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Rethinking the Electronic Matter File

The matter file exploded years ago. Documents, email and other critical information are balkanized in different repositories.  The paper file lives on, but is not always complete.  In fact, most lawyers cannot point to a single, complete master file for a matter.

We need to look beyond the facile mimicry of paper file structures.  Another browsable tree of folders will not solve this problem.

The Electronic Matter File needs to reflect how lawyers work and interact with information.  Document and email content must be complete, flexible and usable. Client information, financial data and communication tools are needed to address the fact that law is about more than just documents – a practice needs managing.

And that is what we are looking to fix. “Tell me how to practice – don’t teach me technology!”. A partner told us that three years ago.  We listened.

A web interface (such as a portal), and particularly one in which we have integrated a powerful enterprise search tool, can provide a much more robust document management experience than either of the legal industry’s two leading DMS solutions.  There are a number of insurmountable limitations to DMS solutions in presenting a matter file view that accurately reflects lawyers’ practice needs, including:

  1. Simple access to an individual’s working file (or multiple files)
  2. Simple access to a practice group's cut of a matter file (e.g. the Tax group's elements on a large transaction)
  3. Actionable correspondence (master, working and practice group) brads

In addition to providing a more functional matter-centric view of DMS content, presenting the matter file through a portal interface allows for the unification of non-DMS matter file elements (both documents and other data such as deadline tracking) that reside in other systems, and often varies by practice group.

Increased usability can go beyond straightforward "matter views", and reach powerful levels of relevance by leveraging:

  1. User personas
  2. Time entry/docket information

ii3 defines user roles at a highly functional level (e.g. billing partner, client responsible partner, junior partner, etc.).  Personas can represent a combination of roles, so that matter file views are highly personalized based on a lawyer’s possible multiple firm and matter management roles.

Assuming that a firm has undertaken matter lifecycle analysis as part of matter management or legal project management initiatives, this docketing information adds another dimension to the relevance of a matter page. If an associate is working on a transaction’s due diligence phase and has docketed time to that phase, when she enters her electronic matter file, the portal can “push” information based on the matter type, her role and the specific matter phase.

She may see for example:

  1. the firm’s due diligence checklist
  2. other, relevant KM content
  3. an associate-only due diligence wiki, which contains practical tips and advice from her peers
  4. a list of recent, relevant matters (via search analysis)

The bottom line is: the practice of law has evolved.  Let’s build an Electronic Matter File that reflects today’s practice, and stop trying to replicate file management models of generations past.


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