Jim Higdon Speaks At The Association of Professional Law Firm Managers

Jim Higdon, Senior Director of Information and Strategy for Vendor Direct Solutions and Leigh Isaacs, Firm wide Records Manager for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP spoke to the Association of Professional Law Firm Managers March meeting today on The Evolution of Electronic Document Management Systems in the Legal Environment.  The event was held at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

This discussion explored how document management has changed and the issues that impact document and content management in general. Document and records management is a client service, risk management and efficiency issue. This session provided valuable insights into current DMS issues and trends that help Firm Managers evaluate the effectiveness of their current system and provided them with ideas for the future.

CLICK HERE for a copy of the full PowerPoint presentation as a PDF.


VDS Contracted for Two More Legal SharePoint Builds

Based on its expertise in both Records Management and information systems design, VDS has recently been contracted by two more law firms based in Los Angeles to design, implement and roll out training for SharePoint to their internal end users, including a DM system involving customized Outlook/GroupWise coding.

As often is the case with any firm, each environment presents its own unique set of challenges from a hardware and software perspective yet those challenges can be easily overcome with proper planning.  SharePoint will provide both firms with the collaboration, document and records management tools they need in an ever evolving IT landscape.  Additional emphasis in these builds is as usual placed on best practices with respect to library, list and database architecture.  The goal is to streamline information related business processes while promoting data integrity.

Firms interested in exploring these types of solutions to DM and RMS needs are encouraged to call VDS for more information at (213) 362-5622.

VDS to speak at GLA Los Angeles Event on GARP on 2/24

Lorrie DeCoursey, Senior Director of Client Development for VDS will be speaking to a CLM study group on ARMA’s GARP initiative and how they apply to Law Firms on Thursday, February 24th, 20011.  Below is a snaphsot of the discussion.  Participants will need to reserve by February 23rd.  Full RSVP information is provided below.

Click here for more information about the event or see below for details.

GARP (Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles) and How They Apply to your Firm

ARMA International, (the professional association and authority on managing records and information – paper and electronic) has developed standards of recordkeeping and recently introduced GARP, eight (8) principles of recordkeeping.  Although GARP is intended as a framework and not a prescriptive, it was designed as a tool for organizations to use for information management and governance of records creation, organization, security, maintenance and other activities used to effectively support recordkeeping for an organization. ARMA’s development of these policies has included legal assistance to relate principles to underlying ABA Model Rules and other authorities as they apply.

This session will introduce all eight (8) principles with focus on how each apply to your firm, tips on how to assess your compliance, and steps you can take to apply these principles to your records policies.

Speaker Location:

Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP

1901 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 1800

Los Angeles, CA 90067

(310) 788-2408

LiveMeeting Location:

Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP

515 South Figueroa Street, 9th Floor

Los Angeles, CA 90071

(213) 955-5646

Cost: $200 – Flat Fee/ All CLM Classes
$25 Individual Class

MUST RSVP at www.glaala.org by 3:00 pm 02/23/11

The Legal Records And Information Management World According to GARP®

The Legal Records & Information Management World According to GARP®

ARMA International has recently introduced a set of eight Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles by which organizations can measure the maturity of their records management programs. GARP® illustrates the importance of supporting the relationships between policy, process and technology and gives you a valuable tool to evaluate exactly where your firm rates in this arena.  In support of this initiative, Vendor Direct Solutions has been developing a series of presentations and discussions on the topic for associations such as the ALA.  We were pleased to be invited to a San Diego Chapter meeting to discuss how GARP® could be used to help administrators get their firms on the right track.

As established by ARMA,[1] these eight principles, in unison with the metrics and standards which define them, are designed to provide guidance for:

  • CEOs and Administrators in determining how to protect their organizations in the use of information assets, both physical and electronic;
  • Legislators in crafting legislation meant to hold organizations accountable; and
  • Records management and information technology professionals in designing and managing comprehensive and effective records management programs.

Properly applied, they provide the decision makers who run law firms with recordkeeping standards that are based primarily on the common yet fundamental elements of information governance. These elements include the policies, procedures, responsibilities and business processes that every organization should consider when:

  • Managing day-to-day information management related operations
  • Supporting budgeting and project planning activities
  • Being tasked with answering questions regarding prior RIM[2] related decisions
  • Demonstrating and documenting compliance with applicable laws and regulations

Although we outline all eights principles, we focus primarily on the last three.  All eight principles described below may be applied to any industry while some will have more meaning to the legal industry and others have less.  This article focuses on how Legal Administrators in particular can understand all eight and determine which principles are the most valuable to their firm.  By doing so, they will be able to evaluate the strength of their existing policies, understand and identify what workflow processes are impacted by them, and know how changes to both manual process and technology can empower law firms to responsibly protect their intellectual property while better serving their clients.

Accountability Principle- An organization shall assign a senior executive who will oversee a recordkeeping program and delegate program responsibility to appropriate individuals, adopt policies and procedures to guide personnel, and ensure program audit ability. The Accountability Principle addresses law firms by expressing the need for executive support of RIM Policies, essentially stressing “Partner Ownership.”  One example of this would be a firm requiring a Risk Management attorney, Managing Partner or General Counsel to have input and sign off on a retention policy which creates the foundation for ensuring that it will be carried out.  Although the Accountability Principle relates primarily to the development of a policy, it also necessitates that processes are put in place to support that policy such as an adequate training and monitoring program.

