Legal profession told to embrace collaboration

Lawyers in both law firms and corporate departments are being encouraged to break down the barriers of traditional information hoarding within their organizations and make use of new collaborative tools being touted at LegalTech 2012 in New York City this week.

During his keynote address today, technology futurist and author Don Tapscott told the audience of legal and IT professionals that the time we are in right now should be considered Knowledge Management 2.0.

“We are moving from the old which saw a system of finite resources kept internally and containerized. Now we are moving into a period of infinite resources shared both internally and externally and collaboratively,” said Tapscott who is also an adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

During Tapscott’s address, he pointed to new collaborative platforms, many being showcased at LegalTech, that promote personal profiles and professional strengths of individuals in firms and departments and allow for document sharing, blogging, and social networking in the work environment.

Some of these tools include, a web-based service that looks and feels like LinkedIn and Facebook applied to law firm personalities and shows what matters they are working on. Unlike Facebook though, it promotes serious workflow production by allowing for document sharing and promotes peer-to-peer collaboration.

“These are new operating systems for law firms where the talent is the app. It represents a whole new kind of collaboration for a firm. This is an extraordinary time to be in the field of law,” said Tapscott, adding that the current generation of students have grown up collaborating online and will be entering the field of law expecting to work this way.

As proof of how technology is already transforming legal departments, the sessions at LegalTech are highlighting what firms in the United States are already doing to improve collaboration and cut costs. For example, Scott Christensen, director of information technology at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP, told attendees at a session that “it would not be unheard of” to have a 60-per-cent return on investment by moving to a cloud computing environment at a law firm that currently has 20 to 30 servers.

Other key technologies cutting costs and promoting collaboration include video conferencing. Use of that technology by law firms went up five per cent last year in the United States, said Jim McCue of Rodney Dickason Sloan Akin & Robb P.A.

“This is expansion of video conferencing beyond the conference room,” said McCue, pointing to several key business drivers including attorney time, client restrictions on travel, recruiting, and portability as the technology improves for desktop and mobile applications such as Skype and FaceTime.

Marcus Bluestein, chief technology officer with Kraft & Kennedy Inc., also referenced the use of Lync 2010 from Microsoft, a server that allows for unified communication of instant messaging, file transfer, peer-to-peer, and multiparty voice and video calling and can be extended both within an organization and externally to users on standard phones and the Internet. By using the technology, his firm was able to reduce conference call costs by 70 per cent.

Legal Tech continues through Feb. 1.

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