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Email is Now Much More Than Just a Messenger

Brian Podolsky

4 min read

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Note: The article below, written by Brian Podolsky, originally appeared in March 2015 Issue #9 of Legal IT Today. It is reprinted here with permission. Please visit Legal IT Today to subscribe and read more from the legal technology community.

Ever since taking off in the 1990s, email’s importance has grown exponentially. Initially just a means of personal communication for most people, it soon became an important way to communicate and share information between businesses.

For a long time, documents and files were shared via email with the email message serving as an electronic cover letter with a document enclosure attached. Email was just the mode of transportation for what was really important. It was the cargo ship delivering the payload.

However, in the past several years, that role has changed substantially. Email is not just a cargo ship anymore. The payload is now the email itself. It must be saved and organised into a repository that can be easily searched. It needs to have records and retention policies applied, as shredder-bound paper is now the ephemera that email used to be.

Email has transitioned from a document transport to a DocType and is now one of the most important aspects of the matter case file. How do firms manage this? What tools are available and how have they been maturing?

Aligning expectations

Perhaps the most important task a firm must perform when it begins to tackle email management is planning how to strategically shape a culture about how much email should be saved into the document management system (DMS). Firm communications should be clear that the email management initiative is NOT to be a replacement for any existing email archive solution such as Symantec Enterprise Vault, Enterprise Archive Solution or Micro.

To reiterate, the DMS should not just be a dumping ground for all email older than 30 days. Care should be taken to educate the user community that relevant emails pertaining to casework are the kinds of communication that should be saved into the DMS, as attorneys fulfill their responsibility to maintain an accurate and complete client file. Since this will result in more content being saved into server infrastructure, preparations should be made to ensure that various back-end storage and indexing architectures can handle the increased amount of data.

The tools to make it happen

As the prominence of email increased, legal technology vendors started to take notice and introduce several competing products. Leading the way was HP/Autonomy, who introduced enhanced and automated email management, starting with their WorkSite 8.5 platform in 2009.

With the new WorkSite Communications Server for Exchange (WCSE), emails could be saved in bulk using server-side processing, or via Outlook Inbox subfolders that link to specific matters in the WorkSite system. Predictive filing was also introduced in an attempt to ease the filing burden on the user. Anyone who introduced this in 2009 knows that it had its share of issues with the initial release, but these were ironed out over the next few updates. More recently, HP/Autonomy re-architected how the WCSE works, and this has caused more headaches for customers – including filing errors and the lack of a management console. To help alleviate some of the problems that have plagued WorkSite customers over the years, third-party vendors have stepped in. DocAuto, for example, offers the OutiM Server and the Exchange Importer Module to offer server-side email filing in lieu of the native WorkSite functionality. It is designed to be easier for the end-user, and to make it easier for IT staff to manage and monitor the processing of emails into the WorkSite system.

Prosperoware offers Milan Email Queue Management, which enhances the native WorkSite functionality by providing a graphical interface for IT staff to monitor accurately and troubleshoot any filing issues.

For firms that have the OpenText eDOCS suite, there is the Email Filing eDOCS Edition. This is actually developed by Traen, a third-party company, but is branded and sold under the eDOCS product umbrella. It has many of the same features of the WorkSite email filing system: predictive filing, server-side processing and the ability to link Inbox subfolders with particular clients and matters. This is the only email management option for those firms who own eDOCS DM and are looking to store pertinent emails easily in the eDOCS system.

For firms using the Worldox document management system, the latest versions of that product include some native email management, allowing users to drag and drop emails into special folders that are linked to Worldox profiles. Although it works very well, these folders cannot be created from within Outlook. Instead, they are driven by email quick profiles that need to be created within the full Worldox client interface.

Another feature lacking is the ability to deploy these automatically throughout the firm, or in any automated fashion. If the users are trained properly, the onus is on them to create these email quick profiles, which display as Worldox folders in Outlook.

Changing course from modules that plug email management into DMS solutions, Decisiv Email has been another option for firms looking to manage their email.

Decisiv thought about email management in a slightly different way – separating it from traditional document management. Decisiv came from an eDiscovery background and has its own repository and its own processes for predictive filing and searching for filed emails.

Originally developed by Recommind, Decisiv Email was recently acquired by cloud DMS pioneer NetDocuments and the product will be known as NetDocuments Email in future releases. Many customers still own the current version of Decisiv, and that will continue to be supported by NetDocuments.

However, new customers will need to wait for the next build of the tool, due out in July 2015. This will be very similar to the previous build, with predictive filing and storage services provided by on-premise servers. However, the product will include an optional connector to send the filed email into the appropriate workspace within the NetDocuments cloud-based DM system.

Over the next couple of years, NetDocuments plans to migrate all on-premise services to their cloud – reducing the on-premise footprint for their customers. But as far as I can tell, NetDocuments Email will remain a separate product from NetDocuments DM, allowing companies to use the email management solution without being tied to a particular DMS vendor.

What does it all mean?

Over the past decade, both culture and the market have dictated a more prominent role for email in our daily lives at home and at work. As businesses have demanded easier ways to save important email, legal technology vendors have answered with modules and tools to provide these services. For the most part, options are limited to what your DMS solution provider can offer.

However, NetDocuments Email enables users to decouple email management from the overall DMS. These solutions allow email content to be securely saved and searchable, providing a straightforward method of preserving email data, while lightening the load (a bit) on Microsoft Exchange. It is my expectation that all of these tools will continue to evolve to better predict where email should be filed, and to further streamline the process of filing.