Here at Percipient we use collaboration software on most legal projects we work on. For many projects, especially large document reviews, collaboration tools are an excellent way for legal teams to communicate with the team and provide ongoing information to all reviewers.
Based on a breakfast conversation I had recently with people holding varying positions in the “legal ecosystem“, it became quite clear that many of the lawyers in the room did not use collaboration tools.
In fact, questions about collaboration software and how to best use it dominated the hour-long conversation and inspired me to put this post together. Used correctly, collaboration software is an excellent way to work together not only internally, but also with clients. And…lawyers might even be able to generate a couple bucks using it!
Two of the most widely used collaboration software products are Slack and Microsoft Teams.
Slack describes itself as a “collaboration hub where you and your team can work together to get things done. From project kickoffs to budget discussions, and to everything in between . . . In Slack, work happens in channels. You can create channels based on teams, projects, or even office locations. Members of a workspace or org can join and leave channels as needed.
Similarly, Microsoft describes Teams as “a chat-based workspace in Office 365. Microsoft Teams is an entirely new experience that brings together people, conversations and content—along with the tools that teams need—so they can easily collaborate to achieve more.”
(If you want to learn more about the use of Microsoft Teams in legal, check out this great article by Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel at Microsoft.)
While not a complete substitute for email, when legal teams use collaboration software, certain conversations move away from email. Teams create “channels” within the software (usually based on a project or legal matter) and all team members with permission can access and post to the channel.
Once authorized to access the channel, users may ask and answer questions, share documents and the like. (Think a modern/advanced version of an electronic bulletin board or listserv).
So, instead of sending a question via email to multiple recipients on the team, messages are posted in the channel and anyone may respond. This gets rid of the annoying “reply all” and promotes transparency because all members in the channel may view the discussion which prevents forgetting to include an email recipient on the team email message.
However, if you do want to have a private conversation with other users outside of a channel, there are direct message features in Teams and Slack.
As mentioned, we use one or more collaboration tools on pretty much every legal project we assist with. It is a good way to pass information along to the team without having to call a meeting every other day, and is more efficient than the group email.
For example, on large document reviews, collaboration tools serve as a repository for case and review reference material (such as document review protocols, key player lists, and other case related documents like pleadings and subpoenas). They also serve as a great way to make sure that our whole document review team sees an answer to a question.
For instance, if an attorney comes across a document and they are unsure it is relevant to a legal matter, they can ask about it on Slack: “Hey, document # 1234 talks about ABC issue, is that responsive to the document requests?” The answer is then posted in the review channel and now everyone knows the answer.
Before collaboration software, the main attorney on the case or review team leader might have to answer the same question multiple times, or would have to make sure the answer was communicated to the whole team via email or orally.
We also use collaboration tools to maintain checklists and keep track of the various steps in our legal project processes.
There is no question that law firms and legal departments are excellent candidates for knowledge management programs. Collaboration tools are excellent additions to legal KM programs. This is so because Slack and Team channels can be opened to all members of an organization. This means everyone can see comments, questions and answers to questions.
This “crowdsources” KM and means it is more likely questions will be answered. (Instead of picking up the phone and calling, or emailing a single person expected to maybe have the answer.) Handing Q&A this way is also helpful, because, unless deleted, information posted remains and is searchable.
So, if someone on a legal team’s channel asks if anyone has an “ABC contract template”, and the answer is yes the colleague may post a copy to the channel. The benefit of doing this is that it is still there when the next person has the same question.
Before collaboration software, requests like this were sent via mass email to the other lawyers in the office and if someone did have an “ABC template” it was emailed directly to the requesting lawyer and probably later deleted. So, not only did others not have the benefit of using the template (and the knowledge that it even existed), the information might be lost forever.
Another benefit of collaboration software is that it could make it easier for lawyers to communicate with clients. Legal teams can set up channels for specific cases and projects. Instead to inundating clients with email or leaving telephone messages that may not be returned right away. Questions and information can be communicated to the client in the channel and viewed by the client on their schedule.
Still not convinced that collaboration software should be used in law firms and legal departments? What if I told you you can use channels to help the bottom line? An in-house attorney I know told me his company set up a channel with one of the company’s outside law firms. The channel is dedicated to a somewhat obscure area of law and company pays the law firm a set monthly fee to answer questions posted on the channel.
If you want to learn more about using collaboration tools in your legal projects, Jason Barnwell, Assistant General Counsel-Legal Business, Operations, and Strategy at Microsoft has a great episode on his Business of Law Podcast how Microsoft and its outside lawyers use Teams.