Far too many law firms continue to operate in silos, in terms of document management. But, silos are only good when you’re storing grain . . . or a body. (Wait, did I say that out loud?). And, since you’re not doing either of things (probably), it’s time to consolidate your document files.
Even as paperless practice continues to accrete upon law firms, many still operate under a hybrid document management profile. Some of the files are paper only, some are electronic only, and some exist as dual copies. While that may seem like a reasonable approach, as the long, slow drive to a fully paperless office commences, it’s really just a bigger pain in the ass. If you’re looking for a needle, one haystack is better than two. So, in the first instance, make sure there is one, true copy of your law firm data. If you don’t want to give up the paper, I won’t quarrel with you: Just scan everything you get and save it electronically, even if you want to keep the paper files around. Some folks would call that a paperless practice; I’d call that a cop-out — unless you’re destroying all the paper files that you can, you’re just a guy who’s telling people you’re paperless, while step over piles of redwelds on the way to the Keurig machine.
But, wait! Even if all of your documents are scanned, and you’re disposing of the paper as allowed, there are still potential problems that can foil your paperless goals. Back to the silos. When I ask law firms where their documents are located, I always get several answers: Oh, some are on the server. Then, I’ve got some in my case management system. And, I have a Dropbox account that I can’t remember the password to. And, Google Drive. Then, I have, like, four backup drives. And, there’s a thumbdrive in here, if I can just find it . . . In short, it’s always a dumpster fire. The only acceptable answer is that your documents are in one place. Just one. The ‘one place rule’ eliminates silos. Tear ‘em down! So, of that list: pick one. I don’t care which one. Just pick one.
Well, that’s not exactly true; I kind of care. If you’re using Microsoft Office, as your primary email system, here’s what you should do: (1) Upgrade to Office 365, if you haven’t already; (2) Use OneDrive as your data storage program. (One Drive, one place . . . see, that works juuuust fine.). If you’re an Outlook user, this streamlines your workflow nicely. The good news is that using One Drive won’t cost you anything more, because it’s included with Office 365. And, your Office 365 subscription will also feature the premise-based version of Office 2016, for download on up to 5 devices (LINK). So, if you want to keep using the local Office apps, you can do so, while maintaining the flexibility of Office 365. But, even if you’re not drafting online, you will need to save back to OneDrive, instead of your local device, to make this work. (And, there’s an auto save feature — if you’re not into manual operations anymore.). If you’re a Google person, use Google for Business + Google Drive; and, if you have a Mac or iPad, you can use iCloud. Same difference; pick one.
It’s true that I said ‘one’ repository is the way to go; but, I’m gonna add a substantial caveat to that instruction, and carve out integrations as being part of your single system. So long as you’re saving your documents and files to one place, you can then sync those documents and files with other systems. This avoids the siloing problem, because you’re technically not storing documents in another system, just linking back to your primary repository. When everything’s connected, it’s just the one big silo you’re working with. If you integrate One Drive with your case management system, for example, so you can access documents or attach them to cases, you’re not burdened searching various buckets for your list.
And, this is one of the chief advantages of cloud-based systems. It was very difficult to connect data via traditional, premise-based systems, without grafting onto those systems some additional arcane mechanism(s). With the cloud, all you need is an internet connection, to share what you want, where you want. And, now that you know the secret, you can spring clean your document files, and get it all together.