Some questions a Legal Administrator may ask themselves regarding Accountability:

  • Do we have partnership “ownership” of our RIM policy?
  • Does the policy exist in paper only or in practice?
  • Who in our firm is tasked with enforcing our policies?

Transparency Principle- The processes and activities of an organization’s recordkeeping program shall be documented in an understandable manner and be available to all personnel and appropriate interested parties. Although the focus for Transparency is more on public than private requests for information and is more applicable to other industries, it does relate to law firms with respect to Discovery.

Integrity Principle – A recordkeeping program shall be constructed so the records and information generated or managed by or for the organization have a reasonable and suitable guarantee of authenticity and reliability. The Principle of Integrity is critical to admissibility.  For example, is your record legitimate?   This differs from the Principle of Compliance which is critical to discovery (If asked to produce, can you do so quickly?)  Integrity focuses on distinguishing client material from non-client/firm material, official records from un-official records, and handling of drafts and works in progress versus the final product.  Ultimately, how you maintain the final record?

Your processes will be impacted in rolling out policies related to Integrity by ensuring that the processes are easy (i.e. taking advantage of technology) and that end users clearly understand the processes.

Some questions a Legal Administrator may ask themselves regarding Integrity:

  • What is our definition of an “official record” and what is the “official repository” of that record?
  • Is it easy to distinguish client material from a non-client material?
  • Do we have system to separate work in progress or drafts from the final record?
  • Do we have a functional and practical system to “lock down” the official record?
  • What is our procedure and our file standards related to our identified policies?
  • Does our firm have end user training and program monitoring?
  • Does our DMS allow for version control?
  • Do our DMS and RMS systems have standard folder structures and taxonomies?

Protection Principle – A recordkeeping program shall be constructed to ensure a reasonable level of protection to records and information that are private, confidential, privileged, secret, or essential to business continuity. The key focus for law firms is to ensure that their policies, processes and technology support the Principle of Protection and include a system, schedules and processes to address a variety of these issues.

Some questions a Legal Administrator may ask themselves regarding Protection:

  • How does our firm back up IT information?  Do we have a solid, up-to-date data map?
  • How does our firm keep client information confidential and secure?
  • What processes do we use to keep HR information confidential?

Compliance Principle – The recordkeeping program shall be constructed to comply with applicable laws and other binding authorities, as well as the organization’s policies. Since typically law firms are private entities and not public entities, there are not as many governing agencies monitoring the compliance issues of a law firm.  Therefore, compliance initiatives must be taken in order to avoid the imposition of penalties arising from a court order relating to failure to quickly and properly respond to a discovery request.

Availability PrincipleAn organization shall maintain records in a manner that ensures timely, efficient, and accurate retrieval of needed information. For law firms, administrators certainly know that time is money.  Thus, not having easy availability to records and information can significantly impact billable hours, making this GARP® Principle of Availability a very important one for law firms.   Policy and related processes impacting Availability can cover many elements of RIM including e-mail handling, DMS and/or RMS structure and loose policies that allow independent processes for handling information.

Some questions a Legal Administrator may ask themselves regarding Availability:

  • Do we have a standard for keeping our e-mail, official records, non-official and non-client records?
  • Can we define our official repository, whether physical or digital? Can it be different by practice group or client and should we address it in our policies?
  • If we analyze our processes, are they in sync with policy? Are there duplicate steps we are taking that are counterproductive and can be eliminated while still properly managing risk?
  • Is there a filing backlog?  How is this affecting us and why?
  • How are our firm’s physical files handled at close of matter?
  • Do we need E-Mail routing and/or archiving software?
  • Do we need a document routing or automated workflow solution?
  • Are our DMS and/or RMS systems efficiently configured?

Retention PrincipleAn organization shall maintain its records and information for an appropriate time, taking into account legal, regulatory, fiscal, operational, and historical requirements.

Disposition Principle ­- An organization shall provide secure and appropriate disposition for records that are no longer required to be maintained by applicable laws and the organization’s policies.

The principles of Retention and Disposition are separate but inter-related and are both a very hot topic in legal environments.  Simply put, retention refers to retaining of information where disposition refers to the disposing of information.  Many firms have a policy to never destroy their records but they still need a policy to clarify how they keep them, where they keep them and how they are accessed throughout their lifecycle.

Some questions a Legal Administrator may ask themselves regarding Retention& Disposition:

  • Do you have a retention policy? Does the retention policy address how and where to keep information at each stage of the cycle?
  • Does it site authorities so that you do not have to recreate the wheel to update it?
  • Does it need to vary by practice group or file collection?
  • Does it address disposition?
  • Does it factor in legal holds?
  • Do you have a closing process?
  • Who/when does what, are they the right person?
  • What TECHNOLOGY do you have to support the POLICY and PROCESS?
  • What date triggers when to send offsite?
  • What date triggers when objects are eligible for disposition?
  • What system/application has the date?
  • Does your  engagement letter address these principles?

