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Matter Centricity Design: To Subclass or not to Subclass?

Brian Podolsky

2 min read

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In my previous post, I discussed ways of bringing the legal user community into the matter centric design process. That’s only the first battle. Once attorneys are able to visualize the concept behind the organizational folders of a matter centric WorkSpace, they may want the structures to mimic what they are used to — especially if they’ve never used a DMS before. They may want to stay within their comfort zone. And these may be the most powerful voices in the Firm.

Usually, what they are used to is an inconsistent, multi-level directory structure with custom folders containing perhaps a handful of specifically categorized documents each. This kind of structure makes sense when the only way of finding a document is by knowing which folder it’s in — as is the case without a DMS. In this scenario, you wouldn’t want to scroll through hundreds or thousands of documents in a folder. Rather, if you can limit the number of documents in a folder to a handful, then it is easier to find the document you need. This is what leads to the numerous directory levels and (in my humble opinion) overly specific classifications.

In the DMS world, there are much better ways of finding documents. The obvious option is the full-text search, which will provide efficient results (given the user properly knows how to perform a full-text search). In addition to the search, folder lists can be sorted and filtered based on any metadata column, and the WorkSite Miner is a nice utility to carve up the contents of a folder into more manageable groups.

iManage offers two levels of classification for documents — the Class (which generally corresponds to a WorkSpace folder) and it’s child Subclass. As the designer of the WorkSpace structure and metadata, you may get requests for numerous Subclasses. There are two main disadvantages of using Subclasses. First, requiring the Subclass adds dreaded extra clicks and keystrokes to each save action. If the Firm decides on using Subclasses, it is a best practice to make them required. If they are optional, they lose all value. There’d be no guarantee that searching for the “Loan Agreement” Subclass will return all loan agreements. This leads to the second key disadvantage — it will prevent the proper update of metadata when dragging-and-dropping documents from one WorkSpace folder to another, since it is up to the user to select a Subclass when saving into a folder.

So how do we get attorneys to accept not using Subclasses? Make sure they grasp all the different ways documents can be identified, sorted, filtered, and found in the system. Perhaps bring up the idea of a naming convention for the description of documents. Or perhaps make a deal — try it without Subclasses for six months, and then the issue can be re-evaluated. Chances are they will appreciate the ease of simply saving into a WorkSpace folder, and agree that there is no need for Subclasses. After all, less is more.