Last year I wrote an article entitled “Is the Legal Industry Ready for SharePoint?”, as I had just gotten back from ILTA with fresh questions in my mind from inquiring customers about using the platform as a Document Management System (DMS), in lieu of Autonomy Worksite or OpenText DOCS Open. The article was a simple walk through on the viability of moving to SharePoint as a DMS in a law firm.

I’d like to expand on that topic now and share with you some of my experiences with respect to recent client engagements of this type.

Editor's Note: This article serves as part 2 of the article mentioned above.

Let me preface this by saying that I won’t be suggesting specific tools or methods to accomplish a project like this. I simply want to shed some light on what is becoming a larger trend in legal technology in regards to document and content management system platforms. In other words, we’ll be talking about firms who have or are in the process of migrating to SharePoint completely for their document management needs.

Why Now?

If you’re a legal CIO, then you probably already know the answer to this question. If you’re not, then the answer is quite simple. I personally feel that there are two primary motivating factors as to why firms are shopping SharePoint as a replacement to what they have now.

First and foremost, last year’s HP acquisition of Autonomy has no doubt caused many firms to question the long term success of the WorkSite product line. With HP having a recent streak of erratic business decisions regarding their software families, there’s plenty of worry to go around that the product could simply get axed at a moment’s notice. Will this happen? Probably not, but fear spreads like wildfire.

Second, many firms already own all the necessary licensing from Microsoft to fully implement SharePoint, thanks to their enterprise agreements. And even if they don’t, the cost to true-up on the necessary licensing for SharePoint is very competitive in comparison to the costs required to maintain the existing DMS maintenance agreement.

There’s no need to go further than this, to be honest. When a product grosses over a billion dollars in annual sales, I don’t need to sell it to you as something worth checking out. Legal has always been relatively slow when adopting new technology in comparison to the corporate world. It was only a matter of time.

Migration Considerations

The million dollar question is always the “how”. Migrating from one DMS or CMS to another is no small task. In fact, it’s not uncommon to be wrapped up in a project like this for one to two years depending on the size of the migration. Before you consider taking on a project like this, ask yourself some of the following questions as a measurement of your firm’s ability to see this through:

Are we focused? 

Don’t make the mistake of trying to combine an Exchange upgrade and an SCCM implementation with a DMS migration. You will make more mistakes when spread this thin. Focus on just the migration itself.

Are we committed? 

Is SharePoint really the answer for your firm? Will your firm lose functionality or gain it? Even I will admit to a client when SharePoint is not the right choice. Assess your business needs above all else, and then select the technology. SharePoint does adapt well for complicated requirements, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice every time.

Have we engaged a technology partner? 

Unless your firm has an experienced team of professionals who have successfully done this before, don’t do this alone. Investing in a capable partner is critical in being able to deliver proper results on time.

Can our IT support SharePoint? 

Maintaining a SharePoint environment from a technical perspective will no doubt require extensive training for your team or even additional employees. SharePoint is a complex platform requiring experienced admins and support staff. You need to assess your teams’ skills in order to properly roll out a SharePoint DMS.

Is Office integration important? 

If Outlook is the “command center” with your current DMS or you’re looking to give your users intuitive integration between Office and SharePoint, then you’ll need to pilot 3rd party products to accomplish this. Many law firms cannot push users to the SharePoint UI completely, simply because of the firm’s culture and lack of established functionality with existing desktop apps. The OOTB integration between SharePoint and Office is very basic, and it will not suit the needs of most law firms.

Although this was a brief exercise, you should have a better understanding on whether or not you can migrate your Document Management System to SharePoint. At the very least, use the answers to these questions as a starting point in your decision-making process.

Real World Examples

In recent months I’ve been engaged in several different types of SharePoint document migration projects that are worth expanding on. Hopefully these will offer ideas for those looking for options.

Complete Content Migration

A complete content migration to SharePoint is self-explanatory. I mention it first, because I’ve met many people in legal technology who don’t believe anyone has done it yet. It has been done. It has been done successfully. An all-or-nothing approach requires an extensive amount of resources and commitment from the firm.

The keys to success for a project like this are:

  • a rock-solid information architecture/governance plan
  • completion of a proper project lifecycle with an emphasis on QA/testing
  • a carefully crafted end-user training program, and
  • a firm culture that can embrace change and flexibility. Because SharePoint is so different from what most legal users are used to, the change management process is often times where firms fail.

Departmental Migration

If a complete migration is too daunting or costly, consider first migrating administrative groups or isolated departments, if you have them. I’ve seen several firms use this as a form of pilot for the entire firm. Migrating admin groups to SharePoint is a great way to expose users to the new system without affecting billable work product.

Extranet Migration

The least invasive and easiest point of entry is by simply using SharePoint as a client extranet. If you don’t already have an extranet, then this is no doubt a great option to minimize the initial investment and risk to your firm. The downside to this option is that you’re not going to get proper feedback from the consumers, since they’re not obligated to do so. But this option certainly gives your firm the ability to assess SharePoint without fully committing to it, as you’ll be using it in conjunction with your current DMS.

Each method requires some sort of investment in 3rd party software, as you can’t migrate properly without it. I also can’t stress enough how important it is to select a partner to guide you through the process, if not completely do it for you.

Regardless of the route you take, moving a legal DMS to the SharePoint platform can be accomplished successfully.

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