Transforming law firm operations to an information governance platform


This report is a companion to the Information Governance as a Management Strategy Task Force Report. This report focuses on the work of an information governance organization in a law firm to implement IG in specific operational areas of the firm.

March 1, 201712 mins
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Executive Summary

In 2015, the Symposium published the report “Information Governance as a Management Strategy,” which presented IG as a strategy that law firm executive leaders can use to address specific challenges, including increased regulatory requirements and information security risk, aggressive client demand to protect information stored by the law firm, and competitive pressure to improve attorney productivity and manage costs related to information storage and staff. The report suggested that the firm rely on certain strategic and operational leaders to define the firm’s IG goals and the tactical initiatives needed for the transformation to IG. The report referred to this team as the “IG Organization” or “IGO.” It presented various IGO models, including formal structures comprised of specific firm stakeholders, as well as models driven by individual information management professionals, such as records managers or information technology leaders.

This companion to the report focuses on the work of the IGO to implement IG in specific operational areas of the firm. It emphasizes the transformation of the records and information management function (RIM), but it also touches on other areas of the law firm, including the office of the General Counsel, information technology (IT), information security (IS), other specific law firm business processes, and the impact of IG on end users. Finally it contains a section on IG as an administrative unit for the law firm – who leads IG on an operational basis, and the skills needed in specific IG-related roles.

The IGO’s Role In Transforming Rim

Records and information management is a pillar of the law firm IG program. Although IG is a comprehensive concept that includes multiple information management processes, it recognizes that every organization needs a formalized program to identify its business records and to manage them according to established lifecycle principles and legal requirements. RIM principles resonate throughout the IG program, affecting how all firm personnel create, save, organize, store and ultimately dispose of information.

Law firms are beginning to comprehend the value of applying RIM principles to multiple information management processes, and are actively seeking to build programs to manage an increasingly dispersed and growing world of electronic content. At the same time, demand for hard copy RIM (“legacy RIM”) services is diminishing, and the firm must determine if and how to repurpose a RIM team that may not have the technical skills needed for IG. Many of the firm’s business goals to reduce staff and cost can be realized through a transition of RIM to IG, including lowered storage costs, as well as a smaller, more centralized team devoted to electronic records.

Transitioning RIM to IG falls directly within the IGO’s mission to help the firm achieve productivity and cost benefits. This effort is significant. It involves defining the role of RIM within IG, establishing a strategy for electronic records management (“e-records”), re-defining RIM skills and responsibilities, and determining the best way to transform the RIM team to play its central role in IG.

Defining RIM within IG

As noted above, RIM is a critical component of IG. In fact, so important are RIM concepts and principles to the IG program, many records managers think that “IG” is simply RIM recast – in other words, they think RIM and IG are the same thing.

As defined by the International Standards Organization (“ISO”), RIM is the “field of management responsible for the efficient and systematic control of the creation, receipt, maintenance, use and disposition of records, including processes for capturing and maintaining evidence of and information about business activities and transactions in the form of records.”1 The emphasis here is on the lifecycle of the record: managing it from cradle (creation) to grave (final disposition). Thus, RIM is essentially a tactical function that allows the firm to manage that portion of its overall information collection that it deems to be official client and business records.

By contrast, IG emphasizes a strategic mindset aimed at leveraging information to achieve firm-wide goals. IG is an overarching framework aimed at the firm’s overall information strategy. It is firm-centric and looks at information assets from a holistic perspective for the benefit of the entire firm and its clients. While the scope, structure, direction, and resources of an IG program will vary over time, its enduring aim is to meet the firm’s strategic goals.

RIM is only one of many information driven processes that are included in the IG program. However, while RIM is not a synonym for IG, RIM tactics and RIM principles sit at the heart of every IG program. It is RIM that establishes the concept that information has differing values to the organization, and it is RIM that provides mechanisms for appropriate use, storage, retention, preservation and disposition of information.

The E-Records Strategy

Many of the issues an IGO seeks to address concern the management of electronic information, most of which is unstructured data living outside of approved firm repositories.

The legal industry has reached a tipping point where attorneys and staff work primarily in a digital environment. Law firms need to control a rapidly growing collection of digital content stored in a variety of locations, including centralized document management and email systems, shared drives, the hard drives of firm-provided desktops and laptops, and an increasing number of personally-owned or firm-provided mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Confidential and critical client and firm business information is often dispersed outside of approved repositories. Attorneys cannot “see” the entire matter file, thus hampering productivity and raising risk related to legal services. The firm’s ability to comply with ethical and legal duties is compromised, and the likelihood of data loss events, including breach, is increased. For these reasons, it is essential for the IGO to develop a strategy for an e-records platform that aggregates dispersed digital content to support a number of IG-related activities.

The goal of the e-records program should be to eventually retire the legacy RIM program, thus driving efficiencies related to the access of information and reducing hard copy storage costs. This in turn requires the implementation of specific systems and processes, many of which involve complex, and discrete projects requiring significant investment on the part of the firm. Therefore, the IGO should develop a strategy for designing and implementing e-records that sequences these projects in a logical and achievable way, identifies dependencies and appropriately phases the firm’s spend.

Examples of e-records projects include:

  • Adoption of matter centricity within the document management system, which includes designing the electronic file within the matter-centric workspace.
  • Implementation of email management systems.
  • Design and implementation of enterprise-wide imaging systems and workflow.
  • Identification of official e-records repositories.
  • Governance of shared drives, which potentially includes moving content from shared drives to the matter-centric workspace and, subsequently, closing the drives.
  • Development of enterprise wide collaborative workspaces to mitigate risks associated with the use of unauthorized cloud systems (i.e., Dropbox® and similar products).
  • Application of retention and disposition policies to e-records repositories.
  • Implementation of mobile device management systems.
  • Implementation of consistent processes to manage the acquisition and release of matter data related to matter mobility.
  • Adoption and implementation of policies and processes to manage firm business data in an electronic form.
  • Adoption of processes to manage web content (e.g., firm intranet content).
1 Bradley, A. & Fox, U. (2011, January/February). RIM Fundamentals: Back to the Future: Time-Tested Fundamentals Meet Challenges of Technology. Retrieved from February2011/IMM0111rimfundamentalsbacktothefuture.aspx