NetDocuments, the popular web-based document and email management service and premier cloud storage platform, may be sitting on a hidden treasure. I chatted with Leonard Johnson, NetDocuments Product Director, over drinks at the recent International Law Technology Association Conference in Las Vegas. We had planned to talk about NetDocuments’ recent product announcements (I was covering the Conference as a lawyer but also as a contributor to the Lawyerist. But Johnson said something that was intriguing: due to its popularity, NetDocuments is sitting on a ton of unstructured data from emails to memos to pleadings and briefs to all sorts of contracts and formal documents.

It’s only beginning to scratch the service in thinking about what can be done with all this data, what patterns could be seen and how it could be massaged. This is an exciting possibility since the use of AI requires just this kind of voluminous data to learn and produce reliable conclusions and predictions. Just think how this data might be used within each law firm’s individual silo. Think what could be done across all silos if there was a way to use the data anonymously.

Although Johnson didn’t say this, NetDocuments may be like John Rockefeller and gasoline. Rockefeller and his company, Standard Oil, was in the kerosene business but noticed that one of the by products of kerosene manufacture was a smelly substance that was poured into the river and carelessly spilled on the ground. Rockefeller abhorred the waste and ultimately found a use of this by product. The by product: gasoline!



“We used to burn it for fuel in distilling the oil… and thousands and hundreds of thousands of barrels of it floated down the creeks and rivers, and the ground was saturated with it, in the constant effort to get rid of it.” Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr.” by Ron Chernow


While at the time, the automobile industry was in its infancy, Rockefeller had the foresight to save the product and use it as fuel. So when the automobile industry took off, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was ready to capitalize on this new market.

NetDocuments and its by product-data-may be in a similar position. And certainly NetDocuments’ new product announcements earlier this month will enhance its role as the “go-to” cloud platform for law firms because it so carefully tends to lawyers’ critical concern: security. Ergo, even more data.

NetDocs was founded in 1999 as a web-based document and email management service, delivered through SaaS, which allowed users of the service to always be on the latest version via continual updates. The founders of NetDocuments, Kenneth Duncan, Alvin Tedjamulia, and Lee Duncan, developed SoftSolutions which was primarily an email management service in the late 1980s. SoftSolutions was bought by WordPerfect in 1994 and WordPerfect was subsequently sold to Norvell which then discontinued the SoftSolutions program.

The SoftSolutions team then founded NetDocuments.

So these guys have been in this space for a long time. And NetDocs has proven to be very popular with firms of all sizes and more recently, even with some in house legal departments such as UPS (further enhancing the potential data pool). My firm has been a NetDocuments user since 2015.

Its also worth mentioning that as far back as August 2015 NetDocuments began partnering with Microsoft integrate NetDocuments’ services with Microsoft’s cloud technologies in order to better support law firm and legal department cloud productivity. Given Microsoft’s dominance in the legal and business, this partnership is important to NetDocuments and they take it very seriously. And they have experience now in working with Microsoft.

The new things for NetDocuments:

First and most foremost, NetDocuments has become the first document storage provider to meet and become certified under the ISO 27018 Data Protection Standards for its cloud data protection standards. (According to ISO, this standard, “establishes commonly accepted control objectives, controls and guidelines…for the public cloud computing environment”). NetDouments also recently announced it was deploying advanced encryption keys that will enable those who need enhanced security to meet client and global standards to do so. This will enable  lawyers to meet the various sliding scale levels of security that ABA Formal Opinion 477 contemplates. According to Leonard Johnson, NetDocuments Product Director, NetDocuments “has worked hard to differentiate it self with its security” and, indeed, NetDocuments has long been known for its cloud security– which is the primary reason my firm elected to go with this service to begin with.

As Bob Craig, the Chief Informational Officer of Baker Hostetler put it, NetDocuments is really a “security technology that happens to be a really good document management system.”

So what does all this mean? For now, NetDocuments appears to set the standard for secure cloud vendors. In fact, you could argue that documents are more secure residing in the NetDocuments cloud than housed locally, which many firms, including mine, used to do. This is particularly important for firms that are trying to balance the risks and costs of maintains and securing internal systems with the slight loss of convenience of going to a cloud server like NetDocuments. And there is some inconvenience.

NetDocuments can be slow on occasion and is a little clunky and hard to use, particularly during the transition from an internal system. It’s sort of like taking your valuables that you keep at home behind locked doors to a bank lockbox. More secure but not as easy to get to. But says Johnson, NetDocuments is always working on ease of use. In fact, NetDocuments also recently announced the release of a new user interface that, according to Johnson, will enhance the user experience and streamline the workflow. NetDocuments has worked hard on this new desktop, the first in a couple of years.

So its indeed fortunate that NetDocuments is now looking at innovative ways to use the data that it has since, given its recent improvements, it will likely continue to be the market leader and will have even more data in the future. The chances that this by product-the data itself-can be harnessed with artificial intelligence tools, is pretty exciting. Its always cool to see companies push the envelope and look to innovate. Kudos.

Photo Attribution: Ak Rockefeller via flickr.