Good business: Scalable document management lends solid legal footing

While scalable document management technology can aid e-discovery and litigation support, saving time and money, such tools also help organizations in the regular course of business.

Scalable document management is handy when accommodating changing numbers of documents, users and locations. But it takes on extra significance when a professionally diverse and geographically dispersed group of people use the technology for litigation support and e-discovery as part of legal proceedings.

In the legal arena, document management is all about protecting, preserving and controlling access to any information that might be introduced as evidence in a court case. As different people engage with the material at different times, for different purposes and possibly from different locations, a dynamically scalable document management program becomes a key to success. And the ability to find and deliver specific items in a timely fashion is always paramount.

You got to know when to hold ’em
E-discovery is short for electronic discovery, which is the process of identifying information that might be relevant to a legal action. Centered on electronically stored information, it encompasses documents, records, emails, instant messaging chats, accounting databases, image files and more.

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The e-discovery process typically begins with the placing of a legal “hold” on the information identified as relevant to the case at hand. This means an organization’s usual document and records management policies do not apply to that specific information, especially those related to the disposition or destruction of records. The goal here is to ensure that the information remains available and accessible during the proceedings and enable organizations to add discovery-related meta tags to documents and other items so they can be readily found again as the case unfolds.

This is but the first in a long list of ways that meta tagging is important in the context of e-discovery and litigation support. Document management aficionados are certainly familiar with the practice’s general ability to facilitate enterprise search and retrieval. But properly applying meta tags for legal purposes can open doors to faster processing and dramatically lowered expenses.

Tag! You're it
A lot of the cost associated with legal proceedings has to do with the time that attorneys and paralegals spend poring over documents to find ones that can either help them make their case or mount an effective defense. If documents are properly tagged with information about who created them, which departments they belong to, what the nature of their content is and who they’ve been routed to in an organization, automated enterprise search mechanisms can be used to find and retrieve the appropriate documents, saving significant amounts of time for users.

To take it further, metadata can be entered to control who has access to these documents by indicating which departments, positions or employees are authorized to view them. Metadata’s ability to capture information about file and system activity also can be used as the basis of alert functions that are activated at the first sign of unauthorized use or tampering. While that capability is always important for effective document management, it is especially critical in distributed environments where, say, outside expert witnesses can remotely log in to systems to view the evidence they will be testifying about. When there are numerous witnesses or other external parties involved, the ability to scale the alerting functionality is equally fundamental so that the proper protections will be applied and the appropriate audit trails will be captured.

Show me the money
Pointing out the cost issues is important because the risk of having to spend lots of money on a legal defense turns out to be more of a motivator for e-discovery and litigation support programs in document management initiatives than improving an organization’s ability to defend itself is.  Properly managing the e-discovery process is simply a good business practice, and even a cursory review of some recent data from the New England chapter of the Association of Information and Image Management shows this to be true:

  • E-discovery costs range from less than $1,000 per gigabyte of data to $2,000, depending on the level of detail required by the discovery order.
  • Hourly costs for manual document review range from $250 to $500 internally and amount to perhaps $35 for the low-cost labor provided by outsourced services. And having large volumes of data to review means that expenses can skyrocket quickly.

Clearly, the prices for this kind of work can vary widely but still result in hefty bills to cover legal professionals’ time. To be sure, these costs are coming down as legal firms and service bureaus embrace document management technology and meta tagging themselves. But paying proper attention to e-discovery in organizations can limit the scope of the required work and boost efficiency, thus driving costs downward. 

While enterprises can lower potential legal expenses even further by adopting scalable document management technology, it’s not just about protecting and defending themselves against litigation. Such tools can help organizations save time and effort in the normal course of business and improve the way they work. Why wait?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Weissman provides guidance and professional training on content, process and information management. Weissman is president of the AIIM New England Chapter and principal consultant at Holly Group. He can be reached at sweissman@hollygroup.com.

This was first published in July 2012

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