Legal applications of KM trend toward flexibility, simplicity
Knowledge management software solutions tailored to the legal profession are becoming more common and lawyers more receptive to them. In addition, e-discovery capabilities are moving out of the IT department and into the user domain, as they become simpler to use and more collaborative.
Partners at Deeth Williams Wall, a Toronto-based law firm specializing in intellectual property and technology, had been on the lookout for a knowledge management solution for some time but had not found any candidates that met its needs. “Many of the first-generation KM tools were designed for large companies and were very expensive,” says James Kosa, partner at the firm. “But our main objection was that they were difficult to use and placed too much of a burden on the users.”
Even though the legal field is a knowledge-based business, lawyers have not been early adopters of KM technology. Like many other groups of users, only more so, they have little patience with systems that do not match their way of working. The requirement to enter metadata, profile documents or adapt to a new way of classifying and storing documents generally results in non-compliance and a wasted investment. What Deeth Williams Wall wanted was a way to improve access to its information without interfering with the established workflow.
One of the partners came across a reference to MetaJure in a blog about technology for lawyers. Described as a smart document management system, MetaJure was developed by lawyers who wanted a document management system that would be compatible with the way lawyers work. Kosa checked it out and decided, after consulting with the other partners, to move ahead with implementing it.
Because the system was non-intrusive, little advance preparation was required for the users. “MetaJure integrated very well with our existing practices,” Kosa says. Installed on premise at the firm, MetaJure searches and indexes 100 percent of the documents and e-mail on local drives and the office’s network. “All of our client-related material is stored in a centralized file structure, but prior to using MetaJure, it could be difficult to find documents,” Kosa adds. “Our lawyers did not necessarily know where their colleagues had stored the files, yet many of these could be very useful as precedents, and we wanted them to be accessible.”
MetaJure also indexes local drives and automatically copies all files, including e-mail and attachments, to the central file storage area, though users can limit access by others to their personal e-mail and other PC-based files. Additionally, it indexes accounting data, e-mail servers and numerous other repositories so the information is readily available. “Sometimes our lawyers want to look at an invoice or some other type of document,” Kosa explains, “and with MetaJure they do not have to go into the application, but can view it by searching.”
Works well for users
The retrieval algorithms in MetaJure are finely tuned to the needs of lawyers. “Having tested other search tools, we found that MetaJure returned the most relevant results,” Kosa says. “For example, if we are searching for a nondisclosure agreement or NDA, MetaJure will also retrieve confidentiality agreements and other related documents. It does not just find literal matches to an input string.”
Not everyone in the firm is using MetaJure. “Using the application is not mandatory,” Kosa says. “If someone doesn’t want to use it, that’s fine. But for those who choose to use it—and most of our lawyers do—MetaJure has been very effective. It has saved time and improved productivity without disrupting our existing processes.”
MetaJure co-founders Marty Smith and Kevin Harrang are lawyers who discovered from their own experience that document management systems in law firms were rarely capturing a large percent of the total work product. Not only were lawyers unwilling to use formal document management systems, but those systems did not accommodate the diversity of enterprise content. “A lot of information was not usable because it was in image form,” says Harrang. “Our software OCRs these documents and then indexes them. In addition, MetaJure retrieves information such as accounting data that is not normally contained in document management systems.”
Although the search interface was designed to have the same simplicity as popular Internet search engines, users also have options such as filtering by file type, date range and other parameters. “We liked the way the Internet helps people find documents,” Harrang says, “as well as its automatic indexing. We wanted to incorporate that ease of use into our product.” Having observed document management systems that had to be abandoned because their structure mirrored an organizational structure that later changed, Harrang and Smith wanted to create a very flexible and adaptive system that could have multiple uses.
“Lawyers have not typically used their repositories for anything but retrieving specific documents,” says Harrang, “but with a product like MetaJure, which works both behind a firm’s firewall or in the cloud, those files can become a research source.” Search results can be used for anything from improving work quality to the basis for marketing campaigns. Considering electronic files as a competitive asset may be a new way of looking at them for many firms, but the practice is likely to become more common in the future, particularly as a generation of digital natives moves into the legal profession.