Collaboration tools, technologies that people use in order to work with each other, are useful for law firms of all sizes, and they don’t need to break the bank! Helping attorneys to communicate, meet, create and work on documents, share files, and other activities, these tools help lawyers collaborate with all the people they work with – co-workers, clients, opposing counsel, the courts – anyone with whom a lawyer interacts as part of a law practice.
Collaboration tools can include Zoom and Microsoft Teams for meeting, Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat to work on documents together, or tools like Box, Dropbox, or OneDrive for file sharing.
On Balance hosts Molly Ranns and JoAnn Hathaway welcome Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell to hear their many insights on collaborative technologies. They offer tips on assessing needs, selecting the right tools, and thoughtfully introducing new technology into your law firm’s processes.
Check out Dennis and Tom’s book: The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together and their podcast: The Kennedy-Mighell Report.
Dennis Kennedy is an information technology lawyer and legal technology pioneer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Tom Mighell is currently senior consultant for Contoural, Inc., working with corporations to improve their records management and e-discovery practice.
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Molly Ranns: Hello, and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s on Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I’m Molly Ranns.
JoAnn Hathaway: And I’m JoAnn Hathaway. We’re very pleased to have Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell join us today as our podcast guest to talk about collaboration tools, technologies and tips. So Dennis and Tom, would you please share some information about yourselves with our listeners and Dennis will start with you.
Dennis Kennedy: It’s great to be here, and I’m a relatively new member of the Michigan Bar. So this is especially exciting for me, but I’ve been a lawyer for a long time, retired as an inhouse counsel at Mastercard, and my retirement has now taken me to both Michigan State Law School and University of Michigan Law School where I’m doing some teaching and I’m currently the Interim Director of Michigan State Center for Law, Technology & Innovation and I’ve been involved in the world of Legal Technology for many years and written, podcasted, blogged and done about everything else in terms of communicating about the role of technology in the practice of law including just starting to do some TikTok videos.
Tom Mighell: Hi, Joanne and Molly, my name is Tom Mighell. My day job, I’m a lawyer by trade. I was a lawyer for 18 years, but I’ve been a consultant now for about the last 10 years. I work for a company called Contoural. We are an information governance company. We help organizations get control over their records and information. Like Dennis have been doing lots of writing, lots of podcasting, lots of speaking on Legal Technology over the years. The only thing that Dennis left out is that we are both the co-hosts of the Kennedy-Mighell Report, a podcast on Legal Technology with an internet focus that we put out usually twice a month and happy to be here.
Molly Ranns: Great. Thank you both so much for joining us. Tom, let’s start with you. Are collaboration tools just for large firms?
Tom Mighell: Well, absolutely not. That is, I think a misconception when lawyers who may be solo or small firm think about collaboration tools, they think, “Well, I don’t have anybody to collaborate with” but think about that seriously. Do you have anybody to collaborate with? If you have one client, you’re collaborating with them. If you have the courts, you’re collaborating with them. If you have an assistant in the other room, you collaborate with them. Collaboration is really the idea of working with another person or people towards a common goal whether that’s on a case, on a transaction, on some other project that you have. So the number of people don’t really matter for collaboration tools to work, it’s just really how you get them to work in the specific tools that you have to use. Historically, large firms have started to use collaboration tools more frequently, but we are seeing many, many solo and small firms start to use the collaboration tools that they have in software and applications that they are already using, but also starting to make use of more tools as they go along. So there’s no size limit. Collaboration tools really applied to everybody and have a use for lawyers no matter who you’re working with.
Tom Mighell: Yeah. I just want to second what time said that a lot of times you think, “Well, I need something that’s specifically, this collaboration tool, the set of tools or a suite of tools, and it’s going to cost millions of dollars and only large organizations or large firms can do.” But some of the most exciting stuff that’s happening and some of the things that clients really appreciate, it’s happened at the small firm level. We’re using very simple tools that are readily available and are also super easy for clients to use. So we do like to say that law is by its nature very collaborative profession. So I think that once you kind of step back and say, “What is it that we really do and who all do we work with?” You start to see that you are using collaboration tools even if you don’t define them as that, but it also shows you some of the opportunities out there.
