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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