What is Legal Document Management?

Terry Masters
Terry Masters
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

Legal document management is the process of collecting, storing, reviewing, filing, preparing, numbering, copying, digitizing, and summarizing documents produced pursuant to a court case. Even brief legal action generates reams of paper that has to be managed. From the initial pleadings until the final appeal is exhausted, all documents related to a case must be aggregated and organized. The documents must also be accessible and filed in a system that allows an attorney to locate the exact document needed, even if he did not know he would need the document when it was originally reviewed and filed.

The crux of any court case is evidence. Documents are often crucial evidence, particularly in a civil case. Civil discovery can generate thousands of pages of documents that need to be reviewed to assess their evidentiary worth. Lawyers are responsible for not only managing the ordinary paperwork surrounding a case, such as pleadings and correspondence, but must also implement and maintain a system for reviewing and using documents produced through discovery requests.

Discovery documents must be mined for relevant information. Legal document management is largely concerned with the management of massive document productions that are part of complex civil litigation. It also deals with the ordinary management of paperwork associated with a case. An entire industry exists of businesses that provide services to law firms to help store, copy, scan, digitize, and create document databases and searchable indices.

The ordinary legal document management cycle for complex litigation includes collecting the documents, categorizing them, numbering every page, scanning them into a digital database, running an optical character recognition program on the documents to create a searchable index, copying documents to create working sets, and creating exhibits out of relevant material. Using a computerized system is indispensable and can be implemented through a commercial software package that creates document databases and searchable indices. This allows a lawyer to run a search of all the text contained in all of the documents. If an issue comes up at trial, the documents can be accessed at a moment’s notice to determine if there is anything relevant contained in the production.

Large law firms typically assign a case manager to handle legal document management. The case manager supervises a team of paralegals to move the documents through the firm’s document system. Although digitizing the documents is a crucial part of making a discovery production accessible, hard copy files and working sets of documents in boxes and binders are still needed. The amount of paper that can be generated through major civil litigation can be staggering.

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