With so many different collaboration tools available, keeping up with new features and learning the rules of engagement can be frustrating. Not to mention you can easily find yourself using different systems for different groups or purposes, adding to the confusion (and sending you straight back to email hell).
For this edition of Friday Tech Tips, we asked the practice management technology experts: “What’s your best tech tip for collaborating well with others?” Here’s good advice from Jim Calloway, Andrea Cannavina, Jared Correia, Darla Jackson, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell, Catherine Sanders Reach, Deborah Savadra and John Simek.
Jim Calloway: The Magic of Logging in to Office 365
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” according to science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. One of my most magical experiences with technology was when Google Docs was released in 2006. I frequently did presentations involving written materials with co-presenters from other states. When multiple people were editing a document shared as an email attachment, there were soon inconsistent versions. With Google Docs, however, it was truly magical to edit the document online while seeing your collaborators editing a different section of the same document at the same time. That still works great today for those operating in the Google universe.
But most of us use Microsoft Office and Word and converting Google Doc files to Word often created formatting problems that were time-consuming to fix, negating the collaboration benefit. Google Docs is now Google Drive and it is better at format conversion, but Word users have largely abandoned it.
Office 365 for Business has many tools for collaboration. The ironic thing is most lawyers are unaware of them because they have found they can still use the Office Suite the way they always have without logging into anything. Logging in to your Office 365 account reveals many useful collaboration tools, like Teams and Groups. If you are working on a document with another Office 365 user, you can share that document with them in Office 365 instead of as an email attachment so you can always check on the status of the document and continue to edit it yourself. Try the File-Share option in Word to see all your options for collaboration with Office 365.
It is still magic to simultaneously edit a document with others — and since it is a Word document there will be fewer formatting challenges.
Jim Calloway (@JimCalloway) is Director of the Management Assistance Program for the Oklahoma Bar Association and author of several ABA books. He blogs at Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips and co-produces the podcast The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology.
Catherine Sanders Reach: The Plan Is More Important Than the Tool
I hate email. There, I said it. It is inefficient, insufficient, fallible, insecure and all around so ubiquitous that we can’t stop using it long enough to admit it is broken. So, why haven’t we found the email killer for the legal profession? Possibly because frequent misuse of collaboration platforms has driven people back to email.
If you are going to use a collaboration platform, you need a plan of attack. Who are the participants? Are they all internal or will you be working with your team plus external collaborators? This makes a difference! Internal teams with Office 365 can embrace any one of the collaborative options like Teams, Yammer or Groups.
If the work involves people outside the firm, it may be better to find a platform more conducive to a wider range of roles, like Trello, Asana or Slack. Asana and Trello are more focused on project management, while Slack is more focused on communication. All of them integrate with one another and myriad other platforms, which means you should have a way to message, send and edit documents, share tasks and calendars, and stay organized. The real strength of all these collaboration platforms is that all the information is shared, saved and viewed in the application — not organized by each individual user, like email.
No matter what you use, assign a team or project leader and spend the time upfront to prepare the collaboration space. Predetermine roles, security/permissions, naming conventions/folder structures, tasks and deadlines.
The plan is far more important than the tool! Email has allowed us to be haphazard about the process. Collaboration tools will fail if they are used the same way email is for projects. That is when it feels like one more thing to manage — one more place to check for messages and information — and we fall back to email because it is “easier.”
Catherine Sanders Reach (@CatherineReach) is Director, Law Practice Management and Technology, for the Chicago Bar Association. She was previously Director of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center for over 10 years.
Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell: The Collaboration Golden Rule
Of all the collaboration tips we offer in our book, “The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies,” we find the most powerful are the most ridiculously obvious. Call it the “Collaboration Golden Rule” — simply put, collaborate with others as you would have them collaborate with you.
Make it ridiculously easy for your clients, colleagues and others to work with you. Ask questions like “What ways would you like to communicate and work together on this project?” and “What collaboration tools and technologies work best for you?” Get the answers to these questions early in the process and be prepared to accommodate. It may be that the others have no clear choices, leaving you free to suggest the tools you think would be most effective. The best choices for collaboration tools happen when everyone participates meaningfully and thoughtfully in the decision-making process. Understanding what tools are available and what alternatives might exist will also help you be responsive and willing to help reach common ground.
These days, even doctors let you make appointments, ask questions, and obtain test results and records through internet portals. Why wouldn’t you want to make it just as easy for your clients?
Dennis Kennedy (@denniskennedy) and Tom Mighell (@tommighell) are co-authors of the ABA book “The Lawyers Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, 2nd Edition” and co-presenters of The Kennedy-Mighell Report Podcast on the Legal Talk Network.
