Quick Hits Friday: Extranets, and the Exceptional Client Experience

There are two competing views this week on the use of extranets and client portals, though.

On the one hand, there is Mitch Jackson, 2013 California Litigation Lawyer of the Year, who believes there are certain things lawyers must do today in order to stay digitally relevant, raise the bar, and give your clients an exceptional experience. One of the those things is 24/7 Client Satisfaction. He doesn’t just mean being an advocate for your client. He means also giving clients access to their information at any time, from anywhere through a client portal, or extranet. Jackson explains that, through his firm’s client portal,

“At their convenience and anytime during the day or night, clients can log onto their portal and check their case calendar and upcoming hearings. They can access their case documents online or download to review later while on the go.”

He also clarifies that:

Although we’re always available during normal office hours to take calls, clients can use their portal to communicate (think private email) with lawyers and support staff and information and documents can be easily exchanged. Add 24/7 live website chat and telephone answering service and our clients are happy. Very happy.

Meeting clients where they are by giving them access to their information anytime they want it translates into an exceptional client experience for Jackson and his law firm. To him, a client portal is a key ingredient to being digitally relevant, raising the bar and giving your clients an exception experience. As we’ve all become accustomed to accessing information anytime, anywhere, it is hard to argue with his point of view. But there is an argument to be made that extranets are not the client success expected.

Caitlin Moon, a veteran business transaction lawyer, argues that clients don’t want the burden of another username and password to access extranets. She thinks you must ask yourself what your clients want instead of assuming they want an extranet. She makes a very good case from her own experience. Also a tech-savvy lawyer, she used PBWorks LegalHub (prior to its revamp), and

diligently created PBWorks workspaces for business and estate planning clients in my transactional practice. Configuring the workspaces was somewhat cumbersome, which made me feel all the more invested in having clients use them.

I loved my extranets. My clients did not. Well, for the most part. Those who did like it, like my developer and my creative clients, were already accustomed to using a cloud-based collaboration tool. Everyone else? They would log in to the workspace, but they didn’t use it to communicate. They sent me emails. They didn’t use it to share documents; they sent them as email attachments.

Despite making it as easy as possible for her clients to access their information at any time, from anywhere through extranets, much like Jackson has done, her clients still preferred to email her. Even when she explained the benefits of extranets, like transparency, efficiency and improved communications, her clients still shunned the extranet in favour of the familiar: email. To accomodate, she describes how she adjusts her process:

So for most clients I bypass the extranet, and honor their request to use email (while still following my golden rule, above). But I’ve tweaked the process a bit: for example, I use links (with expiration dates) to secure cloud platforms for sharing documents instead of attaching documents email messages.

What’s your opinion?

Featured image: “Fist hitting, fist punching” from Shutterstock.

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  • Krzysztof Lipski

    Good one, thanks ! parket-sofia.eu

  • Josephine David

    Great article for the legal folk :) Collaboration with clients is huge for us. We kicked off a Sharepoint project a few years ago. I think we spent close to $3000 on trying to get a client site up; about half of which was on customizations. Long story short: a complete disaster. We didn’t fully implement when finished because it was too complicated and our clients wouldn’t adopt. Suddenly everyone was using email again! Online client collaboration is a must-have. But unless it’s simply to use, all the other bells and whistles the technology guys push matter less if no one adopts. That’s the dirty little secret about Sharepoint and a lot of other collaboration apps. There seems to be total disregard for the end-user. It should also be taken from the customer’s point of view. What are they trying to do? Law firms like ours are trying gain an edge on competition. We don’t need to “collaborate internally” with software (just go walk 10 feet down the hall…). Big corporations needs SW for that. What law firms DO need is to “collaborate externally” with clients, partners, suppliers… It’s do or die on cash flow. And driving stronger relationships with clients through collaboration tools is a great focus. But all those features mentioned above matter little if clients don’t adopt them because they’re too confusing. I’ve traveled a long road with SharePoint and Jive. You want to waste a lot of money and scare and frustrate your customers? The part all these software DON’T get is that all the features (file sharing, proj mgt, wiki, etc) are very much commoditized. First, it has to be rock solid secure. Then must be easy, as in Facebook easy. Otherwise you’re going to spend a whole bunch of time and money on complicated interface that customer won’t use. We have a whole lot scars in this area, but saw the importance of “customer engagement”. We now use Centroy. It’s super easy, yet has all the fancy features boiled down like Apple. I’m not at all tied to these guys. Just a satisfied customer after going down a long road.