VDS has always recognized that the key to attaining a sound records program has three main ingredients and addressing each of the GARP® principles with these in mind is extremely important:

  • Policy – You must begin with determining a policy for functions related to records.
  • Process – Once you have a policy (written or assumed), you should ensure that your process (from the end-user on up to the decision maker) supports the policy, that end users are trained, that there are not isolated or “rogue” practices or means of keeping information that are not in line with the policy. Certainly you will also want to ensure that the process is efficient and not duplicative.
  • Technology – Are you fully using the technology you have in place to support both the processes and policy?  Are there features of your technology that you are not aware of or are not using that could make your processes more efficient?  Do you have the right technology?

This Maturity Model for Information Governance is a good tool to evaluate if you are strong or weak in areas and a valuable tool to see how your organization rates on a scale of sub standard to exceptional.  To a degree, GARP® provides ammunition to finally gain approval or at least movement on RIM initiatives that may have been stalling at a firm for some time.   Furthermore, given the rapid advancement of the firms relying more on digital information, as firms evaluate how they’re integrating their electronic files while still maintaining control over their physical files, GARP® proves to be an excellent tool for establishing benchmarks and bridging the gap between your physical and electronic records and information practices.  The concept behind these principles is to offer you a solid framework to fix your records management program. It might not be a prescription but it can certainly be a great diagnostic tool to help clear the path to curing the issues that plague administrators around records and information management.

[1] More details on ARMA’s GARP® initiative can be found at http://www.arma.org/GARP®/.

[2] RIM is a commonly used acronym for Records and Information Management.

VDS Releases Guidance Series Paper #1 Developing A Sound Retention Policy Within A Solid Records Management Plan

Legally and ethically, firm records must be complete, trustworthy, accessible, admissible in court and stable throughout their entire lifecycle.  Records are most often documents, but can also consist of other forms of content including images, e-mail, audio-visual files or even web content.  Therefore, a retention plan must address both the physical and electronic assets of a firm.

This guidance paper is intended to provide a roadmap for a successful retention policy project and to outline the five essential steps required to carefully prepare, plan, and execute this aspect of your records and information management program.  Throughout this document we discuss in detail the value of:

  • Securing executive buy in and support
  • Identifying processes, methods and approaches being utilized to manage all forms of records at all stages of workflow
  • Gathering and analyzing relevant documentation
  • Understanding how technology impacts the retention strategy for a firm’s electronic records
  • Defining what is considered a firm record
  • Recognizing where processes and workflow might need updating to meet firm retention standards
  • Determining who will play what role in the enforcement of records and retention policies
  • Developing an implementation plan
  • Testing the policy or elements of the policy with pilot groups

As the integrity of company records touches each and every aspect of a firm in one way or another, it remains critical that a retention plan not only account for all of a firm’s information related materials, but also recognizes the human resources responsible for managing these vital physical and digital resources.

Responsible Oversight of Data Migration Processes And Conversion Procedures for Legal Administrators

As with most businesses that rely heavily on Electronically Stored Information (ESI) to function smoothly and manage risk, a law firm and its IT department are under constant pressure to adapt to the flood of new database applications introduced into the marketplace each year.   As new technology emerges, firms are forced into conversion projects to migrate data from legacy databases into new software solutions.  The projects rarely go off without a hitch, often involve “scope creep” and with it, have financial implications.

While these data migrations, conversions or data dumps are primarily spearheaded by a firm’s IT department, sometimes Administrators need to play a key part in negotiating with consultants and/or software integrators.  Furthermore, active participation in this aspect of a firm’s IT infrastructure goals will exponentially increase an Administrator’s knowledge base.  The Administrator might also play an active role in negotiating the contracts surrounding a software implementation.

The best way to support conversion projects is to become aware of the key roles, milestones and dependencies.  If Administrators can exhibit a basic understanding of the fundamental concepts and ideas behind these types of projects, they are also more respected by their IT counterparts and the firm’s partners.

Administrators are wise to demand documentation for the project, such as flowcharts, timelines and detailed milestones.  In doing so, Administrators will be able to better understand the financial justifications for the project by asking questions such as:

  • Are there steps that don’t make sense or don’t add value?
  • Is data being entered multiple times into the same system and/or other systems and how does this impact staffing?
  • Is the new application integrated with other applications?  If not, should it be?

Once these types of question have been addressed, the implementation team will analyze the source data from the current application, the functionality of the new application(s) and create a data map to allow the migration of the data. Following the data mapping step and review of the map, a script is written to actually migrate the data from the legacy system to the new system. The data is then “vetted” to understand if the logic of the data map translated correctly. After an evaluation, the data map is modified, the scripts altered, and the process repeated enough times until the team is happy with the final results.

Although the Administrator is not likely to be involved in these steps, understanding them cannot be underestimated.  If the project is not going well, problems can often be traced to the data mapping.

If a firm’s Administrator has done their part to understand project benchmarks and expectations, they have likely prepared themselves to handle complications that may arise during the implementation process. More importantly, Administrators have a major stake in the final result and need to be able to speak to the partners they report to.