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Small firms, big advantage

How to level the playing field by modernizing your document management strategy

The opportunity in numbers

A recent survey exposes the gaps between what corporate clients expect from the law firms they hire and reality.

Smaller firms can shine by offering what big firms lack: clarity on costs and processes, consistent matter updates, and responsive communication.

ACC/Everlaw survey

4%

of in-house legal teams said they were extremely satisfied with law firms' transparency into costs. 42% said they were "somewhat satisfied".

7%

of in-house legal teams were extremely satisfied with transparency in law firms’ processes. 45% said they were only somewhat satisfied.

76%

of in-house legal teams said they were satisfied with the quality and responsiveness of law firms’ communication. 24% said they were not.

70%

of in-house legal teams were satisfied with their collaboration on strategy. 30% said they were not.

72%

of respondents say upgraded tech would provide greater transparency on matter progress and status.

Table of contents

Introduction 
Chapter 1. Why law firms need a modern DMS 

Limited tools limit future success

Chapter 2. One control point for better-organized information

Responsiveness is paramount to client satisfaction

Chapter 3. Collaborate from anywhere in real time

Bring people and process together to eliminate delays


Coming Soon:

Chapter 4. Turn knowledge and expertise into collective strength

Chapter 5. Solve digital security and regulatory compliance challenges

Chapter 6. Sharpen your competitive edge and shape your future 

Introduction

As clients seek more personalized and cost-effective legal services, smaller, regional, and boutique firms are experiencing an unexpected surge in popularity.

Recent research bears it out:

  • Legal work continues to move down-market to smaller firms as clients seek greater efficiency and better value-to-cost balance. (Thomson Reuters)
  • Partners in smaller firms now practice in areas usually dominated by larger firms, such as commercial litigation and corporate law. (Above the Law/iManage)
  • Competitive salaries in small firms are on the rise. (Above the Law/iManage


How can you make the most of this trend and use it to spur maximum growth and profitability?


Small firms have a big advantage. You can deliver personalized client service with greater agility than larger firms by maximizing your efficiency, responsiveness, and productivity, while you minimize costs. This drives your competitive edge and increases your profit potential.

But the tools and processes matter. Document management tools significantly impact your firm’s responsiveness and cost-effectiveness if they don’t fully support the work your lawyers do — helping them organize, locate, share, and protect documents and emails. Inadequate tools can make it difficult to collaborate on or use past cases to help new clients, for example.

Documents chart your client relationships, from each matter’s intake to its last billable hour and closing. Each document is a snapshot of the attorney-client interaction, recording the lawyer’s analysis and insights, the client’s questions and concerns, and detailing final decisions, actions, and outcomes.

Imagine a world where you collaborate on legal documents in the same space you communicate. Documents, emails, and chats coexist, accessible from anywhere, anytime. There’s no need to download, upload, or switch between programs. And no more desktop jungle of apps that take forever to load and create distractions. Your team works together in real time, without version control headaches and with the complete picture always in easy reach.

A modern document and email management system (DMS) provides a highly secure environment for your data and client information. The DMS opens the door to unimpeded, real-time collaboration and organized information storage with the benefit of sophisticated document search and retrieval.

Your DMS yields access to a virtual library of contextualized legal expertise. This promotes knowledge sharing and collaboration among colleagues as it unlocks the full breadth of your accumulated experience to support future growth and profitability. 

Almost half of law firms (46%) rank using technology to improve productivity and efficiency as a top need to meet client demands and improve collaboration and work processes.

Wolters Kluwer

Chapter 1: Why law firms need a modern DMS

Why law firms need a modern DMS

Lawyers spend hours chasing down colleagues, searching repositories, and sifting through a maze of folders, emails, and chat logs to find the information they need to complete their daily tasks. They rarely find it fast enough to meet today’s client service standards, and juggling multiple versions of documents while trying to collaborate via email attachments just adds to the challenge.  As work mobility expands in nearly every profession, fast, user-friendly remote access to documents has never been more critical. Clunky VPN access to a firm’s servers is a stark reminder of the limitations of outdated technologies when sluggish response times in high-stakes legal environments can lead to unacceptable results.

Limited tools limit future success

Most firms quickly outgrow the document management capabilities in their practice management solution, or PMS, which often lack features people need to excel in a competitive market. Search functions seldom return all the relevant results, leaving key information buried in overflowing inboxes, meeting notes, and misplaced files. This impedes your ability to collaborate effectively and hinders remote work,  reducing your firm’s scope. Lawyers also need sophisticated and flexible document controls that ensure adherence to frequent regulation changes and include version control, audit trails, and secure storage to safeguard sensitive information. You can capitalize on your inherent advantage as a small firm by using an enterprise-grade DMS that is built for agility and scales with your growth. Raising the bar on responsiveness and effective collaboration sets your firm up for future success.

 

Chapter 2: One control point for better-organized information

How important is a fast response?

A slow response time was the top-rated reason for deciding against hiring a particular lawyer or firm. (Martindale Avvo)

47.6% of law firm customers listed responsiveness as a critical factor in choosing an attorney.

32% of respondents saw a red flag if a lawyer appeared too busy or overly stretched – an impression easily left by slow response times.

Responsiveness is paramount to client satisfaction

Firms achieve instant credibility and build trust by responding to a client’s inquiries quickly, with accurate information. And when your documents are centralized in one place, organized by matter, any member on the team can search past correspondence, agreements, and court documents to find the exact documents and emails they need and provide answers promptly. This is just the beginning of the benefits of a modern cloud DMS.

