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SharePoint as a Legal DMS

By Mark Manoukian posted 08-16-2022 12:20

  
Please enjoy this blog post authored by Mark Manoukian, IT Director, Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter, Chad Ergun, Chief Information Officer, Davis, Graham & Stubbs LLP and Tom Hall, Chief Operating Officer, Brachers LLP.


Tell me a little about yourself and your firm. 

Chad Ergun: I am the CIO at Davis Graham & Stubbs located in Denver CO with about 200 attorneys.  In addition to IT, I also oversee KM & Legal Research, Records, eDiscovery and Application Development teams. 

Tom Hall: I am the COO of Brachers LLP a full service law firm located in Maidstone, Kent, UK, with 200 staff. I oversee IT, Finance, Facilities and new client onboarding. 

I understand that you are running SharePoint as a Legal DMS. When did that happen and how did you accomplish that? 

CE: After reviewing 3 traditional DMS and 2 SharePoint-based products, we picked Epona to replace our on-prem DMS platform about two years ago.  We have a cloud-first strategy since we moved all of our content and on-prem resources to Microsoft Azure with O365 (E5) about 5 years ago.   

Replacing a standard DMS product with a SharePoint one is challenging from both training and cultural shift perspectives.  Working with each practice group and creating a new set of best practices for different stages of the matter lifecycle was a critical step several months after the initial deployment.  There are also new integration capabilities as part of SharePoint-based DMS such as OneDrive, OneNote, and Teams. These new products help streamline active case management and improve attorney productivity.  Treating your brand-new platform like your old DMS will significantly reduce its capabilities and make your investment useless in the long term.   

TH: We launched “Project 2020” to overhaul our IT estate. We adopted a cloud first strategy and thus reviewed multiple DMS’s alongside other products. Interconnectivity of systems for data synchronization alongside seamlessness from the end user and client perspective were front of mind when making our selection. 

The firm was and continues to be heavily invested in the Microsoft stack with E5 licensing. So, products which leverage as much of our license as possible to minimise duplication of costs are key. For instance, the security provided by Microsoft, along with the E5 license access to Power BI and Sharepoint / One Drive storage capacity were considerations when looking at other DMSes. More specifically, it was apparent that moving away from the Microsoft stack would mean would paying additional storage and BI capabilities which are native to Microsoft. 

Was it simply a matter of buying the necessary tools, or were professional services also required? 

CE: We have a very strong in-house development team with experience in both SharePoint and DMS products.  So, we worked closely with the vendor’s professional services group during the initial setup, data migration, and production support phases.  We also had our trainers and help desk regularly meet with the vendor’s support team to review training plans, open issues and tickets.  Another advantage of working directly with Epona’s professional services team was to be able to get other 3rd party products fully integrated with the new platform. 

TH: Our legacy DMS was SQL based and the process of transferring data from one DMS to the other was largely done in house. We procured a data transfer tool relatively cheaply and transferred teams (practice groups) over the course of a weekend, removing access to the legacy DMS at the same time. We did it this way to allow for a week of dedicated training and data transfer before moving to the next team. Prior to migrating data, working with Intapp Documents (fka Repstor) to best identify the client\matter hierarchies to best leverage and futureproof the data architecture was key given limitations within Sharepoint and the site structure. Of course, there were a few bumps along the way, but the support Intapp Documents delivered in resolving any technical issues or providing guidance on next steps was excellent. Of all the Project 2020 initiatives, moving our DMS was actually one of the easier. 

What DMS did you come from, and how does your SharePoint implementation compare?  

CE: We moved from iManage to Epona and bought several third-party products and add-ons such as Litera desktop, DocID, and Intapp Walls. Also adapted brand new features such as email filing with matter-centric Team sites, OneNote for each active matter and secure file sharing with OneDrive.  With the new platform, our users don’t have to profile documents and matter details are applied to document profiles automatically.  By doing so, our users can search both contents of the document and profile of the matter. 

TH: We moved from TR Mattersphere to Intapp Documents. Mattersphere was significantly more than a DMS, the DMS being just one of its features. So, alongside Intapp Documents we had to stand up other software to take place of these features and continue to provide, and better, the experience to the end user. We were looking for products which save “5 minutes” and or reduce data errors. Features such as auto document filing, client collaboration and interconnectivity to other peripheral systems such as our Client Matter Inception / Client Relationship Management products were a key consideration. When migrating we were able to set up and standardise the filing structure to make it easy for cross team collaboration and automation of system processes. For instance, all bills generated in our accounting system are auto filed to the billing folder on the matter, a legacy secretary role. 

How is Sharepoint different from your previous DMS...What are the pros?  

CE: In addition to moving our DMS to the cloud, Epona also gave us integration points for a full matter lifecycle management platform.  By moving our document collection to SharePoint, we now can use Microsoft IG, Compliance, Records and eDiscovery tools that cover other data sources such as documents stored in OneDrive, OneNote, Exchange and Teams.  The final product we built covers practice management tools, enterprise search, information governance, knowledge management and records. 

