Here at One Legal, we are always looking for ways to collaborate more efficiently. Given how important files are in any firm, document collaboration tools are a major way to boost communication and communal work on any project.
Until quite recently, sharing and working on documents with colleagues, clients, or other legal professionals was an arduous and complicated process. If you’ve ever had to try and maintain version control of a Microsoft Word document that has been sent back and forth for editing, you’ll know what I mean exactly!
Cloud-based document sharing and collaboration tools have the potential to change that. The benefits are particularly big for small law firms who may bring in additional resources on a case-by-case basis, have staff working remotely, or who don’t have access to an internal file server.
One of the most commonly cited reasons for not making use of these services is their vulnerability to security breaches. Are they secure? Is it safe and ethical to share confidential documents using them? It’s worth remembering that lawyers have always had to entrust documents to others (process servers, court filers, couriers, and others). Online file sharing services are no different and should be held to a similarly high, but not unrealistic standard.
A recent ethics opinion in New Hampshire, cited in the ABA Journal, offers a good summary of the standard applied in most jurisdictions:
“It bears repeating that a lawyer’s duty is to take reasonable steps to protect confidential client information, not to become an expert in information technology. When it comes to the use of cloud computing, the Rules of Professional Conduct do not impose a strict liability standard. As one ethics committee observed, “Such a guarantee is impossible, and a lawyer can no more guarantee against unauthorized access to electronic information than he can guarantee that a burglar will not break into his file room, or that someone will not illegally intercept his mail or steal a fax.”
So, what services are available to choose? Here’s a list of five of the best:
Google Drive features a variety of office apps, including Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Drawings, and My Maps, which you can use to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. Even better? It doesn’t require any software installation, your documents are stored in secured data centers, and you can edit documents together in real-time. Google Docs also allows for tracking changes on documents, and for the export of files for offline use at any time. Drive has been the go-to tool at One Legal, allowing us to work on and share files with anyone in our office and beyond.
With more courts going electronic, it’s important to be able to access your documents electronically, too. With DropBox, you can reach your files from just about any device you have. It allows for editing files right within DropBox and automatically syncs to all of your devices. You can create folders that not only keep you organized, but allow you to share the files within the folders with specific users. And what if you lose a device that has DropBox access? You can remotely wipe data from any device, of course! A nifty feature for when you’re in a bind.
Price: Starting at $9.99 per user per month
Box is a cloud-based software that integrates with a variety of other products to make working on your documents with other members of your team easier. For instance, Box’s integration with Office 365 or Google Apps lets you work right in those platforms, and then stores your files in folders that all of the key teammates for that project can access. You can also change the security for any folder or file, so that only key stakeholders can access them. With unlimited storage, and no file-size limits, think of all of the files you could be working on! Box also offers search and tagging of documents so you can find crucial information right away.
Price: Starting at $5.00 per user per month
Microsoft has introduced new features to Office 365 that enable user access from anywhere with an internet connection. You can now edit documents in real-time, with complete access to all Office 365 desktop applications, including instant messaging, voicemail, email, and video conferencing. Depending on the pricing tier, other features are also available if you have additional needs.
Price: Starting at $5.00 per user per month for small businesses
Huddle is generally used for slightly larger organizations (25+ persons) and allows teams to work collaboratively on projects from anywhere on any device. Among the list of seemingly endless features, you can securely manage documents, track projects and tasks, post comments to each other, sync your calendar, create approval workflows, and track team activity.
Price: Starting at $20 per user per month
Which document collaboration tools have you found to be most useful in your law firm?
Learn how to transform your business into a lean and efficient paperless law office with our free 32-page guide: