When you first join a new organisation, you may find the systems it uses to manage its matters, cases, contracts and general workflow bewildering.
But don’t panic. Once you get used to them, you’ll soon discover that they’ll make your life easier, not more complicated.
Getting familiar with your department’s technologies
When you move into an in-house role, one of your first challenges will probably be to acquaint yourself with the various systems and software applications you’ll be working with every day. These include systems for:
- Matter management;
- Document management; and
- Contract management.
There are many systems designed for in-house legal departments and many can be tailored to the specific needs of your organisation or the nature of your work. So, here’s our brief guide to the three most common types of legal department management systems.
Matter management systems
A matter management system is a central database or system that records information on all matters (e.g. individual projects, client or supplier negotiations, advertising campaign advice, pieces of litigation etc) handled and all work carried out by the legal team.
Some fields, such as matter description or project name, type, opening and closing dates, the legal team or practice area concerned and the relevant jurisdiction, are universal across the legal department. Others can be customised for the unique needs of specific practice areas. For example, if you specialise in litigation, you’ll probably need to record information such as court dates, claim amounts and other related details.
One of the great advantages of matter management systems is that they make the legal department’s whole activities fully visible to everyone involved. This means that members in one team can understand what their colleagues are working on and vice versa. And, if you lead the department, you can manage individual members’ workloads, assess your organisation’s overall exposure to risk and report to the board on the legal department’s financials.
Reporting capabilities usually include dashboards and reports that you can print off and incorporate into other documents. Of course, the quality and depth of the data you can see and share via your matter management system depends on people using it correctly and recording all the relevant information.
You can also use matter management systems to record internal non-legal work. This will give you a full view of the legal department’s work and involvement with the wider organisation. You could then use this information to manage workflow and route some matters to legal or business colleagues within your organisation or escalate relevant issues.
Matter management systems are similar to litigation case management systems. However, most organisations use case management systems for higher volume, lower value matters, which lend themselves to automation, mainly through template-driven documents.
Document management systems
Document management systems track and centrally store electronic documents and emails. They replace personal or shared network folders and personal Outlook and PST files. Document management systems are ideal for corporate legal teams, which usually organise their content around legal matters, cases or projects where the matters are heavily documented using a variety of different document types and/or authors.
Most legal document management systems are tightly integrated (technically and often also in terms of "look and feel") with the Microsoft Office suite. This enables people already familiar with Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint to adapt to them quickly and maintain efficiency across the legal department.
Because the implications of mismanaging documents can be catastrophic for a legal team, management systems for legal departments are often more sophisticated than generic alternatives or enterprise content management systems. They encourage users to save all content in the system and automate the check-in/check-out process. Most also integrate very tightly with Outlook. As well as allowing you to drag and drop emails into the document management system, they often automate email filing.
Other features often found in document management systems include a powerful full text search facility, automatic document numbering, version control settings and sophisticated audit functionality.
You can also enable other people, both internally and externally, to have temporary or permanent access to specific areas, matters, cases, projects and folders within your document management system.
Contract management systems
Many people use the term contract management to describe different aspects of the "contract life-cycle" (from pre-contractual negotiation to the end of the performance of and payment for the obligations documented in the contract). For this reason, most contract management systems support specific stages or aspects of the overall contract process.
As well as automating document creation, contract management systems allow you to capture and store contract information. This means you can search for and retrieve key elements of that data by criteria such as the parties to a contract, expiry dates, values, liabilities and jurisdictions.
If your organisation has a contract management system, it will probably also allow you to manage workflows and set it to generate automatic reminders for tasks such as contract renewals and reviews.
It may even include, or be linked to, sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that can extract data elements from contract documents and images.
Many legal departments link their matter, document and contract management systems to each other as well as other technologies such as eBilling and document assembly systems.
Starting a new job often means learning new systems and technologies. Though bewildering at first, they usually prove invaluable in the pursuit of seamless collaboration, readily available data and departmental efficiency. For example, matter management systems give you a central database on all matters handled and all work carried out by the legal team. Document management systems allow you to track and search all documents relevant to a particular project or legal case, while contract management systems let you focus on specific aspects of a contract throughout its life-cycle.