In our connected, global economy, sharing has become the norm. The proof is in the rise of the sharing economy industries like home sharing (AirBNB), ride and car sharing (Uber and Lyft), coworking (WeWork), and bike sharing (Lime, Spin). In Japan, they even share umbrellas. Some estimates forecast a many as 86 million people in the United States will be using the sharing economy by 2021. So the paradigm has shifted from owning assets to accessing assets. There are many reasons why this is preferred by today’s consumers (I) in 2008, the real estate market crash wiped out nearly 40% of the average homeowners’ equity, (II) state taxes are usually based on assets you own (e.g., real estate taxes, personal property taxes), (III) state government fees are based on owning assets (e.g., car registration, car inspection, water and sewer), (IV) assets require maintenance and upkeep, (V) assets can depreciate over time, (VI) assets can become obsolete or useless, and (VII) acquiring assets usually requires a substantial upfront financial investment and ongoing spending (e.g., home down payment and monthly mortgage payment). Many younger people who do not have access to substantial resources opt to access the benefits of assets without owning them.

The same holds true about managing and editing documents. The traditional method of editing documents follows an asset ownership model. The document originator creates the initial document “asset” (the parent document). He then propagates this original asset into new electronic document assets by sending copies of the original document to others via email (children documents). By the mere click of “Send,” he can multiply the original document ten-fold. Recipients of the email messages have the same power to create new electronic document assets by clicking the “Forward” button (grandchildren documents). It has become effortless to create a multitude of children and grandchildren electronic documents. However, just like in our global economy, with asset ownership comes responsibility. The document originator has lost all control over the life of these children and grandchildren electronic documents. The risks are huge. How does one keep the information confidential? How does one prevent recipients from forwarding these document to people who should not have them? How does one know the electronic copy remains the same version originally sent? Do changes in the children and grandchildren electronic documents reflect the originator's views or contradict them? How does one incorporate edits and comments from these documents back to the parent document? Controlling document propagation and reconciling differences among the children, grandchildren, and parent documents can be insurmountable and time-consuming.


Document collaboration using a secured server beats using children (and grandchildren) documents every time. How does it work? The document originator creates the initial document asset (either on the secured server or locally and then uploaded to the secure server). Instead of sending children documents, he creates and sends link of the original document to recipients. These links allow the recipient to access the initial document for editing. But there is more. The originator determine what kind of access the recipient has. He can (i) password protect the link so the recipient has to get the password from the originator in an alternative method (e.g., second email, text message, or telephone call), (ii) set an expiration date for when edits can be made (this is especially useful to grant writers and sales professionals responding to requests for pricing or quotes), (iii) allow read-only access, (iv) prevent recipients from downloading the original document, (v) determine the level of edit capability a recipient has, and (vi) can create custom links for groups of participants (e.g., allow attorneys to edit the original document but sales and finance people to only comment on the original document). Document collaboration also substantially cuts the edits – comment - review reconciliation process - all edits and comments are in one place for all to see and react to. All recipients are kept current on the edits and comments by viewing online the primary, original document in its current form. Online document collaboration avoids the back-and-forth that occurs in the traditional document editing process. From the perspective of managing confidential information, the original document never leaves its secured server. No children (or grandchildren) documents exist - no worrying where on the Internet your document might end up. Also, once the link expires, so does access to the original document so there is no risk of lingering copies.

In our fast moving, work anywhere, mobile business environment, document access is adaptable and makes sense. I’m not ready to share my Dolce & Gabbana eagle head umbrella yet, but document links I can handle.

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About the Author.
Nat James is a practicing North Carolina attorney in the Research Triangle Park area. Mr. James has drafted, negotiated, and closed business contracts for clients since 1992. This material represent his observations from past experiences. It is not intended to provide you legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship between you and Mr. James. If you need legal assistance, seek independent legal counsel by contacting your State Bar or State Bar Association.