04 Mar 5 efficiency wins for legal firms: SharePoint document management
There’s a real drive across the legal industry towards creating efficiency improvements. A recent Altman Weil survey found that 94% of firm leaders believe a sustained improvement in efficiency will increase their competitiveness, yet there’s a strong sense in the industry that nothing is really changing. Putting this into context, a report released last year found that despite improved revenue in the UK’s small to medium firms in 2014/15, few had failed to turn these into higher profit margins – inefficiencies were a primary cause.
SharePoint document management
Microsoft’s SharePoint document management platform is widely used in legal practices as a means of storing documents safely and securely, as well as to benefit from its productivity enhancing features. In theory, SharePoint should help a lot with those inefficiency problems legal firms face. However, you won’t be alone if you find that in practice your company’s SharePoint environment has become bloated, confusing and disorganised.
Your SharePoint environment doesn’t have to be like this. By implementing some relatively simple changes, you will be able to have a real impact on your environment and make it more efficient.
Why does SharePoint become so muddled?
There’s a reason why SharePoint document management is so widely used across the world. Whether it’s a SMB or multi-national company, SharePoint provides a secure tool for doing your ‘stuff’, be it sharing and working on documents collaboratively, adding new staff or updating timesheets. It also allows for an enormous degree of customisation, meaning administrators can change the environment as much as they like (depending on their skills), build custom add-ins and more. Users can also create metadata to make documents easier to find and more.
The result of all these possibilities to edit SharePoint? Chaos and confusion. If that sounds like your firm’s environment, you’re also likely to hear colleagues bemoaning SharePoint –
You’re also likely to be familiar with users ‘breaking the rules’ in a variety of ways. Whether it’s using their personal C: Drives for documents that should be placed in SharePoint lists where colleagues can see them, or giving up and using tools like Dropbox when they should really be using the tools the firm has paid for, and that are secure.
So, what can you do?
At CPS, we regularly work with legal firms that are struggling to make sense of SharePoint and find that implementing some of the following steps can make a real impact.
A workflow is effectively a mini-application that can be used to automate a very wide range of tasks in SharePoint. You can use SharePoint’s built in workflow designer or something more powerful and sophisticated, such as Nintex.
In the context of a legal firm, workflows can be very useful. Rather than paper-pushing documents around the office and sending reminders to colleagues when tasks need to be completed, workflows make this happen for you. Say you want to open a new case folder: an automated workflow will ensure everyone who needs to see and sign off the new case will actually review it and complete the tasks required of them.
Make search work better
If your colleagues spend as much time hunting for files as working on them, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that productivity drops as a direct consequence. Add to this frustrated and unhappy users and it’s not surprising that SharePoint can make you less efficient.
SharePoint does actually come with a very powerful search facility for retrieving documents. Nonetheless, this only works well if users actually add metadata to documents correctly. There’s no way around it, users find adding lots of metadata awkward and off-putting and you need to find a balance between terms being too broad and overly specific. Nonetheless, sitting down with your colleagues and redefining your metadata so it’s more effective will pay dividends in the long run.
Improve your document management plan
SharePoint document management is an ideal environment. However, all too often poorly defined, or out-of-date document management plans turn it into a mess.
Your firm should reassess how you currently store and manage documents, redefine where you store them, define permissions, create fields, sites, lists, libraries and content types. Having these more clearly and strictly defined will make document management a lot easier.
Use SharePoint to better manage knowledge
A major obstacle to efficiency in any organisation is that knowledge gets held in departmental silos or, even worse, within the heads of individual practitioners.
However, SharePoint can provide great tools for legal firms to share ideas and experience in central places where teams can learn from one another. Further, using social tools like Yammer, which is included free with more recent iterations of SharePoint, will help increase further sharing.
Make it easier to find people
Especially in large firms, finding colleagues who can help resolve certain problems or provide specific advice can be hard. SharePoint can help here. By encouraging colleagues to fill out their personal profiles with up to date information about themselves, SharePoint’s search engines can discover them. This makes it a lot easier for a lawyer to find a colleague who has expertise on some specific niche area.
For more advice on quick SharePoint wins, get in touch with CPS today. Our team can review your existing systems and provide specific advice and solutions to boost efficiency at your firm.