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Hardly a day passes without references to today’s “globalized world” or its “borderless markets” as the justification for a particular business strategy. Connectivity plays a big part in building and uniting a firm that spans across teams, departments, and geographies. But to fully immerse a law firm in a connected, collaborative environment, it’s important to understand exactly what connectivity is.

At its core, connectivity refers to the depth of a law firm’s integration into the rest of its collaborative ecosystem. It contributes to a sense of solidarity and goes beyond ambition, urging organizations to ally, affiliate, and grow the firm through the right cooperative behavior.

With that in mind, here are my views on the five forces of collaboration that enable this type of connectivity and what law firms need to be mindful of when integrating these forces into their business.

1. Consumerization of IT – Attorneys want the ability to communicate at work the same way they communicate in their personal lives; it’s easy and they’re familiar with it, so why not use these tools at their jobs? The danger is the tools consumers use most commonly, like free Cloud services, are ripe with security holes when it comes to the enterprise. To boot, IT departments may be in the dark about unsanctioned applications employees are using internally. In a survey of nearly 4,000 information workers in the U.S. and UK, 66 percent used free file-sharing platforms. More than half do so without the knowledge of their IT departments.

Security gaps aren’t the only concern. Ironically, while people use these consumer tools to make work easier, they often result in complex data silos. In fact, Forrester reported that nearly half of all information workers use between four and seven collaboration tools to do their jobs, making collaboration more difficult.

If a desire for ease-of-use and collaboration are at the heart of this issue, rolling out an enterprise-grade solution that combines these qualities with a layer of security may be the answer. Under those conditions, attorneys won’t feel compelled to bring in their own solutions.

2. Rise of the Extended Collaborative Ecosystems – Law firms are under pressure to find innovations that reduce costs and inefficiencies, particularly when working with distributed teams. According to an IDC survey, 86 percent of companies consider secure collaboration beyond the boundaries of their organizations important or critical. To this end, many legacy Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Document Management System (DMS) vendors seek partnerships to extend their functionality; however, this is often predicated on owning the customer and setting up walled gardens.

3. IP Protection, Security, and Compliance – Inspiration can strike at any time—at your desk, at home, in a coffee shop, or at the airport. The ability to share and create a discussion around those inspired moments is a cornerstone of collaboration. The question is how to do that easily, without disrupting security and compliance or IP Protection. The increased presence of consumer file-sharing services and BYOD in the workplace has escalated these concerns to the boardroom. Now, organizations focus on protecting their IP and other sensitive data from individuals who wish to upload it on these applications or unauthorized devices, then share, forward, and copy it without authorization.

Those in the boardroom can rest easy; addressing this concern isn’t rocket science. The answer lies in adopting an enterprise-wide platform that conforms to enterprise security standards, such as SAS70 Type II compliant data centers with SSL and AES encryption applied to data in transit and at rest, as well as adjustable permission levels for all users. This platform should also include extended security settings, like permissions that control who can view and edit documents, forward links, make comments, or upload new versions, as well as scrub sensitive information like metadata before someone sends any file. In doing so, securely sharing information becomes less of an obstacle and more of a mainspring for secure collaboration.

4. Big Data – Some dismiss big data as just another buzzword, but it’s one of the driving forces behind collaboration. Two common characteristics are volume and velocity, and with the growing influx of inbound documents and flow of information, organizations have plenty of both. Email, for instance, takes up about 30 percent of attorneys’ time during the day. Consequently, many enterprises are reaching their tipping point, deciding email is too time-consuming and the multiple incoming documents are occupying far too much storage space within the corporate environment. The influx of data, from email alone, creates a significant need to organize large amounts of data storage.

In addition, massive amounts of data require a massive overhaul of a business’ search functionality. First, search enables users to identify and locate relevant documents within their Cloud repository, making all relevant content available instantaneously. Second, search helps prevent users from recreating documents that already exist. With search, users can quickly see and change existing documents, rather than creating new ones from scratch.

Organizations need to harness the intelligence locked in these documents through semantic search and connect the right people to the right content to enable a more productive and efficient collaboration environment.

5. Reducing Productivity Inefficiencies – A recent survey of 220 global legal professionals revealed that almost 80 percent of attorneys are struggling to be productive. To those outside the legal industry, this statistic may be surprising, but for those who work in the sector, it is an all-too-true reflection of their daily lives. For fee earners, this finding may not be surprising given the long hours, changing pricing structures, and continuous need for accuracy.

Firms need to focus more intensely on areas that are zapping attorney time, specifically related to collaboration, as many believe there are more ways to automate processes, particularly around document review.

Attorneys are clearly fed up with admin-intensive and productivity-draining tasks that have a detrimental impact on billable hours. Some firms are already starting to move productivity firmly onto the agenda, with a recent report by ALM Legal Intelligence stating that many large law firms have hired a director of pricing.

The next few months will prove crucial for law firms. They must take a hard look at their resourcing and pricing structures, adapt the way they provide services, and streamline processes to save time. Those who successfully make this transformation will not only make life easier for their lawyers, but also make themselves more profitable.

Barrie Hadfield was among the original founders and CTOs of Workshare, where he served as head of the company’s research and development division. During his tenure, Workshare gained more than 14,000 enterprise customers in 70 countries. He brings more than 20 years of experience conceiving, producing, and selling software.

Prior to Workshare, Barrie founded SQL Development Ltd, growing it organically and employing 20 people who produced SQL data synchronization software for more than 300 enterprise customers in the United Kingdom and North America. He started his entrepreneurial career by founding Information Management Services Ltd in 1990 as a software developer, building data matching systems for The Council of Europe, BZW, and several London law firms.

Barry Keno

Author Barry Keno

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