10 steps to collaboration success in law firms

The social distancing imperatives of 2020 have pushed collaboration platforms to the center of working life. But succeeding with collaboration tools requires more than just deploying new technology.

In line with many other industries, the legal profession rapidly adopted working from home in 2020 to meet social distancing guidelines. This has driven an explosion in the take up of videoconferencing and collaboration platforms as lawyers adjust to meeting virtually rather than physically.

According to figures published in ILTA’s 2020 Annual Legal Technology Survey, the use of Zoom went through the roof as law firms rapidly deployed the platform for employees. In 2020, 71% of law firms surveyed worldwide had used Zoom compared to 34% in 2019. The same rapid growth was seen in Microsoft Teams, which was used in 41% of law firms in 2020, compared to just 12% in 2019.

Dealing with information overload

Collaboration tools have been vital in maintaining productivity across the legal sector. Many law firms want to intensify their use both for home workers and when staff returns to offices. The benefit of collaboration platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, is that they provide law firms with a single environment for chat, meetings, conferencing, screen sharing, planning and task management. This makes it easier to deal with the information overload many lawyers face.

Collaboration software also includes persistent messaging, which is an attractive alternative to email. It provides context to conversations, making them easier to understand and thereby improving workflows, while ensuring data protection and compliance.

But to get the most out of their collaboration platforms, law firms need to take a strategic approach to deployment and use. Consider the following 10 steps.

1. Choose a single solution for the whole organization

There are several different solutions available for collaboration that suit the legal sector’s needs. Microsoft Teams is popular with many law firms as it forms part of Office365. But irrespective of the choice, standardize on a single collaboration and communications platform across the entire organization. Letting individual countries or divisions choose their own platforms will likely lead to higher costs and management overhead.

2. Cloud offers significant benefits

Most deployment options today revolve around the cloud. It was instrumental in helping law firms rapidly deploy tools to employees who suddenly found themselves working from home. Software-as-a-service slashes the long lead times required for rolling out large enterprise software projects. It also enables pricing policies that charge on demand rather than by license.

3. Watch out for shadow IT

However, IT departments also need be careful that the ease of cloud deployment does not create the shadow IT problem of some units procuring their own collaboration solutions. This creates a management and cybersecurity headache.

4. Follow a phased approach for rollout

It is sensible to follow a phased deployment for rollout. This will test the platform in several different sites to identify any potential issues before broader deployment.

5. Security is key

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, widespread homeworking precipitated a 300% rise in phishing scams against lawyers in the UK in the first half of 2020. This led to the theft of almost £2.5 million from law firms, over three times the amount in the same period of 2019. Videoconferencing is an additional risk, particularly when confidential information is being discussed. Law firms need to ensure that no unauthorized parties can eavesdrop on meetings.

6. Organize workspaces to match processes

Organizing workspaces in the collaboration platform is key to its success. The legal profession has a high volume of concurrent projects, making set up and management throughout their lifecycles a challenge. A large law firm, for example, could start hundreds or even thousands of new matters every month.

7. Keep tight control over workspace management

Law firms will need to set up agreed policies, covering issues such as organization, formats,\ and naming. There must be clear guidance on roles about who can set up and manage different workspaces. This will prevent sensitive information from being inadvertently shared, for example. Each workspace should cover a specific matter and link to any existing document stores. Also, connections between different workspaces should be clear, where they exist.

8. Integrate with other applications

Collaboration platforms do not work in isolation, and their value to working practices increases the more applications they integrate. For example, integrating the platform with existing document stores will prevent duplication and any versioning issues. And incorporating functionality such as DocuSign will enable document signature for contracts from within the platform. Other areas of integration include external feeds, such as digital court information and evidence storage.

9. Manage third-party access carefully

Managing third-party access is also an important consideration. Lawyers need to collaborate with clients and other third parties in their work, and this can involve providing access to the relevant workspace. However, guest access will need to be managed carefully to prevent sensitive or incomplete information from being shared with the wrong person. User access control and file permissions are vital in preventing this from happening.

10. Carry out user adoption training and monitor for success

Law firms will need to carefully plan their change management process, including holding training sessions for lawyers and other stakeholders to facilitate the take up and adoption of the service. This is particularly important in enabling lawyers to work from home effectively. Also consider setting up a network of collaboration evangelists to help drive the platform’s adoption throughout the organization and share best working practices. And finally, because this is an ongoing process, measure uptake and usage on a regular basis to ensure that ROI is delivered. It can also help identify any needs for improvement via training or policy.

Orange Business Services has extensive experience in setting up collaboration platforms for the legal industry. Please contact me for any advice or if you need support for your collaboration project at javier.sanz-blasco@orange.com.

Javier Sanz-Blasco

Javier holds an MBA at Henley Business School (UK) and has more than 20 years’ experience in Unified Communications. He currently works as Sales Executive at Orange, where he maps the business requirements of the biggest multinationals to a service. An avid reader and former chess player, he enjoys hiking with his family the mountains of Picos de Europa in Spain and long distance running along the Thames River.