The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies

We trace the birth of the original idea for this book to a column we wrote called “The Strongest Links: Instant Messaging Resources” in September 2005 for the ABA’s Law Practice Today webzine. For some time we had been co-writing the regular monthly column on the best internet resources for lawyers on a variety of law practice management topics. For fun, and to find a different way to work together, we wrote the column in real time as an instant messaging session using Skype’s instant messaging tools—including emoticons and acronyms like IMHO and FWIW. It was cutting edge then. It seems a little quaint now.

Although we were intrigued by how well our column on instant messaging turned out—it’s one of our favorite columns—we did not return to Skype or instant messaging as a writing tool. Our writing practices seemed to lend themselves more to asynchronicity (not occurring at the same time) rather than real-time collaboration. However, it’s also important to note that we never returned to our previous practice of one of us writing the first draft of the column in Microsoft Word and sending it to the other as an email attachment, then the other making revisions and additions and emailing it back as an attachment, and so on until we were done.

In large part, the reason was that in August 2005, the Writely online word processing tool arrived online. Both of us began using Writely in September 2005 and then started using it for articles we co-wrote with others. Google later purchased Writely in 2006 and renamed it Google Docs, and we continued to use it to write our columns and articles after the acquisition.

We started each column in Google Docs; each of us would add to and edit the column over the course of a few days or a week, working on it whenever we had a little time or a new idea. And an interesting thing happened. The columns started to have a voice that was a combination of the two of us. Dennis recalls a time when he read a paragraph in a column and realized that he could not tell which of us had written or revised it and that it was better than what either of us would have written on our own.

As we looked at the methods we used to collaborate and started to examine all of the other tools that might be available, we began to realize that technology was evolving toward the development of “social networking” (LinkedIn launched in 2003, Facebook opened to everyone in 2006, and Twitter started us tweeting in 2006) and different collaborative tools. We also saw how the tools we were using, especially Google Docs, had practical implications for the practice of law, not just our writing.

At the time, we both maintained blogs covering legal technology and internet topics (we aren’t quite as zealous now at keeping up the blogs as we were back then). As bloggers, we saw how we and other bloggers were starting to use Wikis and other collaboration tools on a regular basis. The “Web 2.0” era of internet applications was in full swing, and our blogging friends seemed to be trying and recommending Web 2.0 tools on a daily basis. “Web 2.0” also seems like a quaint term these days. “Cloud” is now the standard term. When we wrote about Web 2.0 resources for lawyers in our “Strongest Links” column in January 2006, we were struck by the way innovative solo and small firm lawyers had already experimented with these tools. With low-cost services like Basecamp, these lawyers had done things for themselves and their clients that many large law firms hadn’t even tried with the high-end applications they already owned.

Another step in the evolution of collaboration technologies involved Microsoft Office 2007, which became a great example of the way software vendors started to incorporate collaboration features into the standard programs lawyers use every day. Adobe Acrobat 8 also included significant improvements in its collaboration features. In fact, everywhere we looked we found standard legal technology tools with new collaboration capabilities.

At the same time, Wikipedia captured everyone’s attention as a new form of collaborative encyclopedia. Several legal Wikis followed the Wikipedia model. We saw Microsoft SharePoint, a collaboration tool, becoming the hot topic at legal technology conferences we attended. The explosion of e-discovery in litigation also required the use of collaborative tools for review, case management, document storage, and other legal tasks.

As we worked with our friends and colleagues on various projects, we saw the value of these tools. We also saw conference calls, webinars, document sharing, and other methods of collaboration becoming more routine in the practice of law. At the same time, we saw lawyers struggling to learn how to use redlining tools and Track Changes and metadata in documents. Collaboration tools brought both a new promise and a new layer of challenges to the legal profession. In his annual article on legal technology trends, Dennis highlighted collaboration technologies as one of his top legal trends to watch for in 2007.

So much has happened since then.

The iPhone was unveiled in June 2007. It’s now inconceivable to think about collaboration tools without smartphones and mobile apps. Cloud services exploded from a few examples to many examples and cloud computing has become a standard choice. Collaboration tools have come and gone. SharePoint might have been the focus of the first edition of this book, but Slack is the hot tool as this edition is written.

Yet some things have not changed, or have continued to evolve.

Collaboration has always been part of the development of legal technology. Developments in electronic discovery continue to drive lawyers, clients, and vendors to work together in new ways. Outsourcing and working from remote locations have also grown in popularity in the legal profession.

We still believe that collaboration technologies and tools are the most important current development in legal technology and are likely to increase in importance for the foreseeable future. As we said in the first edition: This book grew out of that realization. We hope to give you a guidebook to our collaborative future and help you select the tools and strategies that will serve you well now and for years to come, as the collaboration landscape continues to evolve.

We chose to write this book using the collaboration tools we discuss in this book. In the computer business, that is often referred to as “eating your own dog food.” In other words, it means having the courage to use your own products. This book reflects our own practical experience using these tools.

For the original book, each of the chapters was written as a separate document on Google Docs. One of us started each chapter, and then both of us revised and finished the chapters on Google Docs. We stored and shared research by sharing bookmarks through Yahoo’s MyWeb. We used email much less than you might expect, although it was our primary channel to work with our editors and publishers. We often used Skype instant messaging to discuss new ideas and directions for the book and to divide work assignments. An outline and a couple of simple spreadsheets in Google Docs turned into our project management tools.

When we spoke to each other, we used Skype, especially if we wanted to record our conversation about the book for later use. We used plain old telephone calls when we needed to talk through the division of work, deadlines, and how we planned to write chapters—what to leave out, and more often, what to include. We also spent some time experimenting with the tools we discuss in the book. Our hands-on experience using these collaboration tools provided many of the practical insights and tips you will learn in this book.

Fast-forward nearly 10 years. The collaboration landscape has changed tremendously—many of the tools mentioned in the first edition don’t even exist anymore (R.I.P. Yahoo MyWeb, for example). But in their place, more tools arrived that fit the new ways people have found to work together. Instead of Skype, we used Slack more often to communicate with each other and share information as we wrote the second edition. We still used Google Docs, but because we were updating an earlier version we did not use Google Docs to create documents from scratch. We found that collaboration tools have evolved to meet the needs of the people who use them, taking advantage of new and better technologies that make working together easier than ever. And we tried some new tools that just didn’t work for us, even though they might be great for you. You live and learn.

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