How to Choose the Right Document Management System for your Law Firm

A good DMS can make a big difference and help teams become more productive, reduce costs, better serve clients, and achieve better outcomes.

Document Management Solutions (DMS) are critical software for the productivity, security and scalability of professional services. A DMS helps professional service firms organize their information, including documents, emails, and attachments. A good DMS can make a big difference and help teams become more productive, reduce costs, better serve clients, and achieve better outcomes.

While DMSs are becoming widely popular across different industries, lawyers and law firms may require specific features in the productivity tools they use, and it can get overwhelming to be faced with all the options on the market. In this post, we’re going to talk about the list of questions that could help you choose a DMS that's suitable for your firm, so that you can maximize the value from using the software. We will also compare NetDocuments and iManage, two brand-name document management software solutions.

So what should you look out for to find out which DMS works for your firm?

1. Is the DMS workflow-centric?

Most DMS are generic and are not designed for specific industries. To appeal to a wide audience, basic offerings for these options often consist of generic features that fit the common basic uses across business sectors. This may fall short of the needs of law firms for rigorous project management where numerous internal and external deadlines have to be met. While some DMS software offer customization, the additional design and implementation processes may incur significant monetary and time costs. Choosing a DMS that is versatile and places an emphasis on specific workflow makes it easier for users to tailor existing functions to day-to-day business needs.

2. Does the software offer the features you need?

Having a list of must-have and value-add features can help you narrow down the options on the market. For example, do you need more efficient email management capabilities? Do you require collaboration capabilities for your team to track and communicate project progress? Do you need analytics to understand your team’s performance and workload? Does the DMS you are looking at allow you to set up individual user or team access permissions or security controls? Can you check-in and check-out documents? Can documents be indexed and searched? Do you need templates of documents or workflows for standardization of practices? The more boxes that a DMS checks, the more use you will likely get out of the software.

3. What are your accessibility requirements?

Who will have access to the DMS, and where can they access it from? If the software is limited to an on-premise server, it is not going to be available to you when you are not in the office. If the DMS provider says that their software is cloud-based, or has a “cloud option,” find out what that actually means. It could be that they provide you with a web browser-based log-in that provides limited functionality when you are accessing it. If you need to access the DMS when you are away from the office, look for something that can either be hosted and run from a private cloud or something that is a cloud native (meaning it was made specifically for use on the cloud). It also helps if you have an understanding of what cybersecurity considerations you should look out for with different cloud-based options.

Learn more about cloud storage and how to choose the the right cloud-based option for your law firm.

4. How does the software perform data searches?

Does searching rely on the folders, file names, file body or tags? Can it allow cross parameter search? Does the software have the ability to capture data within documents, e.g. optical character recognition (OCR)? OCR is key to getting accurate search results from large volumes of data. You can use a name, word, or phrase for search results that include content in the document text body as well as tags and folders.

5. How hard will it be to move your data?

Data migration is an important part of the process, and can make or break your experience. Depending on the DMS you choose, you may be required to move your own data. You either have to do it yourself or hire a professional to help. Data migration can be complicated and costly. Look for a solution that provides data migration as part of its package, ideally from the vendor that develops the software.

Now that you know some of the things you should look for when evaluating a DMS, let’s look at NetDocuments and iManage.


NetDocuments is a cloud-based document management system. Documents are arranged by workspace. A law firm may need to create a workspace for every client or client matter, or a workspace for each lawyer to manage all of the projects they run. NetDocuments manages documents and email (with an added extension), allows users to work together on documents and compare previous versions of documents or approve changes, and includes a mobile app.

Pros: We like that NetDocuments gives users the ability to access their documents from anywhere. The folder and sub-folder system is also relatively user-friendly, and it is easy to sort and save data. Firms that purchase the module extension ndMail can save emails and attachments directly into their folders. We also really like that NetDocuments allows users to check-out documents as a “read only” file.

Cons: NetDocuments has a number of apps and extensions. While these apps and extensions are useful in their own rights, their modular nature also means that users are required to switch and jump back and forth on different tools which can be frustrating at times. Moreover, NetDocuments charges on per user and per gigabyte (GB) of storage and is expensive. The entry plan we found costs US$20 / month / user, and comes with only 1 GB of storage. More storage (which you’ll undoubtedly need) will cost more.


iManage is a (mostly) on-premise-based document management system. Documents are arranged under projects, which hold all the files, emails, and data for managing a client matter. iManage integrates with Microsoft Office. Users can also set up document change alerts, document check-in and check-out, as well as create tags and profiles. Documents are indexed as part of the searching feature. iManage also offers integrations with Dropbox and other third-party storage programs, and has an app available for Apple iOS users.

Pros: We like that iManage has a great search function that includes relevant documents in the results returned. iManage also has a significant array of functions to improve the editing of documents for users. Users can edit documents within the app without overwriting the original document. Setting up tagging, security and permissions for documents and data is quick and easy. iManage also has timely prompts in place to make sure that you don’t accidentally lose or overwrite important documents.

Cons: iManage does a lot, but it also requires a lot. Depending on the features you need, the software can be very expensive especially when compared to other document management software options that have similar features. Moreover, iManage requires powerful server infrastructure to run and significant IT resources to maintain. There are a number of user feedback reports of performance issues (e.g. slow system response) and occasional bugs.

The Verdict

NetDocuments needs additional extensions to integrate into Microsoft Office and Outlook. If your professional service firm is small, you may find that the $20 per user per one gig of storage is ideal. This program also has ShareSpace which can be used to work on documents with another person. It works best if there are fewer than 25 documents and fewer than 25 individuals. ShareSpace cannot be used or even viewed through the mobile app. We believe that NetDocuments may be better suited for smaller professional service firms.

iManage has many of the bells and whistles, but it is extremely expensive, and often just “too much software” for most small and mid-sized firms. It also needs specific technical requirements to work. It does have a cloud version as well as an app, but the app is only available for Apple iOS. We believe that while the cost may be prohibitive for some professional service firms, iManage is a great program that may be a good option for larger professional service firms, especially those which operate in multiple locations. Just keep in mind that Android users will need to use an extension app to connect to iManage on their smartphones.

Alternatives to NetDocuments and iManage

NetDocuments and iManage are brand-name DMSs that have served many businesses across different industries; however, they have their pros and cons and their limitations. If you are looking for a solution that caters not just to large law firms, but also small to mid size firms, or if you are looking for something that is more than just a DMS, it may be worth looking into alternatives that are built with your day-to-day work processes in mind.

LEGALX provides workflow-centric document and project management for professional collaboration and execution, enabling law firms to go paperless, get organized and increase productivity anywhere. LEGALX is not just a DMS but a comprehensive productivity solution that extracts the best features from shared network drives, cloud native interfaces and modern productivity tools (such as Asana). In addition, LEGALX is built with military grade security that comes with full audit trail and access controls to accommodate any professional settings, and enables the automation of highly repetitive processes.

To learn more about Cloudwork | LEGALX and its suite of productivity tools, visit our website or contact us today.