I regularly run across the argument that a document management system such as Worldox is too much work or too expensive, and that anyway “our current system works just fine.” I recently noticed several laudatory references to David Sparks advocacy of “Do It Yourself” document management in his book “Paperless” (oriented exclusively to solo practitioner Mac users). What does he advocate?
Sparks is quite up front in his dislike for industrial strength DMS’s aimed at firms of more than a single user:
“I’ve never been a fan of enterprise-level integrated document management software. These applications support network storage, file versioning, and access for multiple team members.”
That all sounds good to me. Why does he dislike them? He thinks they’re ugly (to each his own) and is suspicious about what might happen if your DMS provider suddenly goes out of business. Since programs such as Worldox (which now has a Mac client) have been around for 25 years, this latter argument is a red herring (although it might be applicable to some startup cloud-based systems). What is his alternative?
First, he creates a nested directory structure that would mimic what a DMS would provide behind the scenes (client/matter/document type). This provides easy customization. Of course, he also recognizes that the downside of this structure is the tendency to get “so granular that you end up with folders that only have a few files in them. Too many folders just creates extra work.” The tendency to micro-manage directory structures is one of the most typical mistakes made by firms adopting a DMS for the first time.
“No Third-Party Software” he proclaims. His devil’s advocate “reader” complains about “the mind-numbing drudgery that comes with dragging individual files to buried folders.” The solution? An add-on utility that eases the task of moving files around. But even so, the “whole process still smacks of pounding rocks.” True. Enter another utility that lets you create a series of rules to govern and automate naming and saving files to ensure that file naming conventions are applied consistently. These rules can be extremely sophisticated (presumably requiring an amount of effort to create that corresponds to the degree of sophistication of the rule). Except for the would-be geeks, most lawyers are not going to invest the time and effort to create this kind of system (not to mention that writing elaborate computer scripts is not a core competency for lawyers). And of course, aside from good-will and discipline there is no way to ensure that these rules are applied assiduously.
The last step in the DIY system is the addition of metatags to give you additional search capabilities that equal what is routinely provided by a DMS. Here Sparks balks, saying that he has not found them to be worth the time it takes to create them.
The end result is a system that probably works extremely well for a single user, or even two or three, but as Sparks admits, it is not designed for an “enterprise level.” Furthermore, the amount of time it takes to create and maintain such a system dwarfs the amount of time it would take to set up a DMS such as Worldox, even for a single user. In short, a “DIY” system is a big mistake for any firm with more than a couple of users.