For small law firms or legal services programs, Office 365’s SharePoint Online just might be the perfect litigation support platform. My legal services program recently has started to use SharePoint Online to store, index, and markup discovery for easy retrieval. It doesn’t do everything tools used by the big law firms do, but it might have the right balance between ease of use, cost and features for you.
Many years ago, my organization was lucky enough to receive a donation of the Summation litigation support software, along with donated time from a local litigation support consulting group, Target Litigation. Summation is a good product, and Target Litigation has been very kind to us over the years, including offering trainings and one-on-one support for major litigation. But as the version we received aged, and the number of features that we actually took advantage of stayed small, it stopped making sense for us to keep using Summation. Luckily, so far it looks like SharePoint can fill the gap for us.
Key features of litigation support software
- Marking and tagging documents and pages
- Indexing and searching
- Providing visualizations of data
- Organizing your case
What can you do with SharePoint Online?
Documents instead of pages
Tagging, labeling, and indexing
Tagging and labels can be very structured, or completely free form. Below is an example of adding “enterprise keywords” to a PDF stored on SharePoint:
I am able to edit the fields associated with a document in SharePoint just by clicking on the document. I get a preview of the document on the left side as I’m marking it up. This can’t get much easier to use.
Notice the “Document Date” below, which is a Date field. Document Libraries in SharePoint can use any of the SharePoint field or “column” types. You could set up a multiple choice column, for example, that lets you classify each document by the interrogatory or document request that it corresponds to. Enterprise Keywords are a flexible way to allow users to label and organize documents, but some advance thought should be given so that the keywords are consistent across the document library.
I recommend using Enterprise Keywords instead of folders to organize the documents. Folders are great when each document has only one relationship, but the organizing idea breaks down pretty quickly for something like litigation. Think of a scenario where you want to mark a single exhibit as applying to two different witnesses, for example.
Marking up PDFs
Finding your documents
Once you’ve uploaded, tagged, and otherwise classified all of your documents, it’s time to find them! This is the main feature that we used from Summation for many years. SharePoint excels at indexing and search. To search, you can either just start typing in the search box:
Or you can use Filters on individual columns:
SharePoint can be a great tool for basic litigation support, just by using the available column types. Building custom lists could extend its capabilities further, without requiring custom coding. For non-profit law firms that get Office 365 for free, it’s worth giving it a try.