The legal profession is driven by clients. As a lawyer, there's no reason to draft a contract, file a lawsuit, or do much anything else unless it's connected with representing a client.

Client representation, however, always introduces a knowledge gap. Every deal, contract, dispute, or investigation involves a universe of law and facts that the lawyer must understand thoroughly. But the client holds the answers to two important questions:

  1. What are the client's goals?
  2. What facts are relevant to achieving those goals?

This information isn't passed to the lawyer magically. It has to be communicated. The lawyer shouldn't assume the answers - often it requires digging and prodding to find the real answers. For example, the client's goal may be to win the lawsuit, but it's more important that any outcome happen in the next fiscal year. Without direct and clear communication, the lawyer may never know about this hidden goal.

The lawyer needs to communicate information back to the client, too. That knowledge can alter the client's goal. Knowing how long a certain process might take, what the risks are, and what alternatives exist are often critical to making a decision. The back-and-forth between lawyer and client is what closes the knowledge gap and leads to effective representation. Failure to communicate is the number one reason for filing a bar complaint.

Client Communication Today

So communication is important. But how does client communication work today?

  • Telephones Are Still Great . . . If Both Parties Are Free. The telephone might be ancient technology, but it's still pretty useful. There are plenty of situations where a telephone works better than electronic communication. But the biggest benefit to phone communication is that it's real-time. You find out what you need, can ask follow-up questions, and can share feedback immediately. Plus, it's nice to say hi.

    The downside is that everyone on the call needs to be available. Often trying to schedule a conference call can be a nightmare. The truth is: we're all busy, we're often in different time zones, and it's easier to just send an email, isn't it?

  • Email Is "Always on" and Scales Better. But That's Not Always a Good Thing. Email facilitates faster, asynchronous communication that persists in a searchable form (electronic text). Plus, it lets the writer communicate the same message to multiple recipients. A lawyer can review and respond to dozens of emails a day - way more client communication than possible via phone. So it's more efficient, and that's better, right?

    Turns out, it's really not. Email management is consistently the biggest challenge facing law firms. Everyone is inundated with email, and our inboxes are often a jumbled array of messages, advertisements, irrelevant announcements, and other junk. Somewhere in that mess, a lawyer and client are trying to communicate. That's not a recipe for success.

Next-Level Client Collaboration

The ideal solution puts clients and lawyers into direct communication without the need for simultaneous availability or the clutter of extraneous emails. A space where each side can freely interact and maintain a conversation over the life of each matter; where that conversation can waiver between instant and asynchronous, depending on who's online; and where the client and lawyer can go back and find everything in one place.

In addition, a collaboration solution must make the core elements of the representation readily available to clients. That means granting easy access to client files, drafts, court documents and other information. Most firms rely on extranet solutions to do this. But many CIOs I've spoken with confess that few clients actively use these extranets. Why? Because to use them, a client must:

  • remember to login... (this "step" is often overlooked, but forgetting that it exists is one of the biggest reasons an extranet fails)
  • find the extranet login credentials provided by the law firm
  • navigate to the right document
  • download the document
  • make the appropriate comments, annotations, etc.
  • save the document
  • upload the document back to the extranet
  • let others know the new document is available

Sounds like a lot, huh? Each one of these steps is an opportunity for the client to "opt out" of the collaboration process. No wonder adoption is low.

Lawyers also need to give clients an understanding of the "to-do's" in their matters. A place to go anytime to get answers to the critical questions: what's being worked on now? How's it going? What else needs to be done? And what's finished? Phone calls are great for discussing these questions, but with nothing written down, you can't look back or generate reports on progress. In practice, most task updates are shared via email, or not at all.

How ThreadKM Is Solving These Problems

If these sound like pretty big problems, they are. Instead of being enriching, "collaboration" is more akin to a nagging headache that most of lawyers simply accept as part of job. But poor client communication can cost a relationship, and that costs money.

At ThreadKM, we've set out to solve these problems. ThreadKM is a platform that bridges the knowledge gap and makes happier lawyers and clients. Here's a quick look at how it works:

  • Threads. Persistent, matter-centric real-time communication. A Thread is an environment for discussion. For sharing links. For receiving notifications from any platform integration. Threads centralize all of your matter discussion and makes it searchable. Imagine an ongoing, secure, and privileged confidential communication with your client that's available on every device. Imagine never having to file an email again.

    Threads bring lawyers and clients closer together, instead of imposing distance the way email does. That makes for better lawyering, and better business.

  • Thread Files. A web-based, mobile-friendly view into the entire matter file, pulled straight from the document management system. Thread Files lets clients not just see the documents, but easily highlight and discuss relevant portions of them. Of course, the client's comments are pushed to the matter's Thread automatically. Every lawyer subscribed to that Thread gets notified and can respond right away. Nice, huh?

  • Thread Projects. Kanban-style task management for lawyers. Nobody likes task lists and checkboxes. And not surprisingly, few lawyers use them. But Kanban boards have been gaining momentum in other industries as the best way to visualize a project, breaking down tasks into discrete cards that can be discussed and moved from one stage of progress to the next until completion.

In the coming months, we'll share more about each of these features and provide real-world examples of how ThreadKM is making a difference. If you are interested in learning more about ThreadKM at your firm, drop me a line at dan@threadkm.com.