Collaboration with colleagues and clients often means straddling multiple platforms and juggling different tools. You’re likely using some general business collaboration apps for project management, file sharing and team messaging, right along with case or practice management software and practice-specific software for generating work product. And, depending on your firm’s size plus the size and complexity of the matters you handle, that may be working well.
In other industries, enterprise-level collaboration platforms are making inroads. These platforms combine an organization’s “stack” of tools into one integrated system designed to improve workflow and efficiency. Microsoft SharePoint (and Teams) will be most familiar to large law firms using enterprise software — and an increasing number of tech companies offer collaboration platforms aimed specifically at law firms as well.
But what are the best enterprise options when it comes to collaboration tools for small and midsize law firms?
Here are five tips to consider. (Full disclosure: Earlier this summer, my company, Workstorm, released a new collaboration platform for law firms.)
- Study the features, security and support. Look for a collaboration software that offers both cloud-based and on-premise hosting. Make sure the interface is simple and easy-to-use and available on a desktop, laptop and mobile device. In addition to the basic features such as the ability to exchange quick, concise messages, find out if you can hold videoconferences and share documents, internally and externally. Investigate how messages and documents are organized, and make sure it suits your firm’s workflow. Searching capabilities should be robust, across both messages and documents. Ask questions about security protocols, training materials and help desk support.
- Zero in on customization. Look for ways to connect to other software tools used in the firm. For example, can you connect with the firm’s email so that navigating between email and messaging, videoconferencing or file sharing is seamless? Can the firm’s document management system be integrated to easily access digital files and case documentation? Can templates the firm uses all the time be placed in a workspace so they are easily accessible?
- Start with a pilot program for both internal and external use. Consider starting out with an internal pilot team, then expanding across the firm and client base. For small firms, involve all staff from the start, but be sure to request a free evaluation period to test the product. If most of your matters are small, transactional and not document intensive (such as in family law or estate planning), only use the collaboration tool for internal communications and for clients that have larger, more complex matters that will span months or years. Employ the collaboration features, such as survey and videoconferencing tools, to conduct regular file reviews and keep those key clients informed. After all, clients are expecting savvy legal practices with up-to-date technology. Leverage technology to keep personal connections active.
- Identify a champion and encourage power users. Make use of collaboration champions to spread the word and persuade co-workers to join the platform. Share real-world scenarios so all firm members see how communication flows inside the organization between colleagues and outside the organization with clients. Challenge staff to become power users. As your practice grows, you may find that it is easier to attract new, highly qualified staff by promoting the modern technologies and workflows used in the firm. And when you need to staff up for one-time or seasonal projects, remote or part-time staff can more effectively contribute given the messaging and videoconferencing features in collaboration platforms.
- Monitor and promote adoption. Ensure capabilities for setting administrative controls in the system, as well as the ability to monitor use, employee adoption and ongoing data security and compliance. Furthermore, leverage your firm’s adoption of innovative technology to differentiate it from the myriad other small and midsize firms in your market, and even challenge some of your larger competitors.
Well-Reasoned Processes Are Key
Communication flow is changing in today’s organizations. Driven by the surge in mobile devices, social networking and working from remote locations, people want instantaneous and flexible communication options. More importantly, they want collaboration virtually in real time to contribute to both their productivity and happiness on the job. The challenges for small and midsize firms are many, but they can be overcome by leveraging useful technology and well-thought-out processes designed to make your practice more efficient and successful.