Should we just take email out of our Document Management Systems?


So here’s my question. Is the Document Management system still the best place to store your emails?

This is a topic I’ve pondered for a few years, pretty much since the time email became about 80% of our DMS (document management systems) repositories. In a perfect world the inbox would be free of the client and matter related material in a law firm, in reality for a whole host of reasons it isn’t and so we duplicate storage and more.

This past week the following update from Microsoft and their Groups product (is it a product or a concept?) triggered me to think about this again.

Now within Groups you can drag messages from your personal mailbox to the group mailbox, so if you had a group created for each matter that got spun up for the matter team, then within core Microsoft technologies (Outlook and Exchange) you could drag and drop and have that email available to the whole team. In Outlook on the desktop, on the web and on mobiles. No addins, no plugins, nothing.

So because of this I ask myself again, isn’t using this better than putting in another system? Just keep the DMS for documents?

The other option of course is that the Group mailbox is transferred to the DMS as a whole on completion, meaning the day to day access can stay in the core Microsoft architecture. Then at the end the matter file is complete and in one place for future searching requirements.

Either way though, the take up of Office 365 (Exchange) is coming I’m sure. We see firms moving already and Microsoft engaged directly on this very topic with a large number of firms. We need to start to think about how the DMS vendor cloud architectures work with the Microsoft cloud world in a way that goes beyond replicating the way its worked on premise don’t we?


3 Responses to “Should we just take email out of our Document Management Systems?”

  • Ryan Helmer Says:

    Email in the DMS is a kludge, but until recently, it’s the best option we’ve had. Moving email to a typical legal DMS strips away a lot of valuable metadata–e.g., contacts are no longer objects, but simply email addresses in text strings (and without consistent formatting: sometimes “”, sometimes ” email address”, sometimes none of the above). Conversation threading? Er, um…. Flags, Categories? Some stuff is user-specific and would be tricky at best.

    Somewhat related is the fact that Microsoft itself attempted to move Exchange to SQL, but it remains on the ESE/JET Blue engine. Perhaps the Exchange db really is just a great place for email?

    Take this a step further, and rather than filing email after the fact, consider initiating email from the context of the matter, rather than an individual’s Inbox. It’s inherently filed, threaded, and the metadata is wholly intact. The entire history is available for anyone stepping in on the matter, and they can jump to the ends of threads to get up to speed faster. All that referential client data can be put back to use to serve the client–no recomposition or data gymnastics necessary. Throw LinkedIn and Dynamics and Teams in the mix… one can see where this leads.

    The legal DMS providers are at an unfortunate disadvantage. At best, they can play along and try to align and integrate. But the excellent ILTACON 2017 session on the details of how each currently implements co-authoring made it clear that these solutions are also kludges–much like putting email in the DMS. The Office 365 pace of development is also something we have not yet seen matched in the legal DMS space. Most law firms will likely continue to accept that status quo due to inertia, risk aversion, and the legal technology echo chamber.

    That’s my 2¢, anyway. Interesting times are ahead!

    • Ryan Helmer Says:

      Apologies–the formatting part above was meant to show up something like this: ‘sometimes “friendly name – email address”, sometimes “email address”, sometimes none of the above.’

  • Brian Peterson Says:

    We’re stuck with email in the DMS, but we don’t have to settle for using it the way we are right now. Email is highly structured data that, once in the DMS, could be sliced, diced, and served up in so many USEFUL ways. We need “smarter” DMS interfaces to harvest this data. For example, once I have 100 emails in my matter, the DMS should be able to produce a list of matter contacts harvested from the sender/recipient, cc fields. It should be able to serve up lists of documents saved as attachments as though the docs are saved separately. It should use AI to automatically sort and tag emails. (It should know the difference between an email that is actually a memo to client versus a one-line “here’s a document” email.) It should be able to show me only the “penultimate” emails in each thread and hide all the duplications. It’s the information we’re interested in, not the documents themselves.

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