Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Better Way to Access and Organize Legal Documents

Key Challenges

   Improve document organization and collaboration without third-party tools.
   Support on-premises, cloud, and hybrid environments.
   Create a solution accessible from any device.

A Profession That Revolves Around Documents

Our client, the legal department of a large software company, needed a better way to organize their documents. Their existing solution, a large SharePoint implementation, had two disadvantages. First, finding the right documents and organizing the related materials required significant amounts of time. Second, because so much time was spent finding the correct documents, the progress of collaborative work was slow. Third-party tools that improved functionality did exist, but our client did not want a third-party solution. Our client could not incur additional costs or maintenance.

Our Process: Add-in vs Add-on

Our client knew there was an easier way to find the information they needed. Previously, we had helped create a policy portal. Based on our past work with the client, they knew we would deliver a useful solution quickly. Our initial analysis showed that either a Microsoft Office add-in or add-on was necessary. An add-in or add-on would allow lawyers to search for and store documents within SharePoint without leaving the program where they created or received a document (such as Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, or the web). An add-in or add-on would also improve the efficiency of collaborative work. By creating a centralized repository, lawyers could manage documents more efficiently. We set a goal to create a solution accessible from any device that would support on-premises, cloud, and hybrid environments.

Our team began work by researching whether an add-in or add-on solution was more appropriate. Add-ons presented an insurmountable challenge for our client; add-ons required each user to install the application and check for updates. Add-ons also required on-premise resources. In contrast, add-ins pulled code from online resources. Because add-ins pulled code from online resources, they were more suitable for synchronizing a legal department of several hundred people. Add-ins were also much more suitable for access from any device.

We designed the initial version of the add-in around improving the search functionality of the database. When users opened Word or Outlook, they were presented with a thin pane that allowed them to search and contribute to SharePoint repositories without opening another window. In Outlook, legal department team members now dragged and dropped documents from their emails directly into a library of related documents. Libraries improved the effectiveness of collaborative work and ease of access. OneDrive and Delve integration also improved collaborative work. Most importantly, documents were automatically tagged, and metadata was automatically generated. Metadata dramatically improved searchability.

Expanding the Scope to Outside Organizations

As the development of the add-in progressed, our client realized they could market the add-in to others in the legal industry. At the time, many law firms relied on multiple third-party document management systems. Our add-in offered a central location to access and organize documents, simplifying workflows. Our add-in also allowed lawyers to collaborate on documents from any device—an industry first.

After numerous feedback sessions with attorneys from our client’s legal department, we completed the project. The client implemented the add-in in their legal department and encouraged adoption by numerous outside law firms. Few products offer the convenience of access to documents directly from Outlook or Word.