Here is an article (click this link) from Stewart Levine in the US that sets out pretty much our approach to developing collaboration across a legal practice. It covers territory I’ve been threatening to write about for some time, but not found the time! There are a host of collaborative tools available now to law firms but few are used to anything like their full potential because there is rarely a consensus or shared understanding of what can be achieved. There is a bit of a “chicken and egg” conundrum here; it is difficult to think about what can be achieved until you see it in practice, but it’s difficult to commit the time to putting it in place until you can see how it works! So developing a vision and a business case are essential – see below. The obstacle is not now the technology, but the attitudes of lawyers who have not yet quite grasped how they and their clients can benefit from more effective collaboration – because they haven’t yet experienced it.
However, we are at a stage in the development legal services which will require lawyers to change rapidly how they work and communicate, invariably requiring that they make better use of technology at their fingertips in a modern environment to provide and manage better service. To respond, lawyers will need to learn and want to collaborate more effectively and the firms that get this right first will be the leanest, most capable and most successful in the future.
Collaboration internally and with clients or with business partners will increasingly add competitive advantage for the firms prepared to invest time in preparing their lawyers for the new user-friendly and affordable collaborative technologies (portals, worksites etc.) that are coming on stream. To achieve this quickly or to accelerate the process of change that will already be evolving in more progressive firms requires a structured approach to developing that willingness and determination to collaborate. Much of this also ties into a drive for more effective client relationship management too.
Stewart concludes that a legal practice should take the following steps to get these collaborative tools working effectively for your practice:
- Assess the environment – what is currently happening, what needs and tools do you have already.
- Identify Collaborative Business Processes
- Build a Collaborative Vision
- Build a Business Case for Collaboration
- Identify Sponsor
- Develop a Collaboration Strategy
- Select Collaboration Technologies
- Run a Pilot Project
- Enterprise Rollout
- Review, Measure, Report and Adapt
To this I would also add the need to communicate throughout this process and to begin to use some of the collaborative tools that are being considered within the project itself to gather feedback as this project moves along. People are then gradually moving in right direction and beginning to experience the potential of better collaboration from early on – even if they haven’t fully grasped it yet.