Bite-Sized Views from 3Kites Consulting – Everyone is Talking about Collaboration – But What do They Really Mean?

… and in particular, what does collaboration mean in the context of law firms?

The dictionary definition of collaboration is ‘the action of working with someone to produce something’. In most law firms almost every matter requires a collaborative effort, both amongst lawyers and with other staff. It’s nothing new.

What’s more, the good old team meeting, if run appropriately, remains – even if held on Zoom – a crucial way of sharing what’s going on and contributing ideas. On big projects, there will be regular team meetings – even sub-team meetings where appropriate.

But lockdown has made it more difficult to collaborate because the informal ‘popping your head around the door’ isn’t happening. This makes it extra-hard for juniors to raise ideas and questions and it is important that firms, and especially supervisors, take positive action to counteract this – see our forthcoming article on supervision in late April..

What else do people mean when they talk about collaboration?

  • Collaborative drafting. More and more applications are making this possible. Including Microsoft Teams. As a lawyer, this concept used to terrify me. However, if you view document collaboration as simply a way of creating a version with multiple Track Changes in it and remember that it doesn’t take away the need to review what other people have changed, maybe it’s not so scary. It certainly has potential to reduce the time spent combining document mark-ups from multiple people (outside and inside the firm), which could improve efficiency.
  • It has been possible to work collaboratively on wikis for over a decade and in some cases, such as developing thoughts on a newly emerging area of law, it has been very useful.

There are other kinds of interactions that are often included when people talk about collaboration:

  • Reacting to things you read – eg ‘liking’ or commenting on news items on the firm’s intranet. But there will always be a question mark as to whether people will put their head above the parapet.
  • Posting about what you have been doing – like an internal Facebook or Twitter. There are some remarkable examples of this being done successfully and of it helping people to find the right colleague in a large organisation. But it would be a huge culture shift for most law firms.
  • Applications for informal sharing of ideas and thoughts amongst a recognised Team eg Posts/Conversations in Microsoft Teams. These are starting to be used, but the danger this becomes just ‘another place’ where information may be buried.
  • Clients now seem to be keen that their law firms are in the habit of working collaboratively. This is all the more when clients expect firms or law firms and ALSPs to work on a matter together and not to waste time and cost trying to score points off each other.

Collaboration is nothing new, although, especially with remote working, enthusiasm for tools to support collaboration has grown. However, it is always important to avoid proliferation of channels of communication, as they risk adding to inefficiency.

© Copyright 3Kites Consulting Limited 2021
Melanie Farquharson, 3Kites Consulting – April 2021
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3Kites is a consultancy that provides legal firms, in-house legal teams and the professional services sector with fresh thinking based on its unique combination of legal and IT skills and experience. Learn more about 3Kites here.