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Collaboration platforms can help law firms stay top of mind in a marketplace crowded with ALSPs, placing a heavy emphasis on real-time, nonverbal client communications. 

Communication is the cornerstone of any good relationship, and law firms may be expanding their horizons beyond email. Some, for instance, are implementing platforms that allow them to communicate more fluidly with clients.

Fostering more open dialogues could prove to be especially important considering the competition that firms are facing from alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) or the Big Four, who may be more practiced at keeping their customers in the loop.

Among the firms changing how they communicate with clients is Mayer Brown. The firm has taken to using a series of web-based portals to create a repository of data or information pertaining to a matter or event that can be constantly updated as the situation evolves. It also allows lawyers or their clients to upload and exchange documents.

Several of Mayer Brown’s portals were constructed using the vendor HighQ, a provider of cloud-based file sharing, team collaboration and social networking software. The firm can then go in these portals and install custom-built features or dashboards. Portals can also be made open to the public or stay strictly between law firm and client. “It’s more secure, it gives only certain people use and it has living tools in it,” said Mayer Brown partner Elizabeth Espin Stern.

Not to be outdone, Day Pitney rolled out a new “knowledge management solution” earlier this month geared toward helping its private equity group “disseminate knowledge” about events and other goings-on among its client base. The firm configured the project internally using the cloud-based collaboration tool Microsoft SharePoint as a development platform.

Kermit Wallace, chief information officer at Day Pitney, framed communication platforms as a way to expand the firm’s existing footprint with a client amid a competitive legal marketplace. “To the extent that we can stay top of mind with a client by communicating effectively about things that are maybe directly related to the work that we’re doing with them or potentially related to our areas of expertise within the firm that maybe they haven’t engaged us in so far, that’s absolutely an area that we continue to look at,” Wallace said.

However, adopting collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack or even a custom-built solution can pose risks to a firm if not implemented with the right security guards, and that same danger may not be as acutely felt by ALSPs.

“They are coming at it from a stronger position. And they don’t have the barriers that we have. Yeah, they have the confidentiality clause, but it’s not the same fiduciary duty of confidentiality that attorneys have with their clients. We could lose our license if there’s a breach of client information,” said Tomu Johnson, of counsel at Parsons Behle & Latimer and CEO of the firm’s tech subsidiary Parsons Behle Lab.

He pointed out that most firms don’t have the resources to build their own secure platforms from scratch. Johnson’s own practice group uses the external project management and communications platform Basecamp to communicate with clients, something that distinguishes them from every other practice at the firm.

He argued that law firms in general have historically not been very adroit at communicating ongoing matter developments with clients, with regular status updates still something of an industry rarity. “Oftentimes, the only interaction that a client will get from the law firm is the monthly bill,” Johnson said.

That stands in contrast to an ALSP or a new law company such as Legility, which uses a laundry list of widely available collaboration tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Yammer. According to Legility CEO Barry Dark, the timing and frequency of communications is something that is mutually agreed on with clients depending on the “project specifics and preferences.”

To be sure, not all communication between legal provider and client is strictly verbal. Legility also uses a proprietary solution called Spotlight, a dashboard-type feature that provides clients with access to real-time business data. “This is a key communication channel that allows clients to access data in a consumable format when and where they need it. This type of real-time, nonverbal communication has generally not been available in traditional models,” Dark said.

It may be the speed at which life—and technology—moves that continues driving law firms toward alternate communications platforms. Beau Mersereau, chief legal technology solutions officer at Fish & Richardson, doesn’t think it’s competition with ALSPs that is responsible for driving more firms to embrace platforms such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. Instead, he attributes that development to shifting consumer habits influenced by the technologies that attorneys and clients alike are engaging with in their home lives.

“It’s very easy to have video conferences with your family and just talk on your iPhone that way, and I know that our attorneys want that same ease of use,” he said.

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Reprinted with permission from the March 26, 2020 edition of Legaltech News © 2020 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.