Book Review: “The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies”

In March 2020, the course of all of our lives changed, and no matter how you look at it, the world will never be the same. Our communities, our perspectives and the way we interact have been fundamentally altered due to the effects of the pandemic. Social distancing has been needed much longer than expected and as a result, we have relied on technology to bridge the communication gap, especially in the business world.

At the start of the pandemic, collaboration technologies were quickly rigged, offering a sufficient short-term solution to the problem of remote collaboration. However, now that we are emerging from the other side of this earth-shattering event, short-term palliative measures are proving insufficient. Companies, including law firms, are looking to implement more permanent communication and collaboration tools now that the benefits of using these technologies for efficiency and business continuity purposes have been clearly established.

For law firms looking to take that leap, a recently published book by Dennis Kennedy and Thomas Mighell, “The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, Work From Home Edition“, offers essential advice. I was provided with a review copy and found it incredibly informative with lots of tips and how-to’s for lawyers looking to learn more about collaboration technologies.

Why should you read this book

Simply put: lawyers have a duty of technological competence. Part of this duty includes learning about technology so you can make informed decisions when choosing new software for your law firm.

In 2012, the American Bar Association amended the commentary to Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 to incorporate the concept of technological competence. This amendment imposes an ethical obligation on lawyers to keep abreast of technological changes and reads as follows:

Maintenance of competence. To maintain the required knowledge and skills, a lawyer must keep abreast of changes in the law and in their practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in ongoing study and training and comply with any continuing legal education requirements to which the attorney is subject. (emphasis added).

Since that time, the vast majority of jurisdictions (40 to date) in the United States have added a commentary to their Rules of Professional Conduct indicating that lawyers have an obligation to keep abreast of technological developments.

According to Kennedy and Mighell, part of this skill includes the use of collaboration software:

This book serves as an extended argument that lawyers can no longer practice law or provide legal services effectively without the skilled use of collaborative tools and technologies… You don’t need to know everything about tools and collaboration technologies to be proficient, but you need to be aware and knowledgeable about which ones you use or are expected to use in your practice.

This book fills that knowledge gap and gives you the information you need to make informed decisions about implementing new collaboration technologies in your law firm.

What you will learn

You probably recognize the many benefits of cloud collaboration, but like many lawyers, you may be overwhelmed by the number of collaboration tools available. That’s where this book comes in: it provides a roadmap to help you choose the collaboration tools that are best for your law firm.

Topics covered include:

  • Collaborative technologies available to lawyers
  • Practical tips for using collaboration tools in common environments
  • How to choose the right tools and understand the issues related to
    use collaborative technologies
  • Trends and developments in collaboration tools
  • How to develop a strategy for implementing collaboration tools in
    your practice and make better decisions about collaboration
    tools to use in a variety of contexts

The 12-step process for choosing collaboration tools

Not only do the authors cover the ins and outs of the collaboration tools available to lawyers, but they also provide a 12-step process for developing a plan designed to help you choose the collaboration tools your law firm needs. .

Each step is covered in detail in the book, but to whet your appetite, here is the list of steps:

Step 1: The Collaboration Audit — Review Your Company’s Processes
Step 2: The Collaboration Audit — Assess Your Company’s Tools
Step 3: The collaborative audit: painting a picture of where
You are
Step 4: Think about where you want to be
Step 5: Implement a customer survey
Step 6: Define your B point
Step 7: Determine what your existing tools can do
Step 8: Do some research and familiarize yourself with the current landscape
for collaboration tools
Step 9: Prioritize
Step 10: Get buy-in from your company’s stakeholders
Step 11: Consider your culture
Step 12: Treat this as a process

Collaboration Tool Highlight: Customer Portals

Customer portals are one of the primary collaboration tools featured in the book. The authors recommend customer portals because they are “the building blocks of online collaboration (since they) combine…the best elements of a modern, multi-purpose public website with the security and control of an application private house”.

Client portals address a number of crucial issues for lawyers, not the least of which is the problem of communication with the client. The authors explain that customer portals offer a safe and hassle-free way to ensure an open line of communication with customers:

One of the most frequent client complaints against lawyers, and one that is the subject of many disciplinary complaints, is that lawyers do not keep their clients informed of the progress of their cases. Portals help solve this problem by creating a channel for regular and always accessible communication, updates and alerts on lawsuits and transactions. A portal that keeps your customers informed, provides them with news and developments, and even allows them to collaborate on projects and documents will show them that you care.

According to Kennedy and Mighell, the easiest way to implement client portals in your firm is to take advantage of the portal functionality built into law practice management software. By doing so, you will have a full range of collaboration functions and features:

Practice management portals. Offer of practice management tools
probably the best known and most popular customer portals today.
Clio, Rocket Matter and MyCase offer secure customer portals as part of
of their standard services, which provide customers with immediate access to invoices, documents, secure messages, tasks and calendars.
Since many lawyers are already using online practice management tools, it makes sense to research client portal options here first.

Of course, many other collaboration tools are also available to lawyers. And the good news is that you can learn all about them in this book.

Next steps

If your business doesn’t yet have robust, easy-to-use collaboration tools, what are you waiting for? Start researching your options today and be sure to incorporate this book into your technology buying process. With this clear and comprehensive how-to guide in hand, you’ll have a roadmap to success that includes the information you’ll need to choose the right software for your law firm and your clients.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business and Community Relations at My case, web-based law firm management software. She was blog since 2005, wrote a weekly column for the Daily Record since 2007, is the author of Cloud Computing for Lawyersco-authors Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontierand co-authors Criminal Law in New York. She is easily distracted by the potential of shiny and shiny technological gadgets, as well as good food and wine. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack and she can be reached at [email protected].

Jon J. Epps