JoAnn Hathaway: Thank you. And Dennis, if you take the lead on this, what have you learned during the last year and a half working from home?
Dennis Kennedy: I’ve learned a couple of things. So one is, I really enjoy working from home, and I really don’t miss working the open office space. I used to have it at Mastercard, but I think what we all have learned is that the tools and the Internet infrastructure has evolved in such a way that we’re now just thought were barely possible a while back.
So we’re now on this video call, we’re super familiar with how to do this. I tend to use Zoom meetings more than regular phone calls. So we’ve learned that we can do this. We’ve learned that people can work from home. We’ve learned that people can have flexibility, and there are tools out there like Zoom, like Slack, like Microsoft Teams that we can actually work together really efficiently and a lot of times much more effectively using technology and to me, just the fact that it’s become so simple to schedule calls and find times on calendars and stuff like that. All these really small things have helped us. And then, I think we’ve also used that to look at, I guess, two things I would want to say. We’ve looked at ways to make it easier for clients to work with us and the number of tools to do that, and we’ve also kind of focused on the core thing of what is important to us. I remember back in March of 2020, when there were law firms like designating one of their employees, a staff member of course not a lawyer to go into the office to open up the mail, to get checks and make sure the bills were being paid. And now, you see this movement to online payments, client portals, those sorts of things has really started to happen. So I think people kind of said, “Hey, what would –.” We sort of had the question of “What happens if we actually can’t go into the office for an extended period of time.” It has opened the door to a lot of tools.
Tom Mighell: I think that what’s interesting to me, and this is an overused phrase but I’m going to use it is that people have said that Legal Technology advanced 10 years and 10 months that we started to be locked down, and I think that the general lesson there is that forcing everybody to go home forced a lot of changes in thinking about what tools to use, because the tools that Dennis was talking about are all tools that existed before the pandemic. It’s not like they sprung up to meet a need that previously didn’t exist. They were already there. Lawyers just discovered them for the first time and started using them a lot more. So I think that who as it says, “Never waste a good crisis”, it feels like we have come a long way using collaboration tools during the last year and a half. Zoom. We say in the book that we’re getting ready to put out. Zoom became both a noun and a verb over this period of time. But also new technologies have come up. You’ve noticed there’s some technology companies have noticed that being on a flat Zoom screen, waiting for one person to finish talking so another could talk is just not an optimal experience for conferences, for getting together and having more social events or other types of things. So there’s been a lot as an example, a lot of expansion in what I would call the spatial audio space where there are applications coming out that allow you to participate virtually but you can literally virtually walk to one end of a room and have a conversation with one person and walk to the other end of the “room” and have a conversation with somebody else. These tools weren’t really in development that much before the pandemic, but now we’re seeing the need of here’s why needing to collaborate in a virtual environment is requiring us to think of new ways to use the technology we already have. So it’s as bad as the last two years have been working from home, and the reasons why we’ve had to, there have been a lot of positive developments on the collaboration technology front.
Molly Ranns: Tom, starting with you on this one, why are audits and clients surveys your favorite tools?
Tom Mighell: Well, they’re favorites because it’s not a good idea to start thinking about collaboration tools by just saying, “Hey, I’m going to make Zoom my collaboration tool with my clients and be done with it.” We really think that to understand the tools that you need to use and how you’re going to use them, you’ve got to understand both one what you’re currently doing, what you need to do and then also what your clients are doing. The audit that we talk about is understanding the tools that you already have. Do you have tools that are capable, that have collaboration features on them that you can share or otherwise work with other people using those tools? If you don’t or if there’s a lack, then figure out, all right, what are the gaps that are missing? Do I need a way to collaborate on documents? Do I need a better way to have meetings? Do I need a better way to sign transaction papers? What is the collaboration effort that I’m missing here? And then, you want to turn those questions outward to your clients and say, “What are you using?” There are really a couple of reasons for that. The first is to understand one what they’re using so that it can make it easier for you to work with them.
