With multiple offices and hundreds, if not thousands, of employees, law firms are always looking for ways to aid and ease communication among their lawyers and staff. And in this hyper-connected age, firms have never had more options in terms of communication technology.
In a detailed new article for Legal Technology News (free registration required), Robyn Weisman discusses how law firms can use internal social media to encourage better communication and collaboration. Internal social media resembles commercial tools like Facebook and Twitter, but are exclusive to the firm. That exclusivity is important, says Weisman, because it enables firm employees to share ideas and documents without risking public exposure.
The article highlights several new communication technologies that law firms have found useful. Yammer, for instance, is a Twitter-like application that can be limited to just the firm’s intranet users. Weisman also discusses Microsoft’s SharePoint product, an intranet and document sharing tool that has been embraced by firms like Fenwick & West, Reed Smith and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. Flexibility and usability appear to be SharePoint’s biggest selling points. Information can be organized in a variety of ways (by client, practice group, or industry, for instance), and simple drag and drop technology allows users to easily customize sites.
SharePoint may be an improvement over the intranet programs these firms were previously using, but other applications have the potential to more fundamentally change the way employees communicate. Reed Smith, for instance, is experimenting with Pulse, a Yammer competitor. Pulse maps into SharePoint, offering users one-stop-shopping for firm communication. Reed Smith chief knowledge officer Tom Baldwin believes Pulse could potentially replace email for the firm, a move that would represent a sea change in firm communication.
The plethora of new communications technologies promise to alter the way firms exchange information. But this week the ABA Journal makes an important point that can be easy to overlook in an increasingly high tech industry: all the communication tools in the world will not replace the value of a conversation. The post highlights the recent New York Times op-ed by MIT professor Sherry Turkle, in which Turkle argues that “[w]e expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.” Firms cannot ignore the importance of relationships; they are essential in an industry based on trust. While law firms should continue to embrace new communication technology if it helps them work better, they need to remember that the conversation itself is more important.
Posted by Emily Fisher