Fundamental changes in the way that law firms operate today have transformed the nature of collaboration across firm networks and information systems.
For starters, the phenomenon of distributed work teams that are spread out across the world — creating work product generated from an unlimited number of remote locations — raises serious questions about where data is stored and how it must be governed. In addition, a shift in client expectations regarding online collaboration with their outside counsel has raised the stakes for firms to enable secure access to shared resources.
This increased need to collaborate with both internal colleagues and external clients requires law firms to establish an information governance framework that supports a new approach to day-to-day operations. This is best achieved by implementing more comprehensive processes and by adopting the right supporting tools.
I had the pleasure of facilitating a panel discussion on this increasingly important topic at ILTACON 2022 with Keith Lipman, CEO at Prosperoware (a Litera Company), James Merrifield, Director of Information Governance and Business Intake at Robinson & Cole LLP, and Doug Smith, Assistant Records Director at Crowell & Moring LLP. We proposed a multi-step process for law firms to consider.
The first step toward selecting the right information governance tool is to step back and think about your firm’s key considerations for supporting collaboration. No two firms are the same, so there are no magic answers here, but ask some basic questions about your unique circumstances:
- Where is the data stored in our organization?
- What are our clients’ requirements for information governance?
- What capabilities are most important to our firm in an information governance technology solution?
- Is there a good fit between these information governance tech requirements and our firm’s existing IT expertise/capabilities?
- How can we balance user needs vs. user wants so that we are seeking a tool that will be widely adopted in the firm?
Once you have a good handle on the key considerations that make sense for your firm, the next step is to determine the specific features you are seeking and how an information governance tool will support your lawyers’ various ways of working. This is crucial because different processes will drive the unique workflow requirements needed to support whatever technology solution you choose.
For example, you might give greater preference to a tool that meets lawyers and staff where they are right now, allowing them to operate relatively seamlessly within a broader new information governance framework. You also might lean toward a tool that effectively supports staging materials for publication or perhaps filing to third parties, such as courts or the USPTO. Other specific capabilities might include co-authoring or real-time collaboration, functional mobility across a variety of devices, and various support for processes that are unique to your firm’s key areas of practice.
The third step is to finally sit down and build your product selection roadmap. In our experience working with law firms of various sizes, the best practice is to follow a few distinct phases at this point:
- Evaluate current state. Start with a candid assessment of where you are now and make sure you are aligned with the next information governance maturity model that is appropriate for your firm. If you have not done so already, now is the time to develop a data map for your organization. This is also a good time to establish a product selection team, which should include individuals who have knowledge and involvement across areas such as IT, outside counsel guidelines, business operations, and of course information governance.
- Define goals. Determine what will constitute success for your team in the product selection process. Put in place the key metrics that will allow you to measure the types and volume of activities in your organization, such as records disposition or legal holds. Then make sure these goals and metrics are aligned with the overall business strategy for the firm.
- Develop roadmap. Take a look at the objective evaluation of your current technology, review the desired product capabilities determined by your internal team, and identify the gaps you would like to fill. This will serve as your roadmap as you evaluate potential solutions. Remember that tools are changing in real-time, so it is important to stay updated on developments in the market and remain open to supplemental tools that may plug specific needs for your firm.
The transformation that has taken place in how law firms operate has forced law firm technology teams to rethink how they can support internal and external collaboration, including the optimal processes for implementing an effective information governance framework. These processes can certainly be managed manually, but many firms prefer the efficiency and risk management benefits that are found in the deployment of an information governance tool.
Selecting the right tool for your firm may feel like a daunting journey without the assistance of a trusted advisor who understands the law firm landscape, has successfully worked with firms of all sizes to manage their information governance responsibilities, and is entirely vendor-neutral in their product evaluation. For more information about how HBR’s information governance team can assist your firm, please contact Terry Coan.