EDMS Software: Winning Legal Business

April 30, 1998

Deborah Putsnam, PR and Marketing manager at DPA-Egami,writes about the advantages which EDMS can bring. DPA-Egami can be contacted on0171 592 8000 or by e-mail at mail@dpaegami.com.

The best time to install any computer system is after planningand considering what resources will be required. When should law firms notinstall litigation support software? For a large case involving major clients -yet, in practice, this is frequently exactly when it is done. It may be that thecase is running behind and document lists are due to be exchanged shortly orthere are too many documents for the lawyers to be comfortable: technology canresolve both these issues. But the best time to think about resolving suchissues is – now!

It is often assumed that it is only the very largest law firms that are usingelectronic document management systems (EDMS). It is true that the top 100 firmsare using these systems but then so are many others. Technology is no longerseen as an adjunct to the law but an integral part of it. Lord Saville, the lawlord who heads the UK courts IT committee, said ‘IT has now reached a stage ofdevelopment where it can be used not just to automate existing practices, butalso to provide new ways of working’.

Today, EDMS is becoming standard within law firms because blue chip clientsare using the technology to store their own data such as company files. They maythen shred hard copy files or store them remotely to reduce storage costs.Frequently when litigation comes up the information is on optical disk and sothe case can only be handed to a firm using the appropriate technology.Furthermore, a sophisticated and practical approach to IT shows prospectiveclients that you are efficient and pro-active in providing cost-effectivelitigation.

An EDMS allows you to organise all your paperwork in seconds with automaticfacilities for searching, storing and manipulating information. There is nolimit to the size of the cases which can be handled effectively; they can rangefrom 500 documents to 300,000. The software combines imaging with databasemanagement and electronic filing.

One of the key players in the market is Egami-Legal, which grew out ofDPA’s core EDMS product, Egami. It combines document management with thepractice of law. Earlier this year it was commended by the Society for Computers& Law for its user-friendliness. Egami-Legal is litigation support softwarewith a unique facility which allows you to compile, change and print out‘bundles’ with the correct pagination, in seconds.

How Does EDMS Work?

Post is received into the organisation in the normal way and opened. It isthen scanned into the system rather than being physically distributed. Oncescanned, the document is put in the electronic tray of the addressee. Theaddressee, on logging on to the system, receives notification that they have newpost. The post can be viewed on screen and processed in any of the followingways: put in an existing file or a newly created one; responded to and filed;forwarded to another user or filed with a date prompt for further action.

With each of the above processes, it is possible to make notes and attachthem to the document, just like a post-it note (but unlike the original itwon’t fall off the computer). If a hard copy is required it can be printed orfaxed at any time. The whole system is password protected so a user’s accessis confined to documents for which he or she has authorisation.

Scanned documents are held as image files so that, although they can be readon screen in their original state (EDMS have magnifying buttons), new notes canbe added at any time but the original version cannot be altered. These scannedimages can be stored either as an image or as the data contained on it.Typically an image takes up ten times more memory than text data. Photographsare very heavy on memory with colour being the most demanding.

Once a document is scanned, OCR software can be applied which converts thedots which make up the image into readable characters so that the data can thenbe manipulated, edited and re-used. The reliability of the OCR facility hasvastly improved in recent years and, when backed up by a powerful search enginewhich looks for similar spellings or groups of words, can be used to greateffect such as by incorporating a legal thesaurus.

Advantages of EDMS

The ability to demonstrate effective case management and control costs arekey to winning business. Clients are naturally more willing to accept up-frontcosts if you can demonstrate that you can handle a case cost-effectively. Inlitigation, scanning and indexing constitute a major cost consideration with theaverage price of 45p per sheet of A4 paper. Faxes cost more as do telexes whichrequire splitting up and may require copy typing for text retrieval. Thesecosts, however, are further reduced by using para-legals and, most recently,data input clerks to index (objectively code) documents and the resultinginformation from the index cards will then be used to create the disclosure listand later trial ‘bundles’. In some cases, it is more prudent to considerscanning only after disclosure as this limits the documents to the trial bundlesand reduces the amount of scanning required and lowers the costs.

A para-legal’s costs can be a fifth of a lawyer’s and, followinginstruction from lawyers, a para-legal can subjectively code and bundledocuments. This reduces the lawyer’s involvement to interrogating the data andallows him to pursue more high profile work and handle more cases. After onlyone half-hour tutorial on Egami-Legal, lawyers are able to manipulate andinterrogate material – form their own bundles and paginate them. When you haveteams of lawyers working on a case who are not necessarily in the same place, ifyou have imaged documents on screen, with all the annotations and notes, eachlawyer involved in the case can share the up-to-date information.

From another administrative perspective an EDMS counters the very commonproblem of para-legals working on a contract basis. If the case is heldelectronically, through an imaging system, you can just go back and review thenotes. Also, very importantly, lawyers are continually running out of space andonce a case is put on computer you can store the original paperwork out of theway.

Counsel’s chambers can be put online to the system so comments can beshared and there is no need to photocopy reams of paper. The financialadvantages of bundling electronically are huge when you consider saving thecosts of photocopying in court: compare printing a document off your computerfor 8p a sheet as opposed to it being photocopied at 28p a sheet.

Having counsel and witnesses online led us to develop an automatic questionand answer attachment. We have regard to feedback from an independent UserGroup; Susan Holmes of Rowe & Maw heads up the legal section.

We allow you to customise the system to work in the way you want it towithout having repeatedly to call out DPA specialists and incur extra charges.

With an EDMS system a lawyer can totally control a small case, say 500documents, from his PC – he doesn’t need to search out the files and can makeup his own bundles and paginate them online. Para-legals will tend to work onthe larger cases where, supervised by lawyers, they will index the documentation- interrogatories, pleadings and witness statement – all the mundane tasks thatwould normally require trawling through huge amounts of paper.

Using Egami para-legals can do word searches and make up bundles – searchingon index cards – on eight to 20 fields. The way in which a case is filedreflects both legal and technical principles as the design of an index card isdecided jointly by lawyers and IT specialists.

Neither is security an issue. If there are a number of parties involved therewill be different levels of access, and with Egami it is easy to control access,read and edit rights as well as scanning. One of the most important newdevelopments is internet access to company information. Client-server Egamimakes company information globally available over the intranet/internet from aremote site. Accessing documents through the intranet/internet is morecost-effective than running an ISDN link which carries a £2,000 installationcost plus £3,000 rent cost per year – and you don’t need to buy licences.

Buying EDMS Software

When choosing an EDMS you need to look at the maintenance costs and whetheryou will need to recruit someone just to take care of it because it is sittingon a proprietary system.

Any business can benefit from the application of EDMS but it is particularlyrelevant to the service industries that conduct their business on strictprocedural lines. These kinds of activities lend themselves to business processengineering – the use of workflow management software. This automates thecorrect procedures to be followed and enables the process to be followed atevery stage, on screen with notes showing actions taken.

Electronic document management has developed from a secret weapon to one ofthe most effective marketing tools currently available to law firms.

Jane Jales, of City firm Rakisons, says, ‘In the same way that fax machinesrevolutionised office procedure so do EDMS systems. Any litigator knows that theart of litigation is being on top of your documents and knowing the case betterthan your opponent. Any simple-to-use technology which allows you to work on alldocuments on every case, without leaving your desk, is revolutionary and it isnow available’.