Records Management in Law Firms: Face the Future

4 minute read
Alexander Campbell avatar

Records and Information Governance are perhaps the most important staff side functions in the modern day law firm. Yet many Records and Information Governance professionals think we are one step away from obscurity and irrelevance.

Why the divergent views?

The good news is that the people who drive business within law firms see great benefit in a sound Records and Information Governance program. Here's why:

  • Legal requirements for information retention are met faster and more cost effectively
  • Information is provided in a timely manner and is fully secured
  • Vital information is discovered, indexed and protected
  • Data is tracked and managed across an organization’s entire network and IT ecosystem
  • Corporate memory is preserved by keeping those files that are necessary as well as purging that which is redundant or otherwise no longer has business value
  • Reduced exposure to potential litigation from improper handling of records

It's harder to come up with reasons NOT to adopt a Records and Information Governance program, but some arguments made against:

  • It won’t matter, we will all be replaced by machines in the long run
  • Why do I need a whole department to something that I can do myself?
  • Records Departments will always be a cost center and therefore a drag on my business

Providing Value and Recognizing Value

It used to be that the Records Department acted as the gatekeeper to information for law firms. If you needed something, you usually had to walk to the end of the hall to a file cabinet or call downstairs to your file clerks (yay, file clerks!).

Users today are demanding -- and in most cases, receiving -- open access to information. Information is available with one or two mouse clicks. A records professional’s mantra must be “how can I make business information as freely available as possible to end users.” The one constant from a Records and Information Governance perspective is that data will continue to grow in volumes and with increasing speeds, across a wider variety of formats and devices. In order to account for this, we as Records Managers must work to foster a culture where we tolerate and embrace uncertainty.

Learning Opportunities

Complicating matters, it turns out that the majority of Records and Information Governance professionals suffer from an inferiority complex. On a listserv that I regularly follow, a recent thread was titled, “The Records Stigma.” One contributor suggested that we change our titles from Records Managers to Information Managers to gain higher visibility. Cooler heads prevailed on this topic and it was determined that this would quickly lead to Records being absorbed by IT. It seems that we need to band to together and adopt the Stuart Smalley approach -- “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.” 

Your Records and Information Governance program needs the same care and feeding that your finance or IT team need. Hire excellent talent and equip them with the tools to do their jobs. Every Records Manager should meet firm leadership on their terms. In my work I need to be very aware of the issues that keep lawyers up at night and work to solve them.

Looking to the Future

If you haven't already, now is the time to jump on the technology bandwagon. Not sure what this cloud thing is? Big data a big puzzle? You are not alone but you need to catch up, fast. Make no mistake, big-T Technology is leading the way. At Legaltech this year, Rohit Talwar laid out a timeline for what we can expect from the tech world over the next 15 years. In the next 12 months cloud computing and virtualization will become the norm. In the next two to five years, gesture interfaces, holographic displays and fault free computing will become the norm. In 15 years, we can expect quantum computing and the ability for human beings to upload information directly to their brain. Think about what this will mean for Records and Information Governance.

The bottom line is this -- every staff side function (Records, HR, IT, Accounting, etc.) within law firms face major disruptions and will continue to face them in the future. How we respond to these disruptions will define our personal success as well as that of the firms we are part of. Recognize that as a Records and Information Governance Professional you are of critical importance to your firm -- be service oriented and become technology focused. Your firm will be the better for it.

About the author

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell, M.S., ERMp is the Records Manager at the law firm of Cohen & Gresser, LLP in New York City. He can be reached by email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @infogovguy.