How to Choose the Right Document Management System (DMS)

How to Choose the Right Document Management System (DMS)

After serving the DC law firm community on a strategic consulting level for over 30 years, you can imagine that we’ve managed our fair share of DMS selection projects. As a result, we’ve become quite familiar with how to analyze a particular DMS solution and whether or not it may be a good fit for the firm in question.

To help you through the evaluation process, we’ve put together a list of the most important features to consider, along with some questions you can ask potential vendors along the way.

What to look for in a Document Management System (DMS)

To make sure that you select the right solution for your firm, here are some features to consider. As you work through the list, they key is to determine whether that particular feature is a must-have, whether you would prefer it but could do without it, or whether it makes no difference one way or the other. Take a look:

  • On-Premise vs Cloud-Based. Will you need to buy and maintain your own servers to run the software, or is the solution hosted at your vendor’s datacenter?
  • Structure. Will the software take over your existing file structure? Will your documents be organized by matter? By client? By project? All three interchangeably?
  • Permissions. To what extent can you customize user access? By matter? By client?
  • Versioning. Can you keep track of different versions of your documents? For how long? How are they stored and accessed?
  • Search Capability. Can you perform full-text searches? Are your searches based off of tags? Fields? How user-friendly is the setup?
  • File Sharing. Can you securely share documents with external users? Will your files be encrypted both in transit and at rest? Can you rescind a share? Track it?
  • Compliance. If you’re subject to specific regulations (HIPAA, SEC, etc.), can your vendor guarantee compliance on their end? How do you know?
  • Billing Integration. Will it integrate with your existing time and billing software? Or will you need some custom programming?
  • Email Integration. Can you file emails directly into the package? How many steps does it take to do so?
  • Mobile Access. Can you use the software from mobile devices? To what extent? Are there native apps for every operating system?
  • Reporting. What are your reporting capabilities? How are these controlled? Who has access to them?
  • Dashboard. What does the interface look like? Is it easy to navigate? Or will your attorneys need training to even get started?
  • Support. If you run into trouble using the software, what are your options? Can you access a support team by phone or email? What are their hours? Are their limitations to what they’ll do for you?
  • Training. What kind of training does the vendor offer to you and your staff? Any ongoing group training? Will it cost you extra?
  • Conversion Planning & Support. How—precisely—will you get from your current situation and into your new solution? Will you need to engage a third party to take you from design to follow-up? How long will the implementation process take, including a pilot phase for testing and customization?
  • Cost & Pricing Structure. What exactly are your up-front and ongoing fees going to look like? Will you pay annually? Monthly? How often will you need to upgrade your licensing? Is this included in your ongoing fees?

One way to approach this is to create a matrix with the factors that are most important to you, write out what your ideal solution would look like, and record how the different solutions stack up. Have the providers run demos for your decision-makers. Get a feel for what it would be like to use the solution in practice, not just in theory.

If it all seems a bit overwhelming to you, don’t worry: there are plenty of resources out there that can work with you to manage the selection process and facilitate design, implementation, and follow-up support once you decide on a solution.

It may mean an additional investment for you in the short-term, but we’ll be very blunt about this: having an inadequate or poorly-designed DMS can absolutely cripple a firm’s operations.

So take your time, weigh your options carefully, and work with a trusted resource to get you up and running. From there, you can reap the benefits of maximum efficiency, security, and—not least of all—profit.


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