A user-friendly information hub with intuitive organization and information-sharing capabilities greets lawyers and staff. Everyone logs in to the same system, regardless of location or device, and all authorized users can access stored documents in real time. 

Find information fast with advanced search options

Lawyers spend way too much of their workday hunting for information. In an outdated file system, searching document titles for a word or phrase is like looking for a needle in a haystack. 

A modern DMS lets you build greater value into your documents by storing them with something called “metadata tags” which are a way to record relevant details with the document. You can add multiple metadata tags when you are generating or saving your documents and keep their treasure trove of information close at hand with an easy way to call them back later in a search.

The most modern DMS uses an automated process that can classify documents based on content, type, case, and other criteria, saving you an average of 3.5 minutes per document.

(Forrester Consulting)

Refine your searches with granular filtering capabilities

Do you need to find all contracts drafted by a specific partner last year? Are you looking for all discovery requests sent to one defendant in a multi-party litigation? 

Go straight to the relevant information and:

  • Replicate past success. Fine-tune your search and quickly find the specific case and associated documents.
  • Unearth hidden expertise. Search by case, matter, knowledge, and document types to identify relevant experts based on prior work.
  • Find documents 7 minutes faster. Your filing structure can mirror your work habits for quicker, more intuitive searches. (Forrester Consulting)

Control who views and edits your documents.

With just a few clicks in a modern DMS, you can grant or restrict document access from read-only to full editing capabilities for individuals or groups. You can manage internal and external permissions, set up shared folders, and adjust as needed — all within the DMS.

At last — reliable, built-in version control

We mentioned the problem of juggling different document versions, which can be a real chore. Automated version control keeps an audit trail that tracks and preserves each action and modification and clearly identifies each new version. Nothing is ever lost or overwritten, and everyone can feel confident that they’re working with the most current information.

Accurate document versioning is important for time-sensitive matters and essential for dispute resolution. It is also a time-saver when collaborating.

Chapter 3: Collaborate from anywhere in real time

Work is more collaborative than ever

Nearly half (43%) of legal industry survey respondents consider Microsoft Teams and Slack essential.

38% expect to rely on them even more in the coming year. This suggests a strategic shift toward using these tools to optimize work across in-person, remote, and hybrid models. (Hanzo/ACEDS)

Bring people and process together to eliminate delays

Real-time editing, sharing, and communicating through a collaborative cloud DMS stems the tide of back-and-forth communication. With coauthoring you can simply send a link to multiple collaborators so all can access and modify the document at their convenience, even at the same time.

Regain hours spent reconciling versions of the same document as your firm:

  • Enhances collaboration in an online workspace. Work together with external parties in a secure workspace for fast resolution.
  • Wins higher-value work. Collaboration enables partners to win larger matters with a higher value than work won by a single partner. (Thomson Reuters)
  • Avoids distractions while working. Interruptions cost people an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds (UC Irvine). Office workers toggle between different apps and websites nearly 1,200 times a day, on average, and spend almost four hours a week reorienting. Teams may spend as much as 60 percent of their workday on activities related to changing between multiple systems. (Harvard Business Review)

Permissions put you in control of who can view and edit. There are no physical copies to be misplaced or seen by prying eyes. And uninterrupted access to information makes lawyers more productive, better informed, and more responsive to changes. 

Offer the work-life balance advantage

As more employers require more in-person time, legal organizations that can offer hybrid work schedules are poised to distinguish themselves in the talent market. (Robert Half) The competition for skilled attorneys is fierce, with 90 percent of law firms poaching individual talent — and entire legal practices — from competitors. (Cushman & Wakefield)

Many lawyers want to avoid the traditional hustle culture of long hours and high stress. They prioritize greater control of their schedules so they can be present for personal milestones. Work-life balance and career development are among the top three reasons associates stay at their firms. (NALP Stay Study)

But more than 68 percent of lawyers struggle to achieve genuine work-life balance, highlighting the need for better tools and resources to support this goal (Lateral Link). As Renee’s story illustrates, a robust DMS enables lawyers to work efficiently from anywhere, manage their workload effectively, and avoid after-hours stress. Offering tools and resources that support this coveted balance can help small firms attract top talent and improve their overall satisfaction once hired.

Use case: how uninterrupted productivity works as a differentiator

Renee is an associate and this is a typical week at her law firm.

Late on the eve of trial, Renee suddenly realizes she doesn’t have a deposition transcript she needs to prove an argument. At home, she pulls out her laptop and logs into the firm’s DMS with a few clicks. Through the user-friendly interface, she searches by matter, deponent name, and document type “deposition”. In seconds, the missing transcript appears on her screen. Renee avoids a long drive to the office and frantically searching file cabinets and desktops and continues honing her case strategy.

At the courthouse the next morning, during a cross-examination, a response requires immediate access to another document. Without missing a beat, Renee brings up the DMS on her tablet. Scrolling through neatly categorized evidentiary documents, she finds the relevant information in seconds and avoids delaying the proceedings.

Later in the week, Renee reviews a client’s contract, conveniently accessed through a mobile app on her smartphone during a quick coffee break between meetings. She sees an important correction and makes the necessary edits. All permissioned parties have immediate access to the updated contract.

The following day, at an important client’s office, Renee must clarify a point in a complex agreement. She logs into the DMS on her laptop to show the client the relevant charts, impressing them with her competence. 

Renee’s story shows how beneficial it is to find the proper documents the instant you need them. Speed is a competitive differentiator for small firms in a fast-paced industry.

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