When I was younger, I thought that being a “Jack of All Trades” was a good thing, until I learned that the rest of it is “Master of None.” Of course, there are times for the Jack of All Trades: if you wanted a movie recommendation, you’d be better off with Jack than the guy who knows everything about the Star Wars movie franchise but has never seen any other movie.
The same holds true for document management. While some firms are well served by the document management functionality that comes along with all the other components of a practice management system (like Zola Suite or PracticeMaster), other firms require the robust and feature rich functionality of a standalone document management system (DMS), like NetDocuments or Worldox.
The problem is that many people don’t know there’s a difference.
Here’s a list of some of the key differences between practice management (PM) systems and a standalone DMS:
Unique Document ID’s – A DMS will create a unique identifier (Doc ID) that can be helpful in locating or a document, or referencing a document to a colleague, and that Doc ID can appear at the bottom of documents.
Sophisticated Versioning – Some of the PM systems have versioning, some don’t. Of those that do, it’s on a basic level. A standalone DMS will offer enhanced functionality (like sub versions or the ability to make ANY version the official version).
Powerful Search and Filtering – Believe it or not, there are still some PM Systems that won’t even search the contents of the documents. Finding the “needle in the haystack” is the bread and butter of the standalone DMS, and you’ll find a plethora of ways to get to the specific document that you are looking for.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – a DMS can OCR PDF’s that land in their system and make them “readable” so they can be included in searches.
Collaboration with External Parties – a DMS will offer options for sharing documents with external parties, while securing who sees what, and who has what level of access (view, download, edit, etc.).
PDF Integration – Standalone DMS’s will incorporate PDF functionality at points where it makes sense. For instance, NetDocuments can convert a Word Document to PDF as it is being attached to an email.
Managing non-matter related documents – in a PM based system, the emphasis is on the matter, so for non-matter related documents, you need to create a “dummy” matter to store them. A standalone DMS will allow you to store, organize, classify and secure ALL firm documents without clunky workarounds.
Robust Security – A PM based system is going to offer little or nothing to secure documents. A DMS is going to make it easy to create ethical walls and lockdown certain documents or groups of documents.
Document Retention – In a DMS, there are tools to manage and automate document destruction and retention policies, while in a PM based system, that’s all done manually.
There are, of course, many more differences, but I think this gives you a pretty good picture.
Do all firms need a standalone DMS? Of course not. Are there some firms whose needs are met by the document management functionality of their practice management system? Sure there are!
But being aware of some of the differences, allows you to begin your practice management and document management system searches in a much better position by understanding which is more appropriate for YOUR firm.
If you’d like help with your software solution search for the best, most appropriate system for your firm, don’t hesitate to call upon us. We’ve already done the research and bring our expertise and relationships with a network of over 30 trusted, legal-specific software vendors to the table. Our passion for helping our clients get maximum value out of a fair investment doesn’t hurt either. Just contact us at 877-676-5492 or request a free consultation.