Tidying Up Your DMS

With more time at home, you may find yourself watching the series Tidying Up if you missed it when it first went wild.  For the uninitiated, it’s an amazing show that features the world-renowned Japanese organizing consultant, and author, Marie Kondo.   Her books have sold millions of copies and the Tidying Up series on Netflix is considered a smash hit.  In the show, she works with a variety of different families using her KonMari method to help them de-clutter their homes, and often their lives. 

In this new world of remote working, having a comprehensive matter file in the document management system (DMS) is of greater importance than it ever has been.  We’ve seen firms focus on a “lift and shift” of their DMS, where they concentrate almost exclusively on the backend upgrade/migration.  While this might technically achieve the goal of a migration, if there is no further cleanup effort, you are likely carrying over most of the baggage from your prior DMS. 

In many cases the net result of lift and shifts is a lot of expense for a backend upgrade that may fall short of addressing the bigger issue – user adoption of the DMS.  We’ve talked about the importance of user adoption as it relates to security and some ways your firm can organize itself for optimizing DMS adoption.  If you are embarking on a DMS upgrade or migration, you should consider tidying up your DMS as part of this effort, particularly if your lawyers and staff want to work remotely more often.

Some of the main steps Marie walks her clients through is not all that different than what law firms should do as part of their DMS initiative:

Collect everything in one place

The first thing Marie has her clients do is start with their clothes.  She has her clients pull all the clothes from their closet, drawers, armoires, etc. and dump them all out in one large pile.  The effect of this is profound, most people often don’t realize how many clothes they have until they visually see them in one place.  This large mountain of clothes helps them realize how much clutter they actually have and paves the way to the next step in the process.

One of the first things we recommend is conducting an inventory and assessment of your documents, and not just what is in your DMS.  Look at your DMS and also how your lawyers and staff are using fileshares, local drives, and cloud services like Box, DropBox, OneDrive, GDocs, etc.  Firms are often amazed when they look at the collective universe of work product, how old some of it is, where it is stored, when it was last used.  Having this inventory also helps pave the way for the rest of the project.

Decide what to keep

Getting rid of items is hard for most people.  When helping clients through this process Marie Kondo has coined the phrase “spark joy”.  She tells her clients to look at each item and ask themselves if it “sparks joy”.  If it doesn’t, she has them thank the item for the joy it once provided and then get rid of it.  She also suggests building up momentum in the decluttering process by starting with easier items and deal with sentimental items last.

While documents may not spark joy, you do need to critically assess what you want to keep as part of your DMS initiative.  This is also an excellent time to review (or create) governance policies outlining where the firm’s lawyers and staff should be storing client work product, how long it should be stored and related retention policies.  We see many firms taking this opportunity to put in more strict guidelines on security, retention, and use of file shares.  Like Marie, build momentum within the firm and deal with the trickier policies, or lawyers, last. 


Many people have a rather haphazard approach to storing and folding their clothes.  With Marie Kondo, it’s all about the fold.  If you’ve not seen the show, her folding technique may be the most unique and functional thing people take away from her teachings.  The method is simple but allows for both more storage and much easier visual scanning of what you have in your drawers.

As part of your DMS initiative, you should give serious consideration to how you organize and store your documents.  A quick lift and shift may achieve the technical aspects of the project, but likely won’t address the lurking adoption issues of your lawyers and staff.  Interviewing almost 2,000 lawyers and staff a year, we hear the complaints often:  the DMS system is difficult to use, and it’s hard to save and find documents.  One of the easiest ways to KonMari your DMS is to declutter your folder structure and overall workspace designs.  We have seen implementations where almost 80% of folders generated are empty – this leads to a confusing design and lots of unnecessary workspace clutter.

With modern DMS systems, and better search, workspace design should result in a simpler, cleaner and more effective DMS for your lawyers and staff – all in an effort to drive more adoption.  Spending time with your users to understand their needs and pain points is crucial.  Out of these meetings should be a more streamlined workspace design and process for storing and retrieving documents. 

DMS projects can be difficult, lengthy and expensive.  If you are going to embark on a DMS project, consider doing more than just a backend upgrade.  Maximize the opportunity and spark joy in your users.

If you are interested in tidying up your DMS, let’s talk. 

Tom Baldwin, Partner
Fireman & Company
[email protected]