Information governance and legal records management have come a long way in 20 years—here’s what’s next.
February 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of our company’s launch. Over those two decades, we’ve seen tremendous change across the information governance (IG) landscape. We’ve had great success in helping our many law firm customers respond to those changes and deliver significant benefit across their entire organizations.
It wasn’t a coincidence that our entry to the records management market occurred when advancements in technology were quickly driving an explosion of both the creation and storage of data. Predictably, this led to a need to manage all this information, which prompted FileTrail’s development of the first completely web-based records management solution.
Today, firms face even greater pressure to advance their information governance capabilities, and they see how records management is an integral part of that larger whole.
Progressive firms seek a comprehensive approach to IG that includes addressing broader internal demands around risk management, helping manage outside counsel guidelines and more effectively complying with external regulatory requirements. Put simply, compared to where we were in 2000, these problems are now too complex to leave to manual or ad hoc approaches—software that delivers greater automation, efficiency, analytics and control has gone from a “nice to have” to a “must-have.”
But all this progress—the changing needs of law firms and the growth of our product portfolio—didn’t happen overnight.
While law firms have always been FileTrail customers, many of the earliest users of our records management systems were in highly regulated industries including global finance, pharmaceuticals and energy. These organizations, with their demanding technical and policy management requirements including retention and disposition, put significant pressure on our organization to innovate our products to work at scale, adapt to user experience needs and deliver practice visibility and reporting to meet enterprise needs. And now, as law firms embrace an even more rigorous IG footing, they stand to benefit from these two decades of investment and innovation.
More than a decade ago, ARMA International introduced its Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles, or “The Principles,” and later its Information Governance Maturity Model. Together, these identify the critical hallmarks of IG that apply to organization of all sizes, in all types of industries and in both the public and private sectors.
Law firms share characteristics with other industries in that they generate a high volume of internal documents for normal business operations and as work product created by attorneys and support staff. But firms face special challenges as they also acquire enormous amounts of third-party data related to client matters—data that exists in countless formats, is obtained from countless sources and must be properly treated in terms of retention and disposition.
As firms moved from the paper to the electronic world, beyond implementing basic document and records management systems, setting policy to effectively govern all this disparate content was a daunting task, even for those who knew where to begin. Going a step further to enact those policies and ensure their compliance was beyond what most were willing to attempt. As such, IG historically was not a priority in many law firms.
2020 in 20/20
Now that landscape has changed. Over the past 20 years, IG has become a recognized critical step in the information life cycle in law firms, just as it is in corporate environments. This was underscored in 2014 when the Electronic Discovery Reference Model released an updated EDRM diagram to express the significance of IG. The model now emphasizes that every well-managed e-discovery process starts and ends with sound IG and that no project is fully complete—regardless of the stage where it stops—until it’s been tied back to explicit IG principles.
Today, law firm leaders recognize that just creating a policy without fully implementing it—or worse, putting off IG entirely—is shortsighted at best and indefensibly risky at worst. From the ever-increasing hard costs of storing both physical and electronic records to the immeasurable risk associated with holding on to those records longer than necessary and the need to address regulations such as GDPR, many firms are realizing that now is the time to revisit their attention to IG.
Put simply, what experts say regarding financial investments also apply here: The best time to invest was 10 years ago. The second best time is today.
The good news is that today there is IG software that offers a whole new approach to managing data and addressing these specific challenges.
Effectively managing the information life cycle is essential to law firm risk management and client service. A solid IG foundation in place powered by modern technology opens new opportunities for firms to enhance their capabilities in several new and important ways, including client file mobility. This is a critical issue when taking on lateral hires or dealing with inbound or outbound client migration.
Historically, managing lateral moves typically required significant resources and relied on many manual steps, all subject to both human error and communication gaps within and between firms. Considering the progress made over the past 20 years and thinking about the future fill me with optimism.
We’re thrilled to be celebrating our 20th anniversary in 2020 as we look to continue reshaping the information risk management landscape and enabling firms to meet urgent client demands, pass audits and address new compliance rules with a modern approach to records management and information governance.
There are exciting possibilities on the road ahead, and we’re excited to continue along this path with you!