-end data encryption
Those last two factors are important for security best practices.
Evaluating Document Management Software
There are a few other considerations to take into account besides the features. Of course, pricing comes into the mix. You'll also need to consider your firm's specific needs and priorities. Some features may be more valuable to you than others.
Another key consideration is how well the new software integrates with your existing law firm tools.
You don't need to pay for multiple software options that accomplish the same goals. Before buying a new document management tool, check that none of your existing case management, document automation, or practice management tools cover your document management needs.
For example, if you use Clio, you might already have all the document management functionality you need.
Finally, aim to strike a balance between document management software and usability. These tools should make things easier for you and other staff members. To do so, consider any learning curve involved in getting up to speed with a new tool.
When to Use Document Management Software
Any firm can benefit from digital document management. Whether you need a standalone tool is the question to ask yourself.
If you already have a tool in place that has built-in document management, you may not need a standalone tool. If your toolset doesn't already include this feature, then you may want a dedicated document management system.
Whether you need a standalone document manager or you're covered by existing software, the use case is the same. Law firms should use document management tools for:
- Better productivity
- Enhanced security
- Reduced spending on printing or storage costs
- Compliance with HIPAA or other standards
- Improved organization
While it might take some time to get things loaded into your document management and to teach everyone on your staff how to use it, this can pay off in spades over the long run.
Choose Your Document Management Tool Now
If you find that you need a standalone document management tool, consider your current software programs first. Consider how well they will integrate together. Incorporating any other tools should be a value add.
Document management is just one piece of your law firm tech stack. Adding tools is also a great way to improve your productivity as a lawyer. To reach further effectiveness, you may need to add other tools to the mix, such as case management software or practice management software.