When litigation attorneys and paralegals grouse about “document review,” they are generally referring to the review of documents and information during discovery for potential production. But there are other types of document-related tasks that are equally laborious and irksome – but, unlike doc review, neither necessary nor productive. These include searching one’s own information systems in order to locate a particular document, digging through emails to locate attachments, and recreating documents that cannot be found. Information workers, including attorneys and paralegals, spend a significant amount of time dealing with these and other similar document-related problems, according to research by the International Data Corporation. In an industry where time is quite literally money, these efforts have a tangible negative impact on worker productivity, hours billed, and firm revenue (not to mention considerable frustration).
Litigation attorneys and paralegals of course spend a significant portion of their time at work performing tasks and activities related to documents, including drafting documents, research, providing feedback on documents, searching for documents, reviewing and analyzing documents, and approving and signing documents. But studies show us that much of this work is time wasted. Because the legal industry is collaborative in nature, for any given document, associated tasks and activities may be spread across multiple people within and outside of a particular law firm, who use multiple seprate applications to manage their own workflow, thus exacerbating issues relating to document creation, control, and management. As litigation often last for years, the practical impact is that any given case can turn into an unstructured sea of information buried in numerous locations, and lawyers and paralegals end up with unsuccesful searches for documents on firm servers, lost content that cannot be repurposed, and digging through emails for attachments. It goes without saying that using attorneys and paralegals for these types of non-billable tasks is a misuse of firm resources, and negatively impacts the firm (as well as the individuals).
But what exactly is the negative impact? Information workers are estimated to spend approximately 2.3 hours per week searching for documents that are not found, and another 2 hours per week re-drafting these lost documents, according to the IDC research. This amounts to 4.3 hours per week of lost productivity. For an attorney or paralegal with a billing rate of $200, $400, or $600 per hour, that amounts to, respectively, $43,000, $86,000, or $129,000 of lost revenue annually, and 215 hours per year that could (and should) have been spent on other things.
As demonstrated above, a three-person law firm with one paralegal, one associate, and one partner is losing as much as 12.9 hours per week, 645 hours per year, and $258,000 per year on document management issues. (This assumes a work year of 50 weeks. It’s not uncommon for attorneys and paralegals to bill 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, for a total of 2,000 billable hours.)
What could such an organization do with that much more time and/or money in its coffer? Perhaps increase compensation, hire additional employees, and expand upon business development initiatives. The possibilites are limitless. And these numbers become even more dramatic as the size of an organization increases, and the lost opportunities rapidly multiply.
So, how do we get these lost opportunities back? First, take the time to learn about the scope of document management problems at your firm. Take an assessment of the needs, habits, and challenges of the attorneys and paralegals at your firm, the tools they use to manage their workflow, and your organizational processes. From there, make a list of potential improvement opportunities (for example, creating a document management protocol, engaging a knowledge management consultant, or investing in appropriate technology tools). Create a timeline for researching, prioritizing, and selecting an initiative to implement. Thoughtful and sincere implementaion of an improvement plan, while not a quick or easy fix, will bear many fruits.
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