You need the right tools to minimise the document admin you’re not aware you’re doing. Then you can get on with your actual work, your deep work, (not the preparation). Part Three


In this series I’ve been trying to break down legal document workflows. I want to show how legal professionals could minimise their document admin time by choosing the right tools. By doing so, they can improve their workflow management, cut occupational stress and improve productivity.

In the first article in the series, I attempted to get to the heart of the actual work that legal professionals do, rather than the top line answer of “I’m a lawyer”, because only in knowing that could you successfully choose the tools you need.

In the second part of the series it may have looked as if I’d headed off at a tangent by concentrating on paper bundles. However, my premise was that we have a tendency to assume legacy ways of working are no longer fit for purpose. That we have nothing to learn from them. I wanted to show that the paper bundle has for a long time (centuries?) been an excellent tool for a variety of reasons. It continues to be particularly good for focused work, even with the admitted downsides of physical production, replication and archive. My argument being that ‘digital’ bundles, such as they are, tend to have solved the downsides of paper bundles without managing to adequately bring on board the upsides of paper bundles in terms of efficiency and productivity.   At the end of the last article, I touched on how you might now be interacting with your papers. In this third part of the series I elaborate on this theme.


Why your current document workflow isn’t working

We can’t improve our productivity if we’re not aware that the way we work is inefficient. The extra steps you take to get your work done are not just administrative but are a workflow management and time management issue. Let’s take the paper bundle as the base case for document working, and step to digital from there.

Paper bundles: the good, the bad and the ugly

In the last part of this series, we touched on the good side of working with paper bundles

  • the ability to focus, to work through documents by utilising non-linear reading (jumping tab to tab)
  • to pick up where you left off
  • to have a ready archive at the end of the process.

The downsides are obvious and common to many legacy physical tools and workflows, be they collaboration tools (of which paper bundles are one), or not. Paper bundles are

  • time consuming to create
  • time consuming to append
  • extremely time consuming to replicate
  • high risk in terms of loss / damage

The above negative aspects of bundles above have ‘digitise my workflow’ written all over them. And these processes have, by and large, beet successfully digitised.


What’s wrong with current legal document workflow management


1. Case & document workflow management systems are great for managing documents not using them

Document management is hugely important to any business, particularly in law where client data is the bread and butter of the business. But in terms of understanding and digesting the information at hand, ‘document management’ is unhelpful. Legal professionals shouldn’t be ‘managing’ documents, that is for support staff etc. to deal with. Legal professionals need to be using documents as part of their work.   The current issue is that ‘document management’, by which I mean identification, storage, risk management etc, has dominated over the ability to use documents. For the sake of identification and good record management, documents are stored securely and individually. The focus is to not lose documents, in other words to manage documents, and to be able to identify them easily so they can be found and retrieved quickly and then used. This is great for a database of records (whatever those records are). However, it is very poor workflow when it comes to using those documents. You get a better sense of how inefficient this is for using the documents for work by looking at the hard copy analogy. If we imagine that in a paper-bundle, instead of putting all the relevant documents into a single paper bundle, you bundled each document individually. Not only that, but also bound them, titled them and tagged them individually. Follow that you kept them on a shelf so that any time you wanted to look at the document you had to get up from your desk to go and fetch it. If you needed to digest 58 documents relating to a case, you’d have to get 58 different documents off the shelf (and put them back at the end of the day). This cumbersome workflow doesn’t even look at the question of how you would signpost between documents?


2. PDF Readers and Editors are great for producing documents, not reading them

For PDFs we look to PDF Readers and Editors. If you are faced with emails, PDFs and Word documents then you need to Alt + Tab (switch) back and forth between them, and even if you had all your documents in PDF format, how are you going to open those 58 documents (in the example above)? In 58 tabs across the top of your screen? How are you going to link between them, let alone read them. Non-linear reading becomes an exercise in will power with workflow like this! What if you are technically proficient enough to create a single bookmarked PDF of all the documents you need? That’s great, a bit like producing a professionally bound hard copy document. But what happens if, as is bound to happen, you need to add a document at the last minute, recreating that magnificent monolithic document is a long and tedious process.   None of this is an issue with a paper bundle, except maybe the cumbersome addition of new documents.


3. Creating a bundle is a separate process

And then given how you work with documents, how do you create an electronic (or even paper) bundle if you need to go to arbitration or to court? You need to create a ‘bundle’ from scratch. Back in the paper days you would already have a bundle to hand, you had begun to make it from day one of the case. It built up over time, and then, when it needed to be shared with the other side or the court, you had to make a clean copy, but at the very least you had a copy to clone. But now, none of this. Not only does one spend a huge amount of time opening up individual files, and having to search across them individually. Making links between them is tiresome, and making a bundle another chore in itself. It’s as if all the benefits of the paper bundle have been taken away just to save time and money in the creation of a paper bundle. One set of inefficiencies have been replaced with another.


The Solution

This is the current situation, and many are yet to notice that this is even a problem. It so ingrained is it into our workflows and workflow management systems. However, it doesn’t need to be, as I will show in the final part of this series.