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12 questions legal operations should ask when evaluating DMS vendors

Heidi Hanson

Content Marketing Editor Senior Specialist, iManage

Legal operations professionals are continually evaluating new processes and technologies to help their legal departments be more efficient, productive, and secure. One important area of focus is document management – enabling users to save, search, and work effectively with the documents, emails, and messages that flow through the legal department every day.

Organizations increasingly find that traditional enterprise approaches to document management do not meet the specific requirements of their legal departments. So it’s no surprise that 55 percent of legal operators plan to update, evaluate, or implement new document management systems (DMS) in the next 12 months, according to the 15th Annual Blickstein survey of Legal Operations professionals.

Before making an investment in a legal DMS, it's important to consider the specific functional requirements of legal professionals and the unique capabilities of leading DMS providers.


1.  How does document management help make my legal department more organized and productive?

A legal DMS works the way legal professionals work. It organizes and structures information so users can find the content they need, collaborate efficiently, and leverage existing work product. It saves documents and emails together, in the proper context, organized around the relevant matter, client, or transaction. It should also be simple and intuitive to use, so the user can complete tasks quickly and without friction. 

2.  How does a legal DMS differ from an enterprise content solution? What additional functionality should I look for?

In addition to organizing information clearly, a legal DMS should provide legal-specific capabilities that match the requirements of legal professionals. For example, legal users need to securely share documents with colleagues and clients and easily manage document changes and revisions. A legal DMS should support this workflow with features like secure collaboration, explicit version control, and document histories.

3.  Can the solution manage emails as well as documents? 

One of the weaknesses of legacy content systems is they don’t save emails and documents together. A modern DMS must enable legal professionals to manage the high volume of sensitive email they work with by saving emails automatically in the correct location so their content is searchable and secured. Legal users need to see documents and emails together and in the correct context for a complete picture of the matter or transaction they are working on. 

4.  Does the legal DMS make it easy to search and find the right documents? 

An IDC study found that knowledge workers spend about 2.5 hours per day searching for the right information. Legal professionals need to find the right document, the right contract, or the right clause, with pinpoint accuracy to respond quickly to client inquiries, identify precedent, or leverage existing work product. A legal DMS must include powerful search capabilities and findability, with customizable search functions and personalized results.

5.  Is the DMS intuitive and easy to use?

Busy professionals have little patience for overly complex or difficult technology. The DMS should work seamlessly with the office productivity tools that legal professionals already use and deliver an intuitive user experience on par with consumer technologies. Successful DMS solutions embrace user adoption and engagement as a vital metric of success. Ideally, the solution will require minimal training and provide embedded learning tools to optimize performance. 

6.  Can users work securely outside the office or on a mobile device?

In the new normal of hybrid and mobile work, legal professionals need to access their work securely to be productive wherever they are. Modern document management enables users to work from anywhere on any device, with a consistent interface and user experience. The best DMS solution enables workers to stay productive and responsive to business demands by securely collaborating with colleagues, making revisions, or reviewing and approving documents from anywhere. 

7.  Does the DMS integrate with other legal technologies? 

Legal teams rely on a range of different technology solutions, including matter management, e-billing, case management, contract management, and more. Any legal DMS should integrate seamlessly into this environment, with out-of-the-box connections to core systems and efficient tools for extension and customization. Look for a DMS vendor with a robust partner ecosystem that can support implementation and systems integration requirements. 

8.  Can the DMS protect our company’s most sensitive and confidential legal information?  

Legal departments need the highest levels of security protections for proprietary work product, particularly in today’s era of increased cybersecurity risk. The DMS needs to deliver a multi-layered approach to security that’s both comprehensive and unobtrusive to the end user. Documents and emails should be automatically encrypted, with need-to-know access set at the document and matter level, as well as active threat detection to monitor and flag abnormal activity. Security protections should also include support for defined regulatory policies like GDPR and CCPA, while being fully tracked and auditable.

9.  Can the DMS deploy in the cloud?

Nearly every enterprise is working on advancing their cloud strategy by now. There are clear advantages to the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, but some organizations worry about moving their confidential legal content into the cloud. Look for cloud-native legal DMS providers with well-architected cloud solutions that emphasize performance, reliability, agility, and most critically, security. Check for trusted cloud standards and certifications — ISO 27001 series and SOC 2 Type 2 are the most important. 

10. Does the legal DMS vendor have a comprehensive implementation strategy?

Look for vendors that understand the importance of a seamless implementation process, and have the services, programs, and partner relationships to ensure project success. Vendors should offer comprehensive implementation support that includes project management, risk assessment, data migration, recommended design, with additional assistance to ensure change management, user enablement, and user adoption.

11. Will our corporate IT team have to spend time maintaining the legal DMS?

The modern legal DMS should leverage cloud service delivery while minimizing the burden on IT. this approach enhances organizational agility with rapid deployment, automated updates, and the ability to quickly add new functionality, while your IT resources stay focused on the business. 

12. Who does the legal DMS vendor work with? How well do they support customer success?

As with any significant technology decision, take care to evaluate the potential vendors in the market against your specific requirements. Look for partners with a proven track record of working with large and complex corporate legal departments in highly regulated industries like banking and finance. Also consider vendors who have a detailed understanding of the unique requirements of legal users gained through deep experience working with global law firms and lawyers. Finally, seek out vendors who have a demonstrated focus on customer success and a history of building long-term relationships with clients. 

iManage is a trusted partner helping legal professionals work productively, collaborate effectively, and protect sensitive legal content. Visit our Solutions for corporate legal departments page for more insights.


This article was previously published by CCBJ in the 2023 Directory of Leading Legal Technology and Project Management Solutions.

About the author

Heidi Hanson