When people talk about legaltech, there is a tendency to assume reference to that class of specialist software that has been developed specifically for use in law. Things like smart contracts that automatically execute transactions on the Blockchain, or AI-driven analytics programmes that rifle through documentation, pulling out details relevant to a case spring to mind.
But not all technology useful to lawyers and legal practice need belong to this niche category. Like everyone else, lawyers have enjoyed huge benefit from innovations such as the word processor, the internet and the smartphone.
Now there is another big trend in general business tech which, if they haven’t done so already, legal professionals should really look into. Collaboration platforms – popular examples include Microsoft Teams, Slack and Google Hangouts – combine functions such as messaging, conferencing, file sharing, archiving and real-time document editing to let colleagues do all the things they might do in a face-to-face meeting, but remotely.
Collaboration tech is viewed somewhat sniffily in some quarters as just another fashionable fad that will soon blow over. But the truth is, teamwork works. And when you can discuss and collaborate with colleagues without the trouble of arranging and travelling to meetings, things get done a lot more efficiently and effectively.
Here are four ways collaboration platforms can make a difference to lawyers.
Finally leave email behind
For a profession that relies on scrupulously careful management of documentation, the invention of email was a minor cultural disaster. Yes, it sped up communication times compared to snail mail. But the price paid for that has been the tangled web of message threads, rudimentary search and archiving capabilities and the ever-present threat of sending something confidential to the wrong person. Collaboration platforms sort all of that out with access-controlled work groups, file sharing and proper library functions. In addition, they allow conversations to take place in real time and provide project management capabilities.
Bring people out of their walled gardens
Many lawyers entertain ‘lone wolf’ fantasies, imagining themselves as the last gunslinger in town taking on the world. But the truth is, no one, least of all in law, works in complete isolation. Lawyers need the advice of colleagues, the heavy lifting work put in by paralegals. What many people in all professionals dislike is how the need to communicate with others disrupts the flow of what they see as more important tasks. Collaboration tech can be viewed as a way of enabling meaningful dialogue and cooperation as you work, without having to hold incessant meetings or pause to pick up the phone every ten minutes.
Streamline use of software
Many people these days have legitimate concerns about how many different tech tools they might have to engage with on any given day just to get their job done. It gets to the point where technology becomes a distraction, not an aid. Used properly, a collaboration platform should actually reduce the volume of apps you have running on your laptop or phone at anyone time. Instead of one for messaging, one for email, one for document editing, one for file sharing – collaboration platforms do it all in one place.
Extend the reach of legal expertise
According to this report by Deloitte, an increasing number of in-house legal teams are using collaboration technology to establish stronger links with other departments. While the report frames this in terms of GCs coming under pressure to have a bigger contribution across the business, a more positive interpretation is that it helps to put legal and compliance considerations at the centre of decision-making. It also stops work piling up at the legal department’s door, bringing projects to a standstill while counsel works through the backlog, boosting efficiency and overall performance.