Key Skills for Records Managers When Working With Lawyers

Paul Gillin

Records and information managers (RIMs) and legal professionals sometimes clash over misperceptions about the other’s objectives. Records managers may see lawyers as overly controlling and quick to end-run the rules. For lawyers who don’t understand the nuances of the records profession, there’s a tendency to treat RIM staff as glorified file clerks.

But the key skills for records managers today are highly aligned with the needs of legal teams. Lawyers are struggling with an ever-increasing volume of documents and the associated demand to classify, secure and organize them. Records and information managers can help by applying their expertise to make life easier for harried legal staff.

Lawyers have an insatiable need for records. Statistics are hard to find, but anInternational Data Corp. report estimated that they spend more than 11 hours per week dealing with challenges related to document creation and management. Nearly 40% of that time is spent either searching for documents or recreating them because the right version can’t be found.

One of the key skills for records and information managers is classifying and archiving documents for easy retrieval. That means they can ease a lot of the legal staff’s pain. Start by approaching your legal team with suggestions for how you can make the task of document storage and retrieval easier. Tell them about tagging, taxonomies, online search techniques and version control strategies that will help them get back more hours in the day. Offer to put a process in place that makes classifying and organizing documents easy. Chances are the lawyers in your organization are much less savvy about this topic than you are.

One thing both RIM pros and lawyers have in common is a concern with security. The challenge is to balance the need for safeguards with rapid access to information. The key skills for records managers in areas like file permissions, authentication, directory management and encryption can simplify a topic that baffles non-technical lawyers and put their minds at ease. Explain how cloud file storage can bridge the gap between making information secure and also shareable.

What about when the objectives of RIM professionals and the legal team conflict? For example, lawyers are often called upon to keep documents far beyond the expiration standards set by regulators or a company’s own governance policies. In such a situation, the RIM professional needs to be well-versed in the relevant regulations, but respectful of the lawyer’s reason for holding on to information.

Lawyers may not understand why document retention policies are in place, or the consequences for failing to heed them. Rather than trying to win an argument, point out the pros and cons of keeping information beyond the specified expiration date. If there is a clear need to retain documents for the long-term, you can help by identifying secure, controlled environments where files can be kept safely.

The legal profession demands long hours, constant attention to detail and the ability to withstand constant pressure. By allying to ease lawyers’ pain, RIM professionals can transcend the “file clerk” stereotype and become trusted partners.

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