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Legal Technology

The Future of Collaboration: Embracing the Digital Shift in Co-Authoring Legal Documents

By Ragav Jagannathan

With the shift toward remote collaboration, the legal industry is witnessing a significant shift from the traditional “pen-holder” approach to document management toward a more dynamic, collaborative method of co-authoring legal documents.

co-authoring legal documents

Law firms, traditionally reliant on face-to-face interactions and paper-heavy processes, now face a pressing need to adapt to a digital-first approach. This is particularly crucial in the realm of document creation and management, where the efficiency, accuracy and speed of document preparation can significantly affect client service and case outcomes.

Adapting to Modern Communication and Document Management Needs

Real-time communications through applications such as Microsoft Teams is fast becoming the norm. This shift toward instantaneous interaction contrasts with the more deliberate pace required within traditional document management systems (DMS). DMS platforms excel at organizing and safeguarding extensive collections of legal documents, providing a foundational structure for document storage and retrieval. However, integrating real-time, collaborative document editing into these systems can pose challenges.

As legal professionals navigate between messaging and collaboration apps and DMS platforms, they often encounter a complex landscape of tools and processes. This can lead to repetitive handling of files and other inefficiencies as users move documents in and out of the DMS. Firms need to find a balance that facilitates efficient document handling while leveraging the robust features of traditional DMS platforms, ensuring that the integrity and accessibility of legal documents are maintained without impeding the flow of communication.

Traditionally, legal documents have been managed by a single person responsible for integrating various legal perspectives into a cohesive document — the “pen-holder.” This model allows for a centralized control point, simplifying the response to queries and maintaining consistency. However, it can also introduce bottlenecks, especially in complex documents requiring input from multiple specialists. The risks of conflicting changes and the inefficiency of serial revisions have prompted a reevaluation of this approach, particularly in scenarios where a smaller, more aligned team works on the document. In such cases, collaborative efforts can lead to more rapid identification and resolution of key issues, rendering the old-school pen-holder method less efficient.

The Shift Toward Collaborative Co-Authoring

The Challenge of Specialist Contributions

When documents require specialized input, the traditional approach has often been to view these contributions as “approvals” or sign-offs rather than true collaboration. This is partly due to risk management and compliance considerations. For instance, an international law firm would defer to local expertise for matters pertaining to Norwegian law to mitigate risk. This method relies heavily on version control, with each approval tied to a specific version of the document, thus ensuring clarity and accountability but at the cost of flexibility and real-time collaboration.

The advent of digital co-authoring platforms such as SharePoint and the latest versions of Office 365 offers a stark contrast to the old-school method. Co-authoring legal documents allows all participants to view and edit the live document simultaneously, ensuring that changes are immediately visible to everyone involved. This approach not only streamlines the editing process but also fosters a more collaborative environment, where ideas and corrections can be shared in real-time.

However, co-authoring legal documents brings its own set of challenges, especially in contexts requiring meticulous control and specialist input. The visibility of ongoing edits can be discomforting for some contributors, concerned about presenting incomplete work. Additionally, the pen-holder’s traditional role as a gatekeeper of document integrity is transformed, requiring a new balance between control and efficiency.

True Collaboration Requires a Cultural Shift

The transition to collaborative legal document co-authoring requires not only technological adaptation but also a cultural shift within legal teams. The ingrained preference for presenting polished “final” drafts and the reluctance to engage with early-stage collaborative drafts highlight the need for a change in mindset. Addressing these challenges involves clear communication, setting expectations, and fostering an environment that values collaboration over perfection.

This shift offers the promise of increased efficiency, improved document quality, and a more responsive law practice. However, realizing the benefits depends on navigating the complexities of version control, specialist contributions and cultural change. In an industry where precision and accountability are paramount, finding the right balance between control and collaboration is key to harnessing the full potential of co-authoring technologies.

Successfully Navigating the Digital Transformation

Integrating real-time collaborative tools with existing legal DMS platforms is a key factor in navigating the legal industry’s digital transformation. For example, these tools allow users to collaborate on Microsoft Office documents stored in NetDocuments or iManage from within Microsoft Teams. (Disclosure: My company develops some of these tools.) By enabling attorneys to work together on documents in real time, these technologies can significantly reduce the time for document drafting and review. Benefits include faster turnaround times for client requests, improved document accuracy through collective review, and enhanced security measures inherent in digital platforms.

The adoption of collaborative document management technologies has the potential to revolutionize how law firms operate. Not only can it streamline internal processes, but it also offers a competitive edge in client service. Firms that embrace these technologies can expect to see a marked improvement in efficiency and document quality. Furthermore, the ability to collaborate seamlessly across distances makes it easier to leverage the expertise of attorneys regardless of their physical location.

Image © iStockPhoto.com.

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Ragav Jagannathan

Ragav Jagannathan is President and Group CEO of KLoBot Inc., which sells innovative products like imDocShare (for iManage DMS) and netDocShare (for NetDocuments DMS), which allow attorneys to easily co-author DMS documents within Microsoft Teams and SharePoint using Microsoft Office Client. Their virtual assistant software KLapper allows firms to create no-code DIY virtual assistants powered by generative AI in minutes. He can be reached at ragav@klstinc.com.

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