Legal Document Management – How SharePoint 2013 CAN Help


Posted by Kyle Connell

Foreword:

In my relatively brief history of creating legal solutions on the SharePoint platform, I have identified some common pain points among our clients. In my requirements gathering, I have learned and come to understand many of the processes that are critical to job performance. In the coming weeks I will be writing a series of articles on these different processes and how they can be addressed with SharePoint. This article will provide a broad overview of the process which will be covered in individual detail in following posts.

 

Yes, it can, I promise…

A common place for many companies to begin their Document and Records management journey is with the internal legal team. This is not the flashiest place to start your SharePoint journey, however, one where you can quickly attain an immediate process improvement. Legal teams have large amounts of documents (both digital and physical) and the surfacing and management of those documents is critical to their ability to perform their jobs effectively. An ongoing difficultly in all organizations is records management and compliance and getting all members of your team on board with an automated solution can bring you light years closer to your long term goals. After all, we all know the dreaded “S: Drive” is likely not the long term answer.

In our experience, there are a few high level requirements/pain points that seem to be common across all legal departments that will drive user adoption and general excitement about a new document solution:

 

eDiscovery

A key reason that SharePoint is not widely adopted by legal departments is the glaring shortcomings of eDiscovery in SharePoint 2010. The functionality is extremely limited and can only be used by site collection administrators out of the box. This raises the hair of any SharePoint administrator when they hear that they will have to delegate this permission level to a lawyer or records manager. Being a SharePoint guy myself, I can’t say that I disagree with them either. In lieu of continued negativity about what was not available in SharePoint 2010 I will move on to more positive things, such as…

 
SharePoint 2013!
 
I am slightly embarrassed to say it (because who gets excited about eDiscovery?), but I was actually excited when I saw what Microsoft has done to overhaul this functionality in SharePoint 2013. They have created an eDiscovery site template which can contain individual cases. Each “Case” has its own site, to which full permissions can be delegated no longer requiring Site Collection administration rights. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

Prior to SharePoint 2013, the discovery and hold functionality was limited to the sub-sites of the record center in which the content search was being run… how limiting, right? Now the eDiscovery center can crawl your entire farm, however, the fun does not stop there. You can also crawl shared drives and exchange servers. I will cover the power I think this holds in much greater depth in future posts, however, I will let your imagination run wild with the possibilities this creates.

 

User Interface – Outlook Integration

A common challenge for legal departments (and most notably user buy-in) is the interface in which users can access the solution. As anyone who has worked with a legal team before is sure to know they are familiar with and enjoy working in Outlook. And honestly, email (and the management thereof) is arguably the single most import tool for lawyers.

 

Here at RKO, we conducted a survey of our clients asking “Of all the applications you use day to day to manage your information, which is the one you use the most?” 97% of our respondents chose Outlook. We then followed that up with a second question “Of all those applications, which do you enjoy using the most?”, and again the answer was Outlook.

 

From my perspective, this makes it a no brainer to integrate the SharePoint solution directly within Outlook. This will create a one stop shop where they can view, manage, file and retrieve their email, memos, contracts and other critical correspondence. If you provide users a quick and easy way to file their electronic content, this will save the organization time and money.

 

Out-of-the-box we know that SharePoint does not integrate well with Outlook in its current iteration. It is slow, unintuitive and error prone at times depending on other add-ons users may already have. However, there are some great Microsoft partners out there that have not only solved the problems that SharePoint has out-of-the-box, but greatly improved upon them with integrated search, file management and site navigation. We are currently partnering with MacroView to aid in this critical portion of our solutions.

 

First and foremost, without user adoption no solution will be successful. This is a critical piece of functionality I always begin with when building a successful solution.

 

Records Management

Another essential portion of any deployment is the retention and disposition of all electronic content that comes into the organization. This includes email, Office Documents, PDF’s, etc. This is not something that is evident to the users on a daily basis but something a lawyer will surely appreciate when the time comes to produce documentation or perhaps prove how and why it was properly disposed of.

 

Once the content is placed within the SharePoint solution, tools are available to manage how these documents are handled with little to no user interaction if desired. Based on metadata supplied by the user at upload, retention and disposition rules can be applied to manage the full lifecycle of the document. The legal team can then ensure their critical documents are protected should they ever need to produce them for legal review or a lawsuit that may arise. Moreover, they can run reports to prove a document was disposed of based upon their legal retention and disposition requirements.

 

As anyone who has tried to accomplish a full records management solution “out-of-the-box” in SharePoint knows, it falls woefully short in a number of areas. The management of files that have been declared records, the reporting on records and disposition and the inability to declare a site as a record are a few of the notable shortcomings. After taking a look at what SharePoint 2013 has to offer, the only real hole Microsoft plugged is the retention and protection of an entire site, as opposed to limiting it to individual documents/items. There are many third party tools available to help to fill the gaps removing the need for massive development hours for purpose built solutions. We have been working with a local company Collabware which does an excellent job of addressing some of the key shortcomings of SharePoint as a records management tool. I would suggest checking it out if records management is important to your organization.

 

Although most users are unaware or uninterested in records management, it will sure be appreciated when it is there when needed. This is especially true in the case of a legal department.

 

Excited Yet?

I know that a lot of the above does not have the flash of some of the tools that can be created in SharePoint. However, I think Microsoft has come a long way in making SharePoint a viable solution for the needs of legal departments and records managers. These solutions not only help your legal users for their departmental needs but also their need to find other critical content in the organization.

 

Kyle Connell is a SharePoint Solutions Specialist for RKO Business Solutions, focused on Enterprise Content and Records Management. Focused on balancing organizational needs and goals with user adoption and buy in, Kyle has designed and deployed solutions for document and knowledge management across a broad range of organizations.

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