Why exactly is email such a time sink for lawyers? In many senses, email is just like its physical counterpart—it’s constantly coming in and is difficult to keep up with.

If you don’t have a system for managing your mail, it piles up on your entry table, kitchen counter, desk, and any other flat surface in your house. Once you have a pile (or a series of piles), you have a problem. What’s lurking in that pile? Is it all junk mail—or is there a tax bill in there that you need to pay?

The mail may be no more than an aggravation at home, but using the same approach to managing legal email creates a potential ethical breach for lawyers. Let’s take a closer look at the problems caused by unfiled emails.

Five Problems Law Firms Have With Email Filing Compliance

On a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to ignore both the pile of mail on the living room side table and the 4,000-email backlog in your work inbox.

But what happens when a client calls with an inquiry? Or when you need to issue a legal hold? To navigate these situations, you need to have your emails and attachments filed in a reasonable, accessible, and searchable manner.

Here are five problems caused by the lack of a streamlined system for filing emails.

1. You can’t get a quick overview of the status of a case.

Whether you’re answering a call from a client or monitoring the status of a matter, there are times when you need to be able to see every document and communication associated with that client or matter at a glance. That’s the advantage of having a sophisticated document management system (DMS): all of your case materials can be stored in an accessible, secure, organized central location.

But when only some of your documents are in your DMS, you can’t get a clear view of the entire matter. You need to also dig through your email to see what communications and documents you’ve shared with the client.

And what about communications from other lawyers or team members working on the case? That brings us to our second problem.

2. Other lawyers and associated professionals don’t have access to everyone’s communications.

Legal work is usually collaborative. You’re not the only lawyer representing Mr. Smith; there are four other lawyers and two paralegals working on his matter too. If they have separate communications about Mr. Smith’s matters that they haven’t filed to the DMS, you can’t see them—just like they can’t see what’s in your inbox. That means your team is flying mostly blind most of the time.

3. You can’t find emails and attachments when you need them.

Aside from the problem of not having at-a-glance access to email communications that aren’t filed in the DMS, there’s the separate problem of being able to search for specific content within your email provider. Email search just isn’t that powerful—especially not when compared to the search functions within your DMS.

Suppose you need to see all emails and attachments about the work that Contractor Carl did for Mr. Smith between March and May of 2021. Unless you know for certain that each of your emails specifically referenced both Contractor Carl and the dates of work, the only way to find those messages is by laboriously searching through all of your email correspondence.

When you can’t find specific information quickly, easily, and efficiently, you run into the next problem. 

4. The time you spend searching isn’t billable—or profitable.

You can’t bill the client for the 30 minutes it took you to find a document or an email for two reasons. First, it’s not ethical to bill for the time caused by your disorganization, and second, you wouldn’t be able to offer competitive rates if you did. As a result, you have to write off the time—and the firm loses out on profits because of your inefficiency. It’s not just the firm that suffers, either; you’re going to have to log longer hours to finish the rest of your work.

These first four problems occur if you don’t have a system for email filing, but many firms run into a separate problem when they insist on a systematic approach to filing emails.

5. Your email filing system is so labor-intensive that you never actually use it.

You may already have a plan for how you’re supposed to file emails. You know what you’re supposed to do—but when, exactly, are you supposed to do it? As a legal professional, you’re too busy during the day to stop after each email and carefully file it away. When you do get around to filing emails, it’s late at night, during what should be your personal time.

This is no small amount of time we’re talking about. According to the State of Automation in Legal survey, well over half of legal timekeepers reported spending five hours or more per week classifying and filing emails. That’s an hour a day that could be better spent.

That’s where we come in. ZERO Athena uses artificial intelligence to discern from contextual cues where an email and its attachments should be filed—and then handles the filing for you. With ZERO Athena, your emails and attachments are always accessible and organized in your DMS, without adding hours to your workday or cutting into your personal time. Contact us to learn more and schedule a meeting.

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