You will be able to use the tools that they have to the extent that they have them. If they don’t have a tool for something, then they can use your tools. Second reason is sometimes the tool your client is using, it tends to be much better and it’s something you never even thought about. So we are learning from our clients too, especially if you tend to be working with corporations. Sometimes corporations tend to be ahead of the game, collaboration wise than law firms and lawyers are. And so it’s good to work with them to understand so that you may come away with that finding that there are other tools or techniques that you didn’t know about that would be helpful for you, not just with this client, but with other clients.
Dennis Kennedy: I think that — I do hate the term audit, having one spend a tax lawyer and still being a taxpayer. But I do think you want to get an understanding of what it is that you have, because sometimes you’re thinking like, “Oh, do I need to go out and shop for all these collaboration tools and bring new stuff in when I barely feel like I’m touching the surface of what I already own”, and you’re going to find collaboration tools in your case management software. You’re definitely going to find it in Microsoft 365, the whole suite, and they’re adding more and more tools. I think that’s what move people to Microsoft Teams, but there’s a lot happening there. And so I think you have this way of moving to collaboration without spending money because you may already own or be paying for tools that you can use. Then I’m just a huge fan of reaching out to your clients because you want to be able to work with them easily and for them to work with you easily. As time said, you could find that you’re kind of just working away trying to figure out how are you going to call this collaboration tool to work with certain clients, and it could be that your client says, “Oh, we’re going to need you to access our systems through this portal or to use this tool” and all of a sudden, your collaboration issue at least for that client is solved without cost to you because you’re just using their tools, and I think that’s sometimes an unexpected benefit that people don’t appreciate.
JoAnn Hathaway: And you touched on this somewhat, but a little bit more in depth. If you could tell us about matching the right tool to the job and Dennis, let’s start with you.
Dennis Kennedy: In collaboration, I think of this in a number of ways, but the sort of easiest one to grasp is the asynchronous collaboration versus synchronous collaboration. So when you look at tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack, although you can do some real time chat and other things, typically, you’re able to put information into a place or you’re able to say, “Here’s a task to do items” other things like that, and people can look at it whenever they are able to look at it. And then, the secret tools would be like the classic phone call, conference call or Zoom meetings where everybody has to be there together at the same time. And so if you try to use a synchronous tool for something that’s asynchronous and having been a Mastercard, we really had a global company. We had to deal with this issue all the time. If you focus on asynchronous tool, then you either are forcing people in other parts of the world to be on a phone call in the middle of the night, or you’re trying to find some weird convenient time which can be difficult. So that’s one simple example that obviously doesn’t occur for everybody. But if you’re able to say, “Hey, we have a meeting.” It makes sense to use the synchronous tool. We have something that people, we want people’s comments and we just want them to do that at a certain time. You can do that. And so what you find is if you don’t have that match, it’s uncomfortable for people. So I sometimes see this in Zoom where Zoom is actually very synchronous, and is very linear. So you can’t really interrupt people especially in a presentation, and there’s some other things. But Zoom has a chat function that allows you to communicate with other people to ask questions, do other things like that and that feature can be really important. So you have the asynchronous versus synchronous. And then, you’re saying, “If I want to –.” This is again what your clients, what your clients are doing can make a lot of sense to say, “Do they like to be used certain tools, are they a Slack company, are they Teams company?” And then as you kind of say, “What’s the right platform, what’s the right tool, and then what is the job that we’re trying to do?” And I think that just taking a little bit of time on that can make all the difference. If it gets you away from saying, “There’s this one collaboration tool that works for everything.”
Molly Ranns: Tom, what are the best ways to get people to use the collaboration tools that you like to use?
