- Law Practice Division’s Legal Technology Resource Center board members answer questions about personal knowledge management.
Read responses from the LTRC November roundtable focusing on Collaboration Tools & Technologies.
TM: I was already using Zoom and Microsoft Teams for collaboration prior to March 2020; but my use of them increased exponentially due to the pandemic. Also, more people are using meeting scheduling apps with me than before 2020.
DK: Because Tom Mighell and I were working on the new edition of our, book, The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, during that time, it’s almost easier to list the ones that I didn’t try (laughs). I’ll generally try any new tool that someone wants me to try. The new tools I’d highlight are the videoconferencing tools, Notion, and scheduling tools like Calendly.
RT: Although we were using Zoom and Microsoft 365 before then, we came to rely on them much more, and we have matured in our use of them as those products continue to evolve and add features. We’ve also added Airtable, Miro, and are experimenting with several other cloud-based tools for our fully-remote staff.
MG: Both Zoom and MS Teams were effectively new collaboration tools for me as I had not used either of them much at all prior to March 2020. I’ve also begun using google docs and google pages for ABA LTRC mtgs.
TT: We are now using the following collaboration tools Dubsado and Google Data Studios, to help improve our efficiency and the client experience.
TM: Microsoft Teams is without a doubt the most useful collaboration tool I use. My team of consultants uses Teams exclusively for project work - we rarely if ever use email to communicate with each other, and we access all of our client files through the Teams (or SharePoint interface). Further, most of our clients also use Teams, so we are able to interact with them directly within the application - it has been a huge improvement to our collaboration processes. Dennis Kennedy and I also use Teams to facilitate our podcast and bookwriting efforts, and we used Teams to write the latest edition of our book, The Lawyer's Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, Work from Home Edition."
DK: To paraphrase Steve Jobs, the best collaboration tool is the one that you have at hand and will work with the person you are collaborating with. My regular collaboration “stack” lately includes Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Notion, and Calendly. Each of them is powerful and continues to improve.
RT: Both Zoom and Teams have become the primary methods our office uses to communicate and interact. I prefer Zoom for most meetings and events, but use Teams for one-to-one staff interactions. Zoom continues to evolve and improve their collaboration tools as we continue to improve our skills using the product. We have a “cameras on” policy for all internal meetings which helps to boost the quality of communication because of the importance of visual queues when conversing.
MG: Again, Zoom & Teams, though I use Zoom much more than Teams, mostly due to ease of use.
TT: We have found that Google Sheets, Dubsado and Slack are our most helpful collaboration tools. Google Sheets allows us to easily share metrics and KPI reporting with clients with real-time updates. To automate the invoicing for our subscription-based clients, we have been using Dubsado, and it has made the process more efficient. Our team has also found that slack is a very effective way for our offshore team to stay in communication for quick follow-ups and projects that we are collaborating on.
DS: The collaboration tools I find my helpful are Google Docs and MS Word since they allow me to create a single source collaborative document where there are multiple contributors.
TM: I choose to use collaboration tools because work with clients or really anyone else is pretty much impossible without them, or at the very least incredibly inconvenient. Collaboration is a critical part of what legal professionals do - whether it's with clients, colleagues, or others. And without the right collaboration tools, those relationships can suffer.
DK: I have a collaboration goal of making myself easy to work with. I try to be flexible in what I’m willing to use to make it easier for others, as well as for me. I also look for tools that take care of jobs that need to be done, reduce friction, or solve bothersome problems. For example, Calendly has eliminated the need to exchange multiple emails to find a time for a Zoom meeting. Someone can schedule me by grabbing an open slot on my public calendar and the meeting automatically gets set up in Zoom. It’s simple and elegant, other important factors in deciding on a tool to continue using.
RT: Our office was so successful with our transition to remote work, and our employees overwhelmingly prefer to primarily work from home, so we continue to be a distributed workforce. We need collaboration tools that help replace the interactions within a single office space. We know we are still early in the evolution to remote work so continue to work on our skills to replace those we knew in the office including meaningful oversight.
MG: I use Zoom for multi-office meetings for my firm. I use both programs for ABA, local bar committee and other legal-group meetings when those chairs provide them due to diverse locations of participants as well as lingering covid-related concerns of other meeting participants.
TT: We chose to continue using collaboration tools because our team works remotely between the US and 3 different cities within the Philippines. These collaborative tools allow us to be effective while delivering the outcomes that our clients need.
DS: I rarely use collaborative tools for significant drafting work. Too many times, there is a need to know who made what changes and be able to discuss those changes before they go into a final document. Consequently, track changes is more useful.
TM: I guess the biggest lesson is that although many say "legal technology advanced 10 years in 10 months," we still have a long way to go when it comes to the proper use of collaboration tools in the law practice environment. Although many of these tools have been out for 5 years or more, many lawyers continue to lag behind in learning how to use them, which could seriously hamper relationships with clients who do want to get better at collaborating.
DK: Can we all agree that email is not a great all-purpose collaboration tool? Being able to be flexible and make it easy for others to work might be my biggest lesson. This time period has also emphasized what I sometimes call the “golden rule of collaboration”: collaborate with others as you would want them to collaborate with you. Try to understand what devices and constraints that others have. Another important lesson is that many cloud tools have useful collaboration tools built into them and continue to add more. Keep on learning.
RT: Even though we telecommuted one day a week before the pandemic, working primarily from home post-pandemic requires new collaboration tools and skills. We are all still early in that learning process. We continue to emphasize that each employee needs to understand the full collaboration features of MS Office, Teams, and Zoom and develop stronger skills so that we have positive and stress-free experiences each time we use them. Also, we continue to tweak policies associated with our technology so that employees and clients (our members) have a positive communication and collaboration experience each time we interact.
MG: It’s important to use good quality microphone & speaker equipment, and to use a professional background.
TT: Two of the biggest lessons that we have learned about collaboration tools are; 1) establish ground rules so the entire team knows how the tools should be used and 2) provide training videos or tutorials so new members of the team will have a lower learning curve when they join the team.
DS: I have not learned any new lessons about collaborative tools since March 2020. However, the use of such tools emphasizes the need to retain metadata and creates the exposure for significant ESI expenses when there are lawsuits in the future that target documents and decisions made using collaborative tools.
TM: I am interested to see what collaboration looks like in the metaverse - as virtual environments become more popular, I could easily see lawyers and clients participating in virtual meetings rather than incurring expense for travel. You can already host a meeting using M365 in metaverse conference rooms - it's easy to set up a conference table, invite your meeting attendees, and present a PowerPoint slide deck all in a virtual world. So I'll be looking at those tools this year to see if there are any advances.
DK: I want to dig even deeper into Notion than I already am. I see so many things it can do for me. Similarly, I want to spend more time in Microsoft 365 and learn more about all of its collaboration capabilities. Another area is the intersection of collaboration and community. I like the community-building platform at Mighty Networks and have some experiments planned there for 2023. And, of course, anything I’m not already using that makes it easier for others to work with me that they suggest.
RT: Currently, we are exploring Monday.com to use as our project management tool.
TT: For next year we would like to explore a collaborative workflow management tool to see if it will allow the team to be more efficient as we continue to scale the business.
DS: Perhaps, if Teams and law firms begin to use collaborative tools outside of a single firm environment, the use of collaborative tools will extend to sole practitioners.