As the lateral movement of lawyers continues to increase at unprecedented rates, the information management challenges of moving and managing attorney and client files are mounting. One of the top issues we hear from firms is their ability to efficiently, securely, and compliantly handle the ever growing volume of transfers. According to Lateral Link, 2015 saw the most lateral movement ever recorded and the prediction for 2016 is for even more movement. Some firms we talk to are managing over 100 transfers per week.
The Challenge is not just the volume
The matter file is dispersed. Querying the many data silos to compile the COMPLETE eligible record set is challenging. With the myriad of systems potentially housing relevant files, after the records are identified, finding IT resources available to facilitate the request and respond with the urgency required is challenging. It is increasingly common to see a departing attorney leave on a Friday and start with another firm the following Monday. This time pressure exacerbates an already hectic process.
The risks associated with not moving the complete set of related files, or transferring files that should not leave the firm are high. Security and privacy concerns are justified as information is in-flight often out of the direct control of the originating system or moving outside the firewall. Although access controls and ethical walls are in place for the primary systems they are less likely to be applied as files are collected and managed outside of the primary systems.
Once the identification process is completed, actually extracting, vetting and packaging the data into a consumable, actionable format for the necessary reviewers and approvers poses an even greater challenge. Materials must be reviewed in order to determine what should go, what should not go, what should be copied before it goes, and what needs further approvals. Appropriate sign-offs, from management, from clients, from the responsible attorney, sometimes from the General Counsel, must all be obtained and documented.
Finally, processing the transfer, the actual exporting (and destroying) of the correct and fully eligible and approved files, folders, boxes, docs, emails, etc. must be accomplished with an efficient, repeatable, and auditable procedure. Format, transmission, handoff protocols, and communications are all factors which require consideration.
The Art of Matter Mobility
Blending usability and risk - It would be nice if we had a single repository for all things matter related, but that’s not reality. Although many firms have moved to a more matter centric environment, the fact is, there are multiple systems involved in storing, managing, searching, and accessing matter related information. In order to successfully manage matter mobility there needs to be visibility to all repositories with matter related information. Comprehensive information governance policies should cover the notion of “authorized repositories” and a process for authorization. Authorized repositories can then be linked or registered in a collection tool in order to apply matter mobility management controls.
Ease the review process - Once all of the matter related files are assembled into a collection there must be a review and approval process. The key is to make this process as simple and effective as possible. Provide guidance, through information governance policies, to standardize general decisions about; what types of materials are eligible for transfer; what types of materials are generally not released; what information to retain and for how long.reviewers. That way, transfer decisions are reduced to identifying only the exceptions. Where more thorough review is required, efficiencies are gained by presenting the reviewer with a single console to view the files regardless of system origin and select appropriate actions on the complete set of matter related records.
Facilitate the approval process- Approvals and quality control checks can be facilitated by effective workflow processing of the outputs from the review cycle. Policy determines the required quality checks and the approvals and documentation necessary to execute the transfer.
Automate the collection process – With multiple system owners and administrators, various formats and protocols, differing transport mechanisms, and potential security and ethical walling issues, it makes sense to apply automation to the transfer collection process. Cost and risk reduction is accomplished by reducing the involvement of IG, IT and Records resources, reducing the collection error rates, and minimizing the number of touch points. Additional efficiency is gained by automating the transferred matter file lifecycle to incorporate an archiving period and, ultimately, destruction of the eligible records.
The Future of Matter Mobility
As firms realize that clients, and increasingly lawyers, are much more transient then they used to be, there will be more and more adoption of strong information governance practices. Supporting technologies to manage disparate information platforms in a centralized model will continue to evolve allowing the continued use of best of breed functional solutions. The ability for firms to efficiently move client or matter information sets to other parties (specialty counsel, service providers, merged or partner firms, etc.) will become a strategic advantage. The speed at which a firm can ingest incoming matter information and release matter files upon request are key requirements for effective client representation. Powerful new technologies are available today that were unheard of a few short years ago. As big data continues to impact what we store, how we store it, and how quickly we can find it, the ability to manage disparate data sets as a single collection will continue to improve.
About Andrew Keller
Andrew is Managing Director at Information Governance Consulting Group LLC, a strategic advisory practice that helps law firms and companies with information governance policy development, information management technologies, and business process improvement. He is a Certified Information Professional (CIP) and Certified Information Governance Professional (IGP) and has been helping Fortune 500 companies and law firms better manage their information for over 20 years.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org