TH: Intapp Documents offered our lawyers increased connectivity when working away from the office; they are no longer reliant on connectivity to on-prem servers at the office. In addition, increased search functionality such as scanning embedded text within PDF and other documents benefits the legal team. Our completed architecture has Aderant at its core and Intapp Documents takes all data feeds from here, purely acting as a DMS. Whilst the product has native client and matter onboarding, our integrated approach means we leverage Intapp Documents as a layer over sharepoint to increase the core DMS functionality. Lawyers are now able to take documents offline whilst traveling or alternatively collaborate with each other in real time on the same document seamlessly using Microsoft's online editing mode. The added benefit being real-time document saving, meaning less work being accidentally lost if the end user closes the document without saving. 

Any cons?  

CE: There are feature gaps if you treat SP-based DMS as a traditional DMS (cloud or on-prem).  Some add-ons that work for more common DMS products may not be ready for SharePoint and force you to change products or look for other alternatives.  We managed to address the add-on issues by working with the original vendor for an updated version, replacing it with another one or updating the process behind it to eliminate the add-on.  

TH: We have encountered a few teething problems with SharePoint synchronization, with documents locked out to lawyers locally on their machine, however these have been largely overcome. We are adopting an “online” editing rather than local editing approach to overcome this in the main. Document templating from our CRM (e.g. name, address, phone number) was also a missed feature from the previous DMS so additional software was procured to close this gap.  

Microsoft has this habit of reinventing the wheel sometimes, throwing  what we think of as traditional or basic features out the window when entering a new vertical. To wit, certain phone features do not exist in Skype for Business, and in hindsight, Microsoft was right, we do not need those features anymore Has Microsoft done the same with SharePoint as a DMS? Are there philosophical differences between traditional legal DMSes and Microsoft’s approach? 

CE: I believe Microsoft has much greater plans for Word and the way document lifecycle will work under different governance and compliance requirements.  Once you pass the initial learning curve and deal with cultural issues, there are many new features waiting to be utilized.  We are already taking advantage of these new capabilities that require at least 3-4 different products on our old platform.  I think the best DMS is an invisible one that is already built into your existing application deck and seamlessly integrated into attorney workflows.  So, you start the document lifecycle with a draft stored on your SharePoint DMS and from there you can collaborate with both internal and external parties, co-author if preferred, add e-signature, compare, add it to closing set, declare as precedent or file it in eRecords system.  All of those tasks without creating many copies, email attachments and saving the document in handful of locations.  This centralized model of document management workflow prevents significant security risks, records retention issues, eDiscovery complications and performance issues.   

TH: When considering our DMS requirements we came from a product (TR Mattersphere) which was more than a DMS. Matterspehere effectively catered to the end to end matter lifecycle in one product from inception to closure, to case management and workflows.  

When considering the DMS functionality it was really important to us to see the wood for the trees, in the form of a DMS vs other components which when fitted together enhance the lawyer’s experience. For instance, being able to write a letter to a client, pre-populated with their matter information via templating, complemented by financial information pertinent to that case on the same screen was the lawyer’s expectation. 

 The incumbent system however, whilst fantastic was becoming dated and not built for a mobile or dispersed workforce. So when we looked for a new DMS and the products on the market not only did we have the price / opportunity benefit to consider, but also the functionality that Mattersphere provided to the lawyers. We looked at Microsoft’s cloud-first strategy and becoming more connected, but with separate products catering to specific tasks. Brachers chose to emulate this. 

The challenge with decommissioning Mattersphere was that it did so many things. We needed to find product(s) to complement Microsoft in order to emulate the broad and deep functionality of Mattersphere. We accomplished this by combining Intapp Documents with Microsoft Sharepoint as its backbone. But as Microsoft, out of the box, didn’t meet all our law firm’s requirements we further enhanced this capability through other products including Intapp Open, Intapp OnePlace, Aderant Expert, Bighand Outline, and integration utilising API’s and using Intapp Flow / Integrate to co-ordinate the syncronisations of all systems, with Aderant our golden record.  

The benefit of this is that through Intapp we can access documents on our DMS from the CRM as well as financial information or client contact information and flow these into document templates, from anywhere in the world for a mobile workforce in cloud-based applications.  

The final benefit is that we can now adapt quickly, as Microsoft does with regular releases. In the same way, we can update or swap out (like a USB port) individual elements, rather than having to replace the entire system. If a better client inception product became available, we could update or replace that and leave the rest of the system intact, maximizing flexibility whilst minimising change. It also means that we are able to provide a firmwide core integrated system for the lawyers, with bolt on practice specific applications. 


#SharePoint
#DMS
#GlobalPerspective
#ProfessionalDevelopment
#Firm
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