Managing information in-house

Managing information in-house
Canadian legal departments are well behind their U.S. peers in adopting technology to streamline workflows. Image: Shutterstock
When it comes to implementing technology systems to streamline workflow in corporate law departments, Canadian in-house teams are trailing their peers in the U.S. — but some are adopting systems that are paying off.

“We’re probably three-to-five years behind the U.S. in terms of maturity on this,” says Dominic Jaar, a partner and national leader of information management and e-discovery forensic technology with KPMG Canada.

“Information is the most valuable asset of a legal department. We use it to provide advice to our clients and need to proactively manage it, document it right, and manage it in a way we can retrieve it.”

Jaar was speaking as part of a recent webinar “Technology Solutions for the Modern Law Department” hosted by the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, which he co-presented with Olivier Fischer, managing director of Legal Suite Canada Inc., which creates legal software for in-house counsel.

Too often, Jaar says lawyers in-house give advice to their internal clients without documenting it for future reference or use on other matters.

According to the International Legal Technology Association 2011 Law Department survey, a document management system was the highest priority for those who answered at 48 per cent, followed by an electronic discovery system at 38 per cent, and workflow automation at 35 per cent.

The survey also revealed that 30 per cent of those did not have a matter-management system but 18 per cent had an in-house custom developed system. The balance said they had externally purchased systems from a variety of vendors including CT TyMetrix, Bridgeway eCounsel, Serengeti Tracker, LexisNexis CounselLink, and others.

Fischer presented an example of a Canadian company that implemented a legal information management system to get better control of the information contained within contracts. Quebec-based Uniboard Inc. was looking for a system that would create efficiencies in managing the information in the contracts of its eight business units, address compliance issues, improve consistency of information, and create a repository of contracts to capitalize on best practices.

Uniboard chose to purchase Legal Suite’s contract management system, acquiring the software at the end of November 2009, and began using it in January 2010.

“The alternative was ‘the good old fireproof filing cabinet’ to store and manage their contracts,” says Fischer.

The in-house lawyer at Uniboard wanted to leverage the technology to help her day-to-day contractual activity and improve the relationship with the different business units.

“Legal knowledge management is not just a document management solution. The requirements, needs, and expectations are different,” he says.

Uniboard now has direct access to contracts and can provide direct reminders to the contract administrator and heads of departments.

Fischer says in order to sell upper management and IT on a document or matter management system specific to legal teams, in-house lawyers need to conduct a needs analysis and build their business case for needing a separate, dedicated system.

Numbers can certainly speak to part of the case. The average return on investment from putting a matter management system in place is about 14.5 per cent, according to a 2010 Association of Corporate Counsel survey.

“Some major benefits include the capacity for the general counsel or chief legal officer to quickly report on the status of things,” says Jaar.

Another good place to start is by emphasizing the confidentiality of the legal department’s information, including e-mail messages that are not always considered part of document management, says Jaar.

“You often see e-mails managed differently than other documents. It should be kept and integrated into a document management system,” he says.

“We often see IT departments look at the price of specific software tools and say ‘We can develop something internally.’ But that can end up costing a lot more in money, irritation, and time to get it ready,” says Jaar.

In large companies, Jaar says IT departments are inclined to push the use of standard corporate products such as SharePoint, FileNet, and Lotus Notes and are reluctant to support department-specific software.

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