UK top 50 law firm Travers Smith has formally launched matter centric email management tool MatMail, which it has open-sourced for the legal market on the basis that the source code is not sold or used for profit but only “to give busy people their time back.”

MatMail replicates good filing behaviour by scanning a lawyer’s mailbox and comparing their emails to those already filed in the firm’s document management system. When a match is found, rather than simply filing the email in the DMS, it creates a client/matter folder in the lawyer’s mailbox. Matched emails are automatically filed into the matter-centric mailbox folders, avoiding multiple people in an email chain having to undertake the same, time-consuming exercise.

First unveiled during a demo that became a talking point of ILTACON19, Travers has created an Azure DevOps environment through which it has so far given access to the source code to around 20 law firms, enabling them to replicate and introduce similar tools to their email filing systems. The ambition is to create a community and facilitate cross-legal team collaboration within the DevOps platform for the benefit of the end user.

The license specifically stipulates at the end: “The design of this Software was inspired by a desire to give busy people their time back and so it should always be free to everyone.”

Speaking to Legal IT Insider, head of legal technology, Shawn Curran, who at ILTA was twice given a round of applause during the demo mentioned above, said: “Thanks to open source technology, banks aren't competing on payments now and you can move money at the click of a button. Collaboration really works to improve the experience for the customer, and we don't believe that law firms should compete on email – we want the whole community to benefit.

“This is not about opportunity cost but work-life balance – it's about the time you are saving to go to your kid’s sports day; that’s a key message for us.”

He added: “We are the first law firm to open source. We're not making the license open – we don't want vendors to take the code and sell it – the purpose of MatMail is to give people their time back. But anyone who provides us their details we'll give the code.”

The decision to open source was also driven by the desire to attract top talent, and Curran tells us: “Software engineers want to work at companies that use open source and if we want to hire the best talent we need to do things that will attract them.”

The move is not likely to go unnoticed by the technology companies that Travers works for either.

Travers is now using the data from MatMail to turn mailbox size limits on their head: instead of imposing mailbox size limits to encourage good email behaviour, the more organised that lawyers are, the more mailbox storage they will get.

Curran said: “The response to the tool across the firm has been fantastic, and by rewarding good filing practice with larger mailbox sizes it will mean that lawyers will actually use the tool to become more organised, rather than us having to push it on them. The MatMail tool may seem like a simple solution; however, it can have a big impact. Not only have we freed up lawyer time for client work, we have also given them time back for their personal lives, while also encouraging good email filing practices.”

Managing partner David Patient said: “The development of the MatMail tool is an exciting development in Travers Smith’s legal technology offering. With this tool we want to reduce one of the more laborious tasks that lawyers have to carry out, allowing them to work more efficiently and get some valuable time back to use as they see fit.”

Firms wishing to use the software can register their interest by getting in touch with [email protected]

Further details

MatMail arose after the Travers Smith tech team sat down with PAs, secretaries and lawyers in May 2019 to discuss how to help them with the common problem that lawyers are struggling to keep up with organising emails into matter centric folders.

In preparation for that meeting, the team looked at the DMS database and found there were a whopping 21 million emails stored. They embarked on a project to develop a solution that takes email IDs and client and matter references from the DMS, client name and matter name from the PMS and unique email IDs from a user’s exchange environment. They then joined the three data sets together, to automatically organise a percentage of a user’s mailbox based on the previous email filing behaviour.

While DMS vendors will likely argue that their systems include overlapping email filing functionality, Travers, which is a NetDocuments customers, says the issues with this are (in their own words from the MatMail Wiki, found in the Azure DevOps site, says:):

1. This was only for emails filed after the new email management feature of the DMS was rolled out and therefore wouldn't deal with the millions of legacy emails.
2. The current solutions just mark the emails in the inbox as filed and provide the filing location. You then say to your lawyers “now you can just delete the email”. Lawyers don't want to delete the email, they want it organised in their mailbox. It doesn't matter how good DMS is for email management, Outlook is the native app and will always be more functional.
3. We wanted to roll out a predictive email filing tool called SimplyFile that required folders and email metadata in a mailbox, so that it can train itself to then predict filing locations for new emails. Updating a filing location in the Inbox or Sent Items wouldn't provide this training data set.
4. The ultimate goal is for us to have Mattercentric Mailboxes. We then want the filers to benefit the pilers in the most optimal way. Creating the folders and moving the emails into those folders was critical part of that.

They add: “The other big problem with DMS systems that have this feature, is they are also offering predictive email filing tools that suggest the workspace an email should be filed to. Even if this works, it’s in complete contradiction to the way that lawyers work. They want the email filed in their mailbox. They don't mind if it then goes to the DMS through a linked folder, however, the number of “filing actions” needs to be reduced. We found some lawyers filing to the DMS using their predictive email filing tool and then filing again within their mailbox by dragging and dropping the email into a subfolder of their inbox! We solved this really quickly with a roll-out of SimplyFile which reduces email filing to one action by filing this into a DMS linked mailbox folder.”

SimplyFile only works if users have an organised mailbox, which has encouraged adoption of MatMail.

Issues and caveats

As MatMail copies previous email filing behaviour, it will also copy errors. The way to explain this to lawyers, Travers has found, is to locate/point out the misfiled email. Lawyers also often don’t remember working on a matter, where they may have just sent one email, however, once it’s explained it makes sense to the lawyers.

In a future version, the firm is looking to provide a select/deselect option on the job validation UI to avoid creating folders where only one or two emails exist in the folder.

Current limitations/potential roadmap

The current version of the tool only looks at Inbox and Sent Items, not subfolders that are potential ‘dumping grounds’ for email. MatMail indexing is something to consider.

Within the Repos section of the DevOps site (where all the code is), Travers is posting any changes to the code it makes along the way and Curran says: “We’re being very open and saying we found a performance issue and we’re changing the architecture and this is how we’re evolving.”

He adds: “Law firms are loving it and I think we will come out with a real community.”

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