Collaboration is more mobile than ever, and as the IT director at an international law firm, I’ve seen firsthand its impact on the organization. It’s not always positive. People tend to opt for file-sharing applications like Dropbox, which are familiar and easy to use. The problem is that consumer-grade applications weren’t built with security in mind, and considering the sensitive legal content that firms are sharing daily, the risk is too great to leave unaddressed.
Balancing productivity and security is a universal challenge across law firms today. Here is my checklist of what to look for when choosing the most appropriate document collaboration tools.
There’s a mobile app for everything these days, and there should be no exception when it comes to legal productivity programs. To reflect today’s increasingly agile workforce, it is imperative that collaboration applications can function via secure mobile applications, providing quick and reliable access to documents, regardless of location and device. Lawyers should be able to work just as efficiently and productively via a mobile app as they would sitting at their desks.
Moving documents into the cloud is becoming especially important for firms that need to stay competitive in a mobile workplace. However, controversies like the NSA’s PRISM program have raised concerns around data security in the cloud, with many firms now taking a closer look at where vendors of cloud-enabled collaboration applications are storing their organization’s data. I recommend using vendors that provide a hybrid cloud deployment option, as this allows the organization’s data to be stored on-premise so your IT person can retain ultimate control.
Having instant access to documents from a remote location is important, but what’s the point if you aren’t able to actually collaborate on them? You should be able to make detailed, positioned comments around various sections of a document, ensuring that comments are viewed in context and with relevance. Having that layer of collaboration takes remote document access a step further, helping users to truly “work” with others and combine feedback from multiple reviewers easily.
As file attachments are shared through multiple parties in and outside of firms and evolve with edits and other changes, they gather hidden data: metadata. This metadata could exist in Track Changes in Word documents, hidden rows in Excel spreadsheets or speaker notes in PowerPoint presentations. If exposed, metadata can actually cause more damage than visible data, since it often contains confidential information that the sender doesn’t want the receiver to see.
Everyone in your firm should be educated about the threat of metadata, and systems should be in place to ensure that only what is intended is sent. There are tools out there that integrate with your email system to scan documents before they are sent, identifying and automatically removing any hidden data. This way you ensure no metadata leaves your firm.
Version Control and Comparison
Email is the most common collaboration tool in the world, but it is fairly archaic, particularly in the context of how legal professionals work. Lengthy and complex legal documents are often exchanged as email attachments, and go through a series of review cycles with multiple collaborators. Searching through email threads to find the most recent version of a document eats up a lot of time, and even more time is added trying to identify which changes were made between versions. Ideally you want the ability to create detailed audit trails of version changes to keep the process efficient.
Ultimately we selected Workshare Professional for cloud collaboration. Whether upgrading a legacy system or replacing one, asking questions like this will help you choose the best technology for your practice.
Eduardo Snape is IT Director at the international law firm Galindo, Arias & Lopez and Visiting Professor at Universidad Tecnologia de Panama.
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