Andrea Cannavina: Collaboration Is a Process
My best tech advice for collaborating with others is to use the proper medium for the message. Telephone, email, text — all are great tools for communication and collaboration but not all are the best ways to get your matter moving forward and messages received.
Collaboration is a series of communications between people, with tasks being conveyed and completed. Sometimes a quick text or an email is the best way to convey, sometimes a call or live face-to-face is best. Take a few minutes to consider what you are conveying before you jump behind a keyboard. Keyboarding takes a great deal of communication out of the process and often lessens the actual collaboration.
Andrea Cannavina (@AndreaCan) is CEO of LegalTypist and Director of the Virtual Bar Association. She helps lawyers, legal administrators and companies that service the legal industry better understand the role of technology and use of the web in the daily practice of law.
Darla Jackson: Leverage Your LPMS
One of the best tools for communication and collaboration may be your law practice management solution (LPMS). Internal firm communications and collaboration can be facilitated by chat and file sharing within the software platform.
For example, Rocket Matter has a “Communicator” feature that brings instant messaging inside the platform. With Communicator, attorneys can live chat with colleagues, share files, host videoconferences, and associate conversations with matters so that the conversations and correspondence are accessible on the matter dashboard.
Communicator reduces the amount of internal firm email by allowing attorneys to chat with colleagues as work is being performed. The chat messages can be saved to their own channels or to specific matters in Rocket Matter. When files are shared via Communicator, the file becomes part of the matter being worked on. By working within the LPMS, confidential information is also protected via the secure system.
Client portals built into your LPMS can also serve as a tool to communicate and collaborate with those who are not members of the firm. For instance, letting co-counsel access the client portal to share documents as well as access client communications in a secure environment rather than via unencrypted email is certainly a best practice.
Darla W. Jackson (@darlaj_okbar) is Practice Management Advisor for the Oklahoma Bar Association. She provides assistance to attorneys in using technology tools to efficiently manage their offices and also is involved with the OBA’s access to justice initiatives. She previously was Director of the McKusick Law Library at the University of South Dakota.
Deborah Savadra: Version Control Tips That Lessen the Mess
It’s beyond question that technology has changed the way we interact with documents. We do a lot more collaborative work. If you don’t keep your end game firmly in mind, you could create a confusing mess for yourself and your colleagues. My suggestions:
Learning to use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature is no longer optional. Set it up so it’s easy to turn on and off, and if you really want to ensure your collaborators only give you feedback on Section 5.3.2, restrict their edits to just that portion of the text.
Make sure you’re intelligently incorporating each version into whatever document management system you use. For example, it’s probably better to make each successive edit a new version of the same document rather than creating new documents every time and thereby setting yourself up for confusion later.
If you’re working with people who simply can’t use Track Changes, use the Compare feature on the Review tab to track their edits. Or get a third-party document comparison tool like Litera Microsystems’s Change-Pro Premier.
Deborah Savadra (@legalofficeguru) is the editor and chief blogger at Legal Office Guru, which specializes in helping legal professionals learn Microsoft Office features like flagging Outlook emails for follow-up and using Outlook Rules & Alerts.
John Simek: Slack for Collaboration on Steroids
One of the hottest tools for collaboration is, of course, Slack. Some describe Slack as an instant messaging and collaboration tool on steroids. You create channels within Slack to organize message threads. The channels can be public or private. Direct messages (individually or a group) are also available, and you can reference files in a message to allow direct access to the data. Slack — which can be installed on your desktop or accessed via a mobile app —has been used by the ABA TECHSHOW Planning Boards for several years. This year, the 2019 Planning Board will use Slack as a collaboration tool to communicate all aspects of the conference from the first days of planning all the way through the final conference session.
John W. Simek (@SenseiEnt) is Vice President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and information security firm based in Fairfax, Va. He is a co-author of several books, including “The Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides,” and Co-Chair of the 2019 ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board.
Jared Correia: Get Face-to-Face
Despite the fact that communication methods continue to proliferate, there’s still only one best way to avoid miscommunication, and that’s talking face-to-face. There isn’t a sarcasm font. Was that email really mean? Was that autocorrect, or did my mom just ask me to send her a lynx by mail? Speaking by phone is good, and avoids a lot of misunderstanding; however, people still zone out on the phone. (How many of you have emailed during a conference call? Admit it!)
The solution is videoconferencing. The problem is, no one wants to videoconference. Nobody wants to show their face onscreen, and they often prefer the phone so that they can do other things while they talk. But if you want to avoid miscommunications and collaborate effectively, you need to get some FaceTime.