Is DMS an Unsung Hero, Dull as Dishwater, or Essential for 21st Century Working?

You’re not alone if the mere mention of a Document Management System – or DMS – causes you to groan, yawn, or cry out ‘Haven’t you cracked it yet?’. But despite its bad press, the reality is a DMS delivers unrivalled benefits to a firm and clients.  It can provide improved efficiency, flexibility and collaboration while assisting compliance and security of all electronic documents. It is time to set the record straight on DMS, once and for all.

If a client who owned or ran a multi-million-pound turnover business without any control mechanisms in place to monitor, manage, store, track and secure their products, you’d quite rightly tell them it was madness.

And yet, this is what some professional service firms continue to do when they fail to implement a fit-for-purpose DMS.

Of course, DMS is nothing new (hence the feelings of boredom all too often triggered when the acronym is mentioned), but the overnight shift to home and remote working last year (March 2020), and the establishment of hybrid and agile working practices as we now slowly emerge from the Covid lockdowns, has sent up a red flag on the need for control of a firm’s product (i.e. documents).

This is why now is the right time to give DMS some airtime with a quick overview and roundup of the why and what of a DMS, in a bid to explain why a DMS is right for progressive firms today, and tomorrow.

Many readers with a DMS embedded in their firms, will be asking “What are they on about? Who doesn’t have a DMS these days?” However, there are many, many firms still using a case system’s basic DMS, the X:drive, F:Drive, Outlook Folders or even the C:Drive! If this is you, read on!

For those choosing to read on, a quick recap.

 What is a Document Management System (DMS)?

 For clarity, when we refer to “documents” this includes all digital correspondence (documents, videos, sound files, emails and so on).

A DMS is best described as a solution that provides storage, classification and retrieval for all electronic files pertaining to a client, matter, case or project. It is not just for legal work, a DMS can provide benefits for internal work and projects, but this is an area often neglected or poorly configured.

Your DMS is up there as one of the four critical applications along with email, telephony and the practice management system (PMS).

The five ‘looks’ of a DMS in professional services

 Professional services firms, whether big or small, typically fall into one of five different ‘types’ when it comes to document storage and management – on occasion you may find all five in the same firm. In no particular order, the types are:

  1. Office 365 and other Cloud Platform DMS – we are seeing new providers extending native Cloud platforms with Legal DMS capabilities.
  2. “Best of breed” – the puritans’ DMS, specific solutions designed for document and email management. The providers are focussed on adding functionality specifically to improve DMS features.  Some of the improvements include Artificial Intelligence, Collaboration, and Information Security modules.
  3. The Matter Management System – A concept introduced by Case Management Providers in the late 1990s, this is a Case Management System with no case workflow and provides a simple solution for storage of documents and emails, but sometimes lacks the functionality required (especially in search and retrieval).
  4. The Directory – created in Windows, but lacking in uniformity and the all-important robust search functionality to locate an email or document that is vital to progressing or completing a deal. Often any user can also delete the lot – not just their own documents!
  5. The DIY Build – where the Fee Earners have built their own DMS, bolting together OneDrive, Outlook and their desktops. Not only a bad, flimsy system but one with endless shortfalls when it comes to integration, cyber security, collaboration and compliance.

Don’t forget that the DMS needs to sit within the Document Lifecycle.

What else is needed?

Document production, workspaces, printing(!!), draft and approval, precedent management, archiving, and destruction.

For each of these, some CMS providers deliver a one-stop-shop.  If you go with a “best of breed”, you may need additional solutions and tools that integrate with your DMS.

The Cloud has levelled the playing field – it is now possible to have a best of breed DMS on a cost per person per month model i.e. no large capital outlay with the associated infrastructure costs.

Timing is everything

 The current situation has reinforced how important and essential it is for every firm to have a fit-for-purpose DMS.

Historically, it was fairly easy to muddle through, cover-up times when it was impossible to locate a specific document or email, by turning to a colleague seated alongside for help. Such problems and inefficiencies have been shown up. In turn, the value of easy access knowledge sharing has more than proved its worth, and so a DMS is again highlighted as the answer.

The distributed workforce needs to have maximum control over its ‘product’ – that is, the firm’s documents.

Office365 has added another variable to the mix.  But SharePoint has struggled to gain credibility as a legal DMS.   Yet nowadays, the new breed of Office 365, including SharePoint and Teams, has risen in kudos and been grasped as a powerful engine thanks to the rise of native Office365 legal DMS providers.

This is truly good news – and leaves firms with no excuse not to embrace the operational benefits of a DMS.


The decision to implement a DMS is not one for just the firm’s IT function or department. The system needs to be selected with input from those who will use it and address their operational, day-to-day needs, so it’s important to involve secretaries, fee earners and partners.

Focus on today’s workplace, which is one that is remote and has a distributed multi-site workforce that has agile working as its watchword. Factor-in document search and retrieval as essential, and the nature of your electronic documents, and how and where they are stored – and retrieved – as paramount. After all, if you can’t find a document, or get at it when it’s found, it will be a huge issue.  Searching for and finding the one important email amongst the 200 or 300 emails a day for one matter, is vital for client service, and product, operational, time and cost efficiencies.

In addition, the DMS can ensure compliance.  It secures your documents and emails, not only from a privacy, security, and regulatory point of view but increasingly from a ransomware or malevolent attack (internal and external).

For further info visit

Lights-On Consulting Limited

Lights-On Consulting Limited
Lights-On is an independent IT consultancy established in 2005 on the core principles of confidentiality, experience, independence, integrity, and deep knowledge. We specialise in legal and professional services, working with clients that range from niche commercial practices through to global and magic circle clients. We are proud to say that we have been working with many of our clients for well over a decade. Lights-On can help you to get the best out of the solutions you have or on new technologies that can future-proof your firm, drive efficiency and better position you to compete in your markets. The majority of our IT consultants have held leadership positions in law firms and corporates as well as being experienced consultants – this combination of in-house management and independent consultancy allows us to provide insightful and supportive IT advisory services. Whilst strategy is key to a successful IT project, there also needs to be a clear plan to communicate and implement the strategy. As such we look for both strategic and practical abilities in all our people and “strategic advice, practically delivered” has become a mantle for Lights-On and how we work. From independent advice on a technology evaluation or procurement project, through to a strategic IT review or our ‘IT Director as a Service’ offering, our extensive experience across legal and professional services makes Lights-On the first choice for an ever growing number of firms.