Considerations when moving to a (new) document and email management system.


By Ralf Kaiser, Dominic Piernot and Patrick Binz

The legal innovation processes in law firms and legal departments has been fueled by the remote and hybrid working scenarios that has become the normal scenario over the last year. These innovations are still under pressure. More than ever a centralized information management tool has become the top priority for many managing partners and general counsels. Both sides of the market need to work and collaborate in a centralized, secure and controlled environment. The security concerns and aspects are enhancing and accelerating the required conversations within the management teams.

OnPrem vs Cloud

In today’s world, the cloud has become a common standard for most legal jurisdictions (let’s put our German jurisdiction in brackets for now). With the leading DM providers offering cloud services, fast paced law entities have been, quite often, joining the club of cloud adoptersin the last couple of months. To some extent driven by Microsoft 365, the adoption rate and the cultural acceptance of tools like Zoom, Teams, O365 and a cloud practice management system fit together well with a cloud based document management system.

When considering the ”cloud“ it has to be said that some vendors have cloud native and cloud integrated environments and some still are working towards a ”no local server required“ environment. Distinguished differentiators are things like native AzureAD integration as well as single sign-on federations exchange online native integrations for the requirement of running a local service in-house and the native integration to other cloud vendor-based tools like 2 Factor authentication, document comparisons and automation tools as well as document signature tools like DocuSign.

An important element of the OnPrem vs. Cloud conversation is the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). While native cloud providers may come up with a monthly fee including support, hosting and service, onPrem offerings tend to have a license plus the internal cost of running, securing and alimenting the environment. This has to be considered properly in order to evaluate the correct decision for each client. Coming back to our home market in Germany, the cloud still has not been adopted by many law firms. We do see a massive push in legal departments with their enterprise IT deciding on Microsoft 365 in the short horizon. Still, the datacenter question is an important one. It is important to determine whether the vendor put his own infrastructure in place or whether the application sits on top of AWS or Azure. This issimply because it could make things more complicated when looking at data privacy and the data processing agreement under the GDPR regime. Finally, the US cloud act may play a decisive role in this conversation as well.

On the user experience side of things, especially in Outlook, most of the daily users in your legal department or law firm (the top players in the industry), may come up with the same look and feel.

Cultural swift

If not the most important element of the project. We’ve been involved in law firm and legal department projects for several decades, and we’ve found very experienced IT and change management processes with our clients. The cultural element of such a project is sometimes overlooked. It is a tremendous element playing into the success of any project. Through our experience we’ve discovered different ways of working throughout each entity. Sometimes this involves a floor-by-floor approach. Each approach can be tailored to a practice groups needs. Each client has, to some extent and for a good reason, a different way of working with their (internal) clients. The ultimate goal for a document management project is to have every team member participating in the central document management. This represents the ultimate resource of knowledge (which can be search and reused). That said, the tough cookie is to have every team member enjoy using your document management system and, at the same time, experiencing the work environment each team member needs to be successful in his/her area of the business.

It is with a mix of the right expertise, language, understanding of law firms and legal departments and the proper and sensible communication strategy that we manage to overcome that burden. It also strongly depends on how change is seen internally, and how it is represented by management. When users block change, they do it for fear of not being able to deliver the required outcome.

Hence, why we always emphasize that clients should consider the application support, during and around the time they go live, as the most important element of the project. Enhancing a stage of piloting the new document management tool and integrating key users from different teams/offices/business into the data migration scenarios will also make the most of the early stage user ambassadors for the new tool.

About Sandline

Ralf Kaiser, Patrick Binz and Dominic Piernot, our founding partners in Germany, have a combined 30 years’ experience of Legal IT projects and consulting in Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland.

With an in-depth understanding of law firm needs, IT/information security and compliance requirements, coupled with a broad technical understanding, we help law firms to review their own set-up and drive digitalisation in a stable and secure environment.

Our expertise lies in the diverse experience we have gained in law firms and IT projects in the legal market and our consultative approach to solving the nuanced challenges each project presents. From understanding the objectives of partners, the technical requirements of admin teams and the ability to seamlessly integrate with the consulting spectrum of law firm consultants, we are confident of the industry-specific gap that we fill.