Tom Mighell: Let’s start first with the worst way to do it, and then we’ll back into the best way. The worst way to get somebody to use the collaboration tools that you want to use is to just announce we’re going to use this tool and say, “Here we’re going — on this project, we are going to be using this tool, and there it is”, my way or the highway. From a change management perspective, forcing a tool on someone without anything more than that is almost never a good idea. And so when you think about how you encourage others and I guess encourage adoption and people to enjoy the tool that you’re using, the first thing that you want to think about is this internal collaboration or external collaboration. Are you introducing this tool to people inside your firm? Are you introducing it to your clients or external colleagues to do things? Because the motions and the thinking is going to be a little bit different. If you’re thinking about introducing a new tool to your office, then you have a little bit of lead time. You can start to introduce them and say, “I really like for us to use this. Here’s why it’s good, here’s what’s in it for me, here is the way that we’re going to use it and why it will benefit all of us”, having some training materials or having other types of resources available so that people can get a sense from it. Maybe they have a little bit of time to go in and test it out and play around with it. Maybe you have a training class that you introduced to people, but if you’ve got a firm and you’re thinking about introducing a new tool, having a good change management process with them is I think a useful activity to have. Harder when you have a client or an external group of people that you want to collaborate with because you really can’t force them to use the tool. I had this exact thing happened not in a work-related environment, but with a volunteer group, and I wanted to use a tool and nobody else liked it and it generated very quickly into email being the preferred method of collaboration which we almost never like to see email being a collaboration tool. So when you’re working outside, it takes a little bit more nuance to work with individuals to get them, to give them some basics. Training may not be the right move with clients and others, but giving them enough information on how to use the tool, why it will help us work together better, be better collaborators either as attorney-client or attorney-court or colleague or others, I think it’s all about communication and communicating it correctly, and it’s really that what’s in it for me, how will this make us better that you want to communicate to them rather than we just need to use this tool or otherwise, I can’t work with you, that approaches is usually a failure.
Dennis Kennedy: I think it’s good to think of collaboration as an ongoing process that will evolve and hopefully improve. I sometimes use the word co-collaboration, which believe me has not caught on. But the idea is that we would say we might have an idea of how we’re going to work together, but it probably won’t survive intact once we actually start working together. And that’s why the client surveys, notion is really important to say, “Okay, let’s figure out what works best” and typically you’re not going to be able to impose a tool on someone. It’s going to take them back and forth and some evolution.
JoAnn Hathaway: Dennis, this can and has been a total standalone podcast, but can you discuss how important cybersecurity is right now?
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, I think that and I’m teaching a class in Michigan State called Cybersecurity and Data Protection. So I’m really focused on this topic right now. I just wrote something called a “Tech Report” for the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center, taking a look at the 2021 ABA Tech survey results as they related to Cloud computing and there were a number of questions asked about cybersecurity and the practices that people use. And it is shocking how poorly lawyers are addressing cybersecurity issues, even with sort of basic forms of protection. So we already know that ransomware is the biggest danger out there. We know that for large corporate clients, their biggest concerns are their law firms since I think it’s 2010. The FBI has met with some of the biggest firms in the country saying, “You really got to pay attention to cybersecurity.”
And this goes from big firm to small firm huge security issues, especially in the family law area, with domestic violence issues, stalking those sorts of things can really cause problems or give people incentives to break into law firm systems. So it’s really difficult to overstate how important cybersecurity is now and also as a country, the infrastructure is being probed and attacked from state and nonstate actors as we speak. So there’s a lot happening out there. When you get to the world collaboration, though it kind of expands because then on my own and as you say, for standing alone, we can kind of take care of our own security and we can adopt best practices that work for us. But once we start collaborating, it really is — the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. And so that somebody else’s bad security practices can cause dramatic impact for me. And so you have to pay attention to every aspect of it. So I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how important cybersecurity is these days. We sometimes talk about the lawyer’s duty, ethical duty of technology competence. If you ask me the question, is anything required right now to be a technologically competent lawyer, I would say it has to be cybersecurity.
Tom Mighell: I would add to that second piece that Dennis mentioned that I think the biggest change that came about with regard to cybersecurity over the last two years is that if you’re working for a firm that had, or IT Department had security fairly locked down like you are a castle that had a moat around it, and you could protect everybody, suddenly you expanded to hundreds of thousands of castles all in their individual homes with individual security, with individual internet connections, with all sorts of things that a law firms information security group is going to have to think about and the fact that they’re all collaborating with each other has just really expanded the canvas of threats that are available because the law firm or the security group is less able to protect that information when it’s distributed like that and that’s why I think education is important, making sure that the right technology is being used everywhere. But I’ll just echo what Dennis says, it’s as big an issue as ever before and I think that a lot of the ransomware you’re seeing these days is taking advantage of that expanding canvas because of working from home.
