Moving Law Firm IG into the Future

The idea of managing data throughout its lifecycle—from creation through disposition—has been around for decades. Formal processes around records management have long been in place, with specialized tools available to accommodate the often-unique needs of various industries. The increased volume of data, particularly electronically stored information, created in recent years has only exacerbated the need for more structure and control around managing it.

More than a decade ago, the association now known as ARMA International adopted standards for not just managing physical records but the broader arena of overseeing all data within any organization. Those Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles served as the foundation for today’s IG.

IG quickly became a priority in some industries, largely based on regulatory requirements. Health care companies, for example, realized the need to implement comprehensive IG to ensure compliance with HIPAA and other rules and were among the first to see widespread use of GARP.

Today, law firms are being pressed to adopt highly sophisticated IG programs. In addition to managing their own documents, firms take on significant amounts of data from clients and other sources for every case they work. Different practice areas lend themselves to different types of clients and different types of information, but all of it becomes subject to the firm’s data policies. Simultaneously, firms must adhere to each client’s respective outside counsel guidelines, making execution of IG especially complex for lawyers.

IG’s Evolution in Law Firms

IG was recognized early on for its critical role within the Electronic Discovery Reference Model. The group of legal technologists studying this workflow developed the Information Governance Reference Model as a complement to its popular and widely referenced EDRM to illustrate the important relationship between IG and the other essential components of e-discovery. Over time, that recognized relationship grew even stronger, prompting the group to introduce a new model in 2014. Rather than referring to the IGRM as a wholly separate function, the new EDRM positioned IG as both the start and end of the discovery process, further emphasizing its critical influence in the overall data lifecycle.

But the importance of IG in the legal market goes far beyond the realm of discovery. From client information to documents created and stored by every practice area and every internal department, law firms possess enormous amounts of data. Much of that data is subject to a variety of external rules and regulations, not the least of which are new GDPR requirements for firms engaged in any business in Europe as well as clients’ outside counsel guidelines.

Failing to adhere to established governance policies, both internal and external, can have serious consequences. While some concern exists about holding on to records long enough, the bigger risk is keeping them for too long. In addition to the undue burden and costs associated with unnecessary data management and storage, failing to consistently execute on the disposition of documents within the prescribed time frames leaves them unnecessarily subject to discovery far longer than they should be.

IG: Part of an Innovation Strategy

Law firm technology includes things today that lawyers didn’t even dream about 20 years ago when the internet was just beginning to be used by their firms. The introduction of electronic documents, email and filing systems was extraordinary then. Today, innovative firms are adopting artificial intelligence and data science, blockchain technology and robotics process automation as part of their IT and business strategies. Underscoring the importance of understanding and embracing these modern technologies, the ILTA’s recent annual conference included countless sessions on these and related topics, where the overriding theme of innovation was front and center.

The complexity of law firm data management requires sophisticated solutions, which can seem daunting for some. But while law firms have a reputation for being late adopters of innovation and new technologies, IG is becoming an exception. Progressive firms are leading the way with holistic data management that includes embracing modern tools and automation to move IG into the future.

According to the IG Initiative Annual Report, 94% of law firms identify records management as a key part of IG, ranking it higher than e-discovery (86%), risk management (77%) and compliance (88%). Acknowledging RM as an important part of IG is a big step for many firms that have historically looked at managing their records as a necessary evil, but not something that fits into any bigger picture. Few devoted the time or resources to treating RM as part of their strategic IG initiatives, but that is changing.

While some law firms are still using RM software that is outdated, unsupported or sunsetted, many are seeking more modern solutions. Rather than simply replacing an older RM system with a new one, forward-thinking firms are embracing platforms that offer a more holistic and automated approach to their overall IG programs. As they continue to innovate and adopt cutting-edge technologies throughout the firm, leaders recognize the need to do so on the foundation of a solid infrastructure that can support their requirements for the long term.

That infrastructure includes stronger IG platforms that can effectively manage not only a firm’s physical records but its digital ones too.

Modern IG

Information governance is no longer just a concept. Law firms that put policy into practice and leverage modern technology are saving money, improving productivity, reducing risk and positioning themselves for sustainable growth.

Comprehensive IG tools available today can integrate RM with a firm’s document repositories –document management system, discovery systems, file shares, etc. – providing a more complete solution to data management than ever before. Many providers now recognize the value in partnering with one another, so that their mutual clients can maximize the benefits of their respective systems to simplify their processes of managing documents and records throughout the firm.

Ideally, a platform offers the ability to automatically and uniformly apply retention policies against both physical records and electronic documents, even incorporating outside counsel guidelines along with firm IG policies. The automation of policy management streamlines processes, saving time and storage costs. More importantly, though, automation results in more consistent and accurate application of those policies, which significantly reduces risk to the firm. Further, automation records data that can be mined, supporting fast and complete response to customer audits which can have a big impact on customer retention.

This aspect of modern IG, the overall reduction of risk achieved by adopting an automated system, is what has caught the attention of a growing number of forward-thinking firms. They are leading the way in moving law firm IG into the future.

About the Author

Darrell Mervau is a co-founder and president of FileTrail Inc., a global leader in records management and information governance. Mr. Mervau can be reached via email at dmervau@filetrail.com.

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