In January 2023 we conducted a study about how lawyers receive and manage documents from their clients, including tools used for document review. The survey showed that many lawyers still print out documents and use highlighters and excel spreadsheets to capture relevant information in documents.
That said, the survey found lawyers open and willing (close to 98%) to try new tools that could make their days more efficient and smoother. Many discussed the complexity in document collection and their frustration in having to frequently shift between software applications throughout their day. More about this and other findings in this article.
Legal UK survey
Ayfie conducted the survey together with Cosmonauts, a leading UK legal tech business development company. The survey was conducted online, with forty-three respondents from small and medium sized law firms. The results show that the majority of clients are sending documents to their firm by Email, OneDrive or Shared Drive. A large portion of the documents sent are scanned documents or PDFs. Most lawyers struggle to search scanned documents as they are image files. Instead, they print out the documents and mark them up with highlighters. About two out of three participants review client documents this way. Sounds familiar?
First, some numbers
More than 90% of the respondents request or collect client documents by Email, followed by file share solutions such as OneDrive (18.4%), File Share (18.4%) and DropBox (8%). The most common file formats by far are PDF’s (100%), scanned documents (87%), photographs/pictures (66%) and Excel (53%). As far as document storage is concerned, many firms are storing documents in either OneDrive (36.8%), SharePoint (18.4%) or a Document Management System (DMS). The top 3 means of communicating with clients (as most of you readers can guess) are Email, Phone Call and MS Teams, although there is a rise in communicating via WhatsApp.
The majority of respondents (86.8%) said they easily find the information they need when working on a client matter, while 13.2% said they do not. However, 71% find themselves jumping between applications while looking for information on a client matter. Consequently, it doesn’t come as a surprise that 97.4% answered that it would be useful to search for both client documents and client emails in the same tool.
Surprisingly, more than half of the respondents (52.6%) have not used specific tools to review or manage documents, whilst the rest have. Email is by far (84.2%) the place where respondents spend most of their time working, followed by file servers (28.9%) and OneDrive (13.2%).
Of the main obstacles that prevents respondents from using tools they might need is a “lack of understanding what’s available” (71.1%), followed by “the lack of time to train/implement” (65.8%) and a “lack of budget” (34.2%).
Respondents were asked what tasks or workflows could be automated and respondents replied:
- Document sorting
- Organising client documents in a chronological way
- Case management
- Legal templates
- Licensing applications
- Document review
- Data extraction from documents
- Searching for documents and litigation workflows
Some of the most time-consuming activities reported are document review and emails, document drafting, searching for documents sent by clients via email, and moving between tools.
With all that in mind, we see the following findings from the survey:
1. DMS' are good, but far from perfect
Lawyers who use document management systems (DMS) can’t search transaction documents and emails at the same time. They are searching emails in Outlook while searching matter documents separately in the DMS. It's hard to believe that something so simple as being able to search and review client docs and client emails at the same time is not possible. In the case of lengthy court cases stretching from five to more than 10+ years, it’s an almost impossible task to gather all the information in one place and to be able to review the complete dataset.
Popular legal DMS platforms, such as iManage and NetDocuments, require lawyers to archive emails in order to make them searchable. So, while it theoretically possible to search iManage alongside your emails in Outlook, in practice, lawyers are not regularly archiving emails within iManage. Over 90% of lawyers responded that they would like to be able to search for client documents and client emails in the same tool.
There are various legal search tools that combine data from different software applications across the firm and lawyers now have the ability to combine emails with documents in the DMS within the same interface. Using the right tool, you can search the DMS, emails and Office 365 at the same time - seamlessly.
2. There's a need for search functionality for PDFs and scanned documents
Lawyers want to search client docs immediately, upon receipt. However, if the documents are scanned it’s only possible to search the titles of documents, not the contents.
With a good search engine solution, image files are automatically OCR’d upon receipt. After OCR, the contents of all scanned documents and image files are searchable.
One can question the need to print out every client document for review. Notes and annotations of docs need to be manually entered into spreadsheets and compiled in Word documents. This process is time consuming. Digital tools are available that allow document review, tagging, annotations and notes to remain on the document digitally and to be later exported to Word or Excel. This eliminates the old school method of printing and using a yellow highlighter. Digital tools allow information to be available to colleagues online – the docs, the notes, and the annotations.
3. Lawyers are losing data in Outlook
Most lawyers stated they dislike searching for things in Outlook. They simply don’t like the search experience and there is limited ability to filter and trim down the dataset. Most spend hours a day in Outlook and struggle to find information within emails, wishing to find documents related to a client matter alongside emails.
4. Switching applications too frequently
Lawyers are tired of switching between applications, back and forth. As many as 81.8 % answered that they find themselves jumping between applications, looking for client information. This is significant because it increases the odds of leaving out important information by human error.
5. Lawyers need more information about the available tools
The main obstacle stated that prevents lawyers from finding tools they might need is a lack of understanding of what is available. Many lawyers don't know what tools are available to help them perform better. This is perhaps the biggest and most surprising finding of the survey.
The findings show that lawyers want the ability to work from a single platform that combines emails, all their matter documents, and the right tools to work on matters without leaving the platform or endlessly switching between applications. It also shows that lawyers need OCR to be able to search scanned documents and other file types for important information. Furthermore, the survey showed that many lawyers struggle to find these capabilities, even if they already exist in the enterprise search and text analysis market.