Molly Ranns: All such interesting information and so helpful. Tom, starting with you, what are one or two tips that you’d like to leave with our audience today?
Tom Mighell: So my big tip that I’m going to — I feel like I’m trying to sell a product here. I really think that every lawyer can and should benefit from Microsoft 365. To me, for law firms, Microsoft 365 is the best collaboration tool you could invest in right now. It allows you to collaborate in so many different ways. You can collaborate on documents. You can have meetings. It’s all contained within that. You can communicate with people via text message. It’s all contained within the universe of Microsoft 365, and a lot of organizations tried to bootstrap collaboration tools by saying, “I want this tool for this and I want this tool for that.” Microsoft 365 makes it so easy, and it used to be we would complain about Microsoft’s capabilities in this area, but they really have a quality product and I think that’s my biggest one. Actually, let me pause. I’ve gone a long time. Let Dennis give any tips. He’s got in, and I may close out with a tip.
Dennis Kennedy: So that’s a great tip that Tom has, and he’s totally convinced me on that and that is an example of Microsoft 365. A lot of blisters probably already have it. So I have two really simple ones. One is, I think you want to make yourself really easy to work with. I think that’s going to distinguish you in the market and in the law firm world, the thing to think about is client portals. So if you think how easy it’s become to work with your doctor and through a patient portal, client portals are sort of the legal equivalent of that. The other one is I think you want to look at one of these tools that you’re most comfortable with right now or that you see would provide the most value to you or your clients and just decide that in 2022, you’re going to get really good at that tool. So I think Zoom is a great target for that. Microsoft Teams could be another one, but just pick one of them and get really good at it. So people say, “I don’t know much about this lawyer, but I know they’re really good at Zoom or Teams or some other collaboration tool, and they’re easy to work with.”
Tom Mighell: Last tip that I have and I’ll make it really quick is one of the dangers you fall into when you start working with clients and others on collaboration tools is that you find that everybody wants to use a different collaboration tool, and you may find yourself in 10 different silos using 10 different kinds of tools. Be careful about that, because I think that although Dennis says, “Make yourself easy to work with”, don’t make yourself that easy to work with. You need to establish some boundaries and make sure that you’re limiting yourself to a manageable number of tools so that it doesn’t drive you crazy and you don’t have information spread out all of them.
JoAnn Hathaway: Well, it looks like we’ve come to the end of our show today, but before we leave, I would like to point out to our listeners that Tom and Dennis are both authors many times over and relevant to today’s podcast presentation, they have authored “The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, Smart Ways to Work Together” and this is published through the ABA Law Practice Division. This is the second edition. And they actually have their third edition coming out in the first. Hopefully the first quarter of 2022. State Bar Michigan members can receive a 15% discount on this and other ABA publications. Just look under the membership benefits portion of our website, and if you have any trouble finding that, please don’t hesitate to reach out. So we’d like to thank our guest today, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell for a wonderful program.
Molly Ranns: Dennis and Tom, if our guests would like to follow up with you, how can they best reach you?
Dennis Kennedy: I think that for Michigan people especially, you can just email me that’s [email protected] or you could even use my MSU address which is [email protected] and then denniskenney.com, I’m at Dennis Kennedy on Twitter and LinkedIn is another place you’ll find me. So lots of ways to reach out to me, and I’m happy to help people.
Tom Mighell: I’ll make it simple. Two best ways to get in touch with me, reach out to me either on LinkedIn at Tom Mighell or on Twitter at Tom Mighell. I will respond in both places.
Molly Ranns: Thank you both so much. This has been another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s on Balance Podcast.
JoAnn Hathaway: I’m JoAnne Hathaway.
Molly Ranns: And I’m Molly Rans. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com