Three Strategic Information Management Investments Law Firms Can Make

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Today, the management and protection of law firm information assets has a direct impact on a firm’s business success. The volume of information firms manage for their clients and their business is vast. Clients constantly ask for service efficiency improvements, lower prices and increasingly, monitor their outside counsel on regulatory compliance, and security protocols. As a firm, you have to excel in all these areas and more to keep clients satisfied and bring in new business.

This paper explores three strategic areas where firms can take control of their information, and build a competitive advantage. The priority areas include: Information Access for Efficient Service Delivery, Mobile Lawyer Productivity, and Information Governance (IG). This paper draws on two primary sources. First, we explore how law firms are faring by using benchmarking data from a recent survey, the 2013/2104 Information Governance Benchmarking Survey for Legal Services, “The State of RIM and IG in Legal Services,” authored by Cohasset Associates, in partnership with ARMA, AIIM, and Iron Mountain. Second, we draw from the 2012 Law Firm Information Governance Symposium reports and the 2013 Law Firm Information Governance Symposium reports published by Iron Mountain to provide guidance on how to build IG in the unique setting of law firms. Lastly, we offer “dial mover” recommended actions firms can take to differentiate themselves in the legal market with information governance.

Information Access for Efficient Client Service Delivery

Law firm clients expect their lawyers to get back to them very quickly, with a sense of urgency on pressing legal concerns. Today with clients putting work out to bid in a competitive legal market, the timeframe needed for an attorney to respond to clients’ questions can positively or negatively affect the firm’s business. Many times the attorney’s response time is controlled by their ability to find the information they need to complete their legal analysis and recommend strategies to clients. With the enormous volume of electronically stored information (ESI) and hardcopy client files managed by firms, this can prove difficult if the organization does not manage its information efficiently. Client information, both hardcopy and ESI, can be spread across multiple repositories, offices, and onsite and offsite storage areas. There may be convenience copies floating around and various emailed copies sent out, adding to the complexity of finding the official document. This situation can greatly complicate the attorney’s ability to get what they need to deliver services in a timely manner.

There are several foundational RIM issues discussed in the Legal Benchmark Study that can directly impact a firm’s ability to get attorneys the information they need.

RIM Program

An effective RIM program is a key efficiency driver, and an important IG process documented in the Symposium IG Framework. The Legal Survey reveals that 78% of law firms have a RIM program, as compared to 87% of all organizations, a deficit of 9% for law firms (see Table 1). A documented and strictly followed RIM policy for all information across the enterprise is the primary requirement needed to ensure quick access to information, whether in paper or electronic format. We see many firms investing in building or updating their RIM programs as part of the firm’s strategic plan to drive improvements in the efficient delivery of client service. The importance that law firms place on RIM is evidenced by a trend for the RIM team to report into the C Suite. The Legal Survey shows 25% of law firms have RIM reporting into an executive office versus just 10% for all organizations in the survey.

Records Retention Schedule

An up-to-date, cross-format retention schedule is critical to effective information management. Firms wanting to drive more efficient client services need a retention schedule that applies to all information across the enterprise — no matter its location or format. A troubling statistic (see Table 2) that jumped out of the Legal Benchmark Survey shows that only 73% of the legal participants versus 92% of all organizations have a retention schedule.

Firms that are not destroying files under a current retention schedule continue to add to the mountain of information they already store. This applies to both firm administrative and client files, with client files typically being the largest volume. Those firms that lack a retention schedule to actively, and consistently, destroy eligible documents are not only paying unnecessary storage costs, but are also making it harder to find what attorneys need by not managing the volume of information. The absence of a retention schedule can also create unforeseen risks for clients. If a client has already destroyed information under their schedule, but their law firm has not, the client may have to produce the law firm copies during legal discovery. On the bright side, 85% of surveyed law firms felt they had up-to-date schedules and that their schedules were easy to interpret 78% of the time, and were media neutral 79% of the time.

Making Destruction Happen

Even when a schedule is current, many firms struggle to establish protocols and workflows to actually implement destruction of eligible documents. There are many reasons for this in the law firm context, including attorney desire to keep client information for future use, resource-intensive client pre-destruction notice required by many state bar associations, and a lack of documented workflows, processes, and automation for the destruction process. Yet, we do see an uptick in firms carefully documenting destruction protocols based on careful consideration of bar association, client, regulatory, and professional considerations. It boils down to making some business risk decisions, and moving forward with reasonable protocols.

The Cohasset Legal Survey shows that law firms have a significant opportunity to use more automation in their destruction protocols. For example, just 8% of Legal Services respondents indicate that their content/document management solutions have evolved to fully automate the disposition process. And, only 39% of Legal Services respondents have fully or partially automated offsite paper destruction processes, while only 31% had automation for onsite paper documents. Firms are doing better with ESI, where 45% of legal participants have automated deletion of email, instant messages, and electronic communications. For legal, as was the case with all the industries surveyed, automation of destruction processes is an area of opportunity.

Dial Movers — Recommended Actions

  • Make the investment in your information foundation — document your records policy and retention schedule. If you can’t muster internal resources, find a service provider with law firm expertise to help.
  • Consult your service provider on emerging best practices for defensible destruction of client files to manage costs and risks including notice and review strategies.
  • Integrate your document management system with your records policy to automate all or portions of disposition and retention, while accounting for bar guidance on professional responsibilities.
  • Consider some of the newer technologies to automate destruction eligibility notices to partners for internal review and approval.

Mobile Lawyer Productivity

A 2013 ABA Tech Survey found that 91% of attorneys utilize either a personal or firm-provided smartphone for workrelated activities. The countless iPad® applications for lawyers and the prevalence of firms establishing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) tell the story of firms having to adapt to the use of mobile devices in recent years. With this trend, many firms have increased usage of imaging to convert hardcopy documents to electronic documents, so mobile lawyers can access that content. And they are equipping mobile lawyers with secure access to their document management systems.

Lawyers now use laptops, smartphones, and tablets to be productive no matter where they may be working — a client office, the airport, or their home office. And firms are investing in infrastructure, policies, and security protocols to make these mobile lawyers productive.

The issue of security is a big one in the context of mobile lawyers. Lawyers have special duties to keep client information confidential, and to guard against inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure or access to client information (ABA Model Rule 1.6). The increasing regulatory requirements relating to the 2013 Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Omnibus Rule, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, EU data protection, and cyber security concerns, also must be taken into account when giving lawyers information access using mobile devices. Security protocols for accessing information stored in cloud repositories also takes on special importance with lawyers using mobile devices. Potential data loss or inadvertent disclosures rise with mobile lawyers, as devices can be lost or stolen, without encryption or password protection. Further, procedures are needed to ensure that all data on mobile devices is retained and destroyed in accordance with the firm’s policies. The Legal Survey reveals only 7% of Legal Services had a fully automated information retention/disposition capability for data on mobile devices. This creates ongoing breach risks as mobile devices with client data can be compromised, lost, or stolen.

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