Product review: ZERØ email management
At #ILTACON19 the Legal IT Insider team were run off our feet with product demos and industry updates. Here industry analyst and consultant Neil Cameron takes an invaluable in-depth look at automatic email management solution Zero.
Zero, or rather, ZERØ, had one of the largest and most imposing stands at ILTA. It was a giant black cube, a ‘black box’ if you like. You see what they did there?
Why ZERØ? I hear you all cry. Apparently, it stands for:
• Zero unbillable admin
• Zero data loss
• Zero time not captured
• Zero emails not filed
The software seeks to achieve this by addressing on of those things that lawyers all recognise that the should do, but inevitably do not – because it is labour intensive, boring and seemingly unproductive, and they are busy – filing emails in the right place in the firm’s DMS.
I do much work with law firms on email and document filing issues, and this is a key common element – getting lawyers to file their emails (received and sent) in the right folder in an accurate and timely fashion. It is a perennial industry-wide issue. You could just say, “so what?” – and many lawyers do – but that is just not good enough.
The key question to ask, and which regulators on either side of the Atlantic would ask, is “where is your client file”? 30 years ago, the answer was easy, “it is in the physical file” – a physical file that would have any additional matter-related emails printed out and added to it, quasi-religiously.
Over time since then an unspoken and widely-help industry trope has it that the file is now electronic, or ‘largely’ electronic. The problem here is that the little word ‘largely’ contains within it a massive degree of ambiguity and contradiction.
There will usually still be a ‘real’ file, for purely physical material – but few practitioners, or even their secretaries, still print out all the email traffic, which (taking into account attachments) will now often amount to some 75% – 85% of the ‘file’. The assumption is that the DMS folder will have enough correctly filed materials to be able to show a complete record of all matter-related correspondence and documents.
This is a big assumption, and generally not warranted by current behaviours. The theoretical ‘file’ is actually all over the place – the physical file, the DMS folders, Outlook folders and accidentally unfiled or deleted.
This means that most firms, no matter what they think is happening, are not maintaining a complete and accurate ‘file’ which contains all relevant electronic materials. Apart from falling under general professional obligation of competence and diligence (under ABA rules in the US) and specific requirements to keep accurate records (under SRA regulation in the UK), the lack of a comprehensive and accurate file makes it impossible to comply with other obligations such as data protection and GDPR rules.
It needs to be done better, and with busy chargeable time chasing lawyers, it therefore needs to be made easier.
Both of the market leading legal email and document filing systems, iManage and NetDocuments have their own email filing modules that make filing faster and easier, and will proffer suggestions as to where emails ought to be stored. This is good, and they have made a difference – but more needs to be done.
This is the area in which ZERØ has hung up its shingle, or – to use another analogy – planted its tanks on the DMS vendors’ lawns.
The ZERØ software runs primarily on iPhones – although there is an Outlook add-on, and an Android version is due later this year. Essentially, the iPhone version replaces iOS mail with an new email App that looks and behaves substantially like the Apple version – in order minimize training needs and adoption issues.
The additional ZERØ functionality is all about helping lawyers file their emails on their iPhone quickly and accurately using advanced AI techniques. It does this by analysing email metadata and previous filing history to predict possible filing destinations. ZERØ can predict one or more destinations for each email. Once an email has been filed, ZERØ can automatically file emails in the same thread to the same destination. For new emails that have never been filed, ZERØ will use historical data to make its filing predictions.
One of the stated features of ZERØ’s predictions is that it can predict single filing destination with high degree of accuracy, and, when enabled by the user, automatically file emails to predicted destination or allow users to file batches of emails to their respective destination with one click.
ZERØ states that, “whereas humans begin to make errors with filing after 45 documents, ZERØ can process an unlimited number of emails with 99% accuracy”.
ZERØ is not doing any of this in the background, in case I have given you that impression, but it is doing it when the user tells it to and allows the user to sense-check and review the filing. It works well and looks sleek and effortless, and – as a bonus – will create time records for the duration of the filing activity and identify how much time the lawyer has spent on filing each matter’s emails. These time records will integrate with Intapp Time, Carpe Diem, Elite, Aderant Expert and Bellefield iTimeKeep, and ZERØ is happy it could similarly integrate with any other system if required.
Since it can be operated on an iPhone, it means that lawyers can get to work filing emails properly whenever they have some time free that might otherwise be unproductive – such as on a train, in the evening, or on a plane.
Apart from filing and time recording, the ZERØ mail client also provides the ability to rank emails by:
• By importance
• By sender
• Not filed
ZERØ’s machine learning algorithms determine importance based on the user’s prior interactions with the sender, the sender’s role, the contents of the message, and other factors.
The ZERØ’s Outlook Desktop Companion allows user to file emails individually, file emails in bulk across multiple client/matters simultaneously, and automatically and passively file emails as they come in without any user involvement.
Again, the watchwords are speed, convenience, low-effort and accuracy.
The theoretical downside is that this is not the iPhone Mail App that lawyers are used to using; but ZERØ has gone to make their own Mail App look and behave as similarly as the original App, but with additional functionality. They have achieved this so well, that it took me some time to realise what I was looking at.
It is possible to get lawyers to file emails with ‘standard’ technology. I once visited a law firm in Lisbon several months after a DMS had been installed. A lady partner asked me to have a look at her desktop as she had a question about something. I noticed in passing that she had four, that’s four, emails in her InBox. I was amazed and asked her why that was so. She was very embarrassed, and apologised for her failure, as she “had not had time to file them yet”. When I told he that my amazement was not that she still had four emails in her InBox, but that she only had four emails in her InBox, as I was used to seeing 1,000 – 25,000 unfiled emails there. With a quizzical look, she said “but why, it’s so easy”?
She was obviously super-human, and was not tempted – as most lawyers are – to use unfiled emails in their InBox as a sort of ‘to-do’ list. However, her story is all the more remarkable for being, as far as I know, unique.
Therefore, for the rest of us, it may be worth taking a closer look at Zero, sorry, ZERØ…
Neil Cameron is one of the world’s leading legal tech consultants. He has been advising law firms, corporate law departments, legal tech vendors & public sector legal bodies in all aspects of legal technology for over 35 years, and regularly writes reports and articles for Legal IT Insider. His website with further content and contact details is here: https://www.nccg.it/