How often have you heard the phrase: “We need to create and keep that record for legal reasons”? It’s almost a mantra when dealing with records, yet it is at best ambiguous.
While physical records are an indispensable reality for law firms, they present numerous challenges. From strict security requirements through to large floor space needs, archiving legal files in line with retention requirements can become costly and inconvenient. Coupled with erratic indexing, the time staff waste on locating documents can quickly get out of hand.
Before you determine your policies and processes, we’ve addressed the key areas of weakness presented by current information management practices in the legal sector and to help you evaluate the solutions.
Primary challenges in law firm information management
Confidentiality is central to the legal process in Australia. Legal professionals have a responsibility at common law to protect information passing between them and those with whom they consult.
But perhaps more important than legal obligations are client perceptions. In an increasingly privacy-conscious marketplace, the information management practices of law firms are no longer solely an area of concern for larger clients. Weekly news reports of government and corporate data breaches have put confidentiality at the forefront of the public awareness. Now, data does not even need to be compromised before serious concerns are raised.
Unfortunately, the information management practices of many firms are putting them at risk of breaching client confidence. Rapid technological advances in other industries have stolen the lead that the legal sector has traditionally held in its treatment of confidential information, and many firms are now struggling to catch up.
A solicitor or law practice may destroy client documents after a period of 7 years has elapsed since the completion or termination of the engagement, except where there are client instructions or legislation to the contrary.
Another information management challenge for law firms is in compliance, where a conflict emerges in the interplay between a firm’s aversion to having claims made against it for destroying client documents, general retention and destruction requirements, and the cost of ongoing document storage.
In order to stay competitive, the responsibility is now on law firms to provide value-added services. There are three key elements to this paradigm: quality of communications, speed of information access, and cost transparency. All three are directly affected by a law firm’s information management practices – and by how digitally savvy they are.
Difficulty with digital also means lawyers are preventing from corresponding on the fly across multiple devices, causing them to spend more time issuing requests for the physical transmission of files. This adds to the cost of discovery and diminishes recovery rates. Clients notice the speed with which their legal counsel operates and make hiring choices accordingly.
To tackle the challenges presented by a growing need to ensure confidentiality, compliance and connectivity, law firms must stay current with changes in regulations, ethical standards and professional conduct. Adopting the latest information management solutions can ensure compliance and provide a competitive edge.
As a law firm migrates to digital, the best information management companies provide intuitive systems that allow workers to access information in any format they wish, from any device.
An information management partner with a good understanding of legal sector billing practices will also allow firms to set up sub-accounts within their system for each case, so storage and retrieval costs can be itemised in an easy-to-digest format during billing. They will also be able to help law firms establish which of their information management costs can be ethically externalised.
Download the Grace Custody and Compliance whitepaper to learn how to transform your firm’s information management.