Every so often you come across programs or people suggesting that file naming conventions and a structure can function as a “free” version of document management. Frequently these systems propose a structure that does indeed mimic what a document management system would offer, name organizing files by client, matter, document type and with a naming convention starting with date: “YYYY-MM-DD name of file.doc” or some such. This is sometimes combined with a desktop search engine for indexing.
Is a DIY Document Management system realistic? The problem with these systems is that they are (a) manual; (b) depend on accurate input from end users; and (c) offer very limited capabilities in comparison with a true document management system. So the question is, what features and functionality do you want from “document management?” The basic items can be broken down as follows, in my opinion:
(1) You want usage to be enforced. You do not want to have people have to think about whether or not they will follow a voluntary convention. The firm needs to control and track all its documents. This is doubly true with the new electronic discovery rules, where it might be argued that someone who stored a file not in the proper place was trying to hide something. This has actually happened for deletion of emails and penalties have run into the millions of dollars.
(2) You want the naming to be automated. Why should you type in “YYYY-MM-DD” for every single file you save when you can get the computer to store that information for you? Why should you have to scroll through a bunch of directories when the document management program can search an index qualitatively faster?
(3) You want it to integrate your email, so that all documents, scanned items and email are available with a single search.
(4) You want full boolean search capabilities that combines full-text searching with a matter-centric approach. Examples:
– Find all documents with “tax*” in the title (i.e., tax, taxes, taxing, taxed) and that contain “2004" in the document.
– Find all pleadings that contain “malptractice” within 10 words of “negligence” that were done in the last 6 months.
– Find all the emails from John Smith relating to the Haversack matter.
(5) You want full version control without having to have a separate file for each version. You want to be able to find them all at once and if necessary compare different versions.
(6) You want to be able to create security groups for specific files and/or departments (e.g., Human Resources, Management Committee).
(7) You want an audit trail of who worked on a document, printed it, copied it, etc.
A DIY “document management” system will do none of these things. Trying to create one will simply be very time-consuming, and the minute-here, minute-there adds up very rapidly.