Document management – keeping it legal
Time is money in the legal profession. Technology is helping firms keep track of their expenses and implement time-efficient processes.
One sector that will be producing paper documents for years to come is the legal profession. Mark Taylor, CEO of Nashua, says: “Legislation, including GDPR and POPIA, requires legal firms to generate and store large quantities of paper. Managing this amount of paper in a compliant and efficient manner is only possible through the use of technology.”
The legal profession faces three main challenges that technology is able to help it overcome:
- Time-consuming processes
- Voluminous document retention
- Tracking billing and allocation of costs
Implementing software and hardware to automate processes, regardless of the nature of the business, frees up valuable resources to conduct more productive tasks. This is particularly true for the paper-heavy legal profession, as searching for and through paper documentation is time-consuming and inefficient, and there are much easier ways to manage this.
Legal contracts and documentation can amount to thousands of pages, all of which require storing for a predefined period. Not only does all of this paperwork require storing, it has to be accessible as and when required. It also has to be kept in a secure and legally compliant manner. Once a paper document has been filed, unearthing it to make copies can be time-consuming. The ability to scan and digitise and electronically store documents not only saves time on administration, it means the documents can be accessed quickly and easily on a computer.
“Digitising documents enables the client to scan their documents in a format that works for them, and to name the files accordingly. The paper documents are manually taken apart, scanned and then returned to the client for storage. The digital files are named, sorted and filed digitally,” explains Taylor.
An electronic filing system allows authorised employees instant access to all or part of the documents, and all stored documents have full audit trails, which means changes can be tracked and version control monitored. It also allows certain words to be searched in a scanned document, making it easy to find clause references. The whole or relevant portion of the document can then be attached to an e-mail.
Electronically filing documents, as well as scanning and archiving them, assists with legal compliance according to the requirements for that type of document.
Which brings us to the challenge of allocating costs to the relevant client for prints or copies of their documents, or even phone calls. Once again, technology steps into the fray. Taylor says: “The ability to automatically allocate costs makes the client’s account easier to administrate from a billing perspective. If you can centralise all of that data, all of the billing information for printing, copying, faxing and phone calls relevant to that case will be available when the matter is concluded.”
He adds: “There’s a guideline of fees that the legal profession is permitted to charge, depending on the type of matter, and automating the allocation of the right costs to the right matter can save a significant amount of time – as well as removing the possibility of human error slipping in.”
When it comes to costs, bringing down the fees around phone calls is also a challenge that the legal profession faces, as well as not being impacted by landline outages, and this is where VOIP networks come into their own. “Always having the connectivity to make calls is essential for a legal firm. There’s demand in all sectors for more cost-effective and efficient telecommunications solutions and VOIP not only brings costs down, it enables more reliable and better quality calls.”
In summary, the benefits that automated processes and technology bring to the legal profession include:
- Quick and easy access to documents
- Time saved and increased productivity
- Agreements are certified as copies of the original
- Documents are secured
- Secure and error-free processes
- Secure and compliant data
- Zero mistakes and list information
- Documents protected from unauthorised access or data loss and system failure
- Invoices can be sent via e-mail and are stored automatically
Any organisation must comply with multiple pieces of legislation that specify how long documents must be kept. But understanding the rules and following them correctly is complicated – with the potential for making mistakes that could lead to large fines (up to R10 million) or the loss of your reputation with customers. Click here to download a document retention guide which provides an overview of what you need to keep, and for how long.