Dec. 19, 2012

Social Business Makes Sense for the Legal Profession

Representatives from Duo recently attended a seminar hosted by law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP and the Illinois Technology Association. The seminar topic was “Collaboration: Unlocking the Value of Social Technologies.” Panelist Michael Chui from the McKinsey Global Institute is the principal author of a study on a similar theme produced by his organization, called “The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity through Social Technologies”

Considering the esteem of these industry leading participants one might think socializing the business of law had gone mainstream and is a done deal. But such is not the case. In fact, it is barely on the radar of most lawyers, law marketers or the firms that employ them. As one lawyer attending the event indicated to us, just getting their email system to perform reliably still remained one of the firm’s challenges. Social business? A distant thought.

Collaboration is Key

I was therefore excited to read Daanish Khan’s recent article in the ABA's Law Practice Today webzine, “A Legal Case for Social Collaboration – Becoming More Efficient in Less Time.” In sum, Khan provides emphatic support for social business in law.  He notes, “The legal profession is highly collaborative in nature… Managing clients and teams can be complex … especially with ineffective communication practices.”

Email #Fail

Khan sums up what most of us feel about email. Good for sending a note but deadly as a collaborative tool. Email gets lost in the thread of other email. Reply-all gets out of hand. There is no priority or cataloging. The overhead of email administration – if one bothers at all – can be overwhelming.

Social Collaboration

Where email fails, social technologies excel. As Khan notes, “These (social) solutions…improve dialogue among teams by creating live streams to share knowledge, update each other on progress, flag potential problems or brainstorm solutions.”

Risks

Were social business technologies without risk, adoption would be virtually friction-free and considerably more rapid than it is.  Confidentiality is a real concern but more a red herring than a true obstacle. Security and confidentiality can be addressed. As Khan notes, “Legal teams … should rest assured that a class of social business tools purposely allows for securely managed, private groups for information sharing.”

Khan’s reassurances notwithstanding, Leonard Ferber, Co-Chair of Katten Muchin’s Technology Practice noted at the seminar “All business interactions or collaborations involve risk, but the use of social technologies heightens the risk.” We won’t argue the point. Except we will ask the record to show that the same points were made when firms started doing business by fax and then again by email. While it is important to be mindful of the risks, the McKinsey report suggests productivity gains of 20% to 25% can be achieved through social technologies. With that kind of surplus, powerful market forces will find ways to reap the benefits and mitigate these risks.

Yes, social business is coming to the legal profession. If you don’t think so, let me know and why.

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