Modern consumers are part of the “Amazon generation” accustomed to making purchases using sophisticated e-commerce systems. These systems provide a slick, online account which can be accessed at any time from any device.
Although the delivery of bespoke legal services is generally far more complex than the delivery of footwear, being able to view the progress of a matter and communicate with lawyers outside of standard office hours is increasingly expected by tech-savvy clients. And yes, implementing custom interactive, client-facing software is often expensive, but there are some out-of-the-box applications which can help law firms keep up with changing consumer expectations for little or no cost.
This is essentially a cloud storage service which allows documents to be shared, read and edited in a secure online location. Files can be accessed and edited from any internet-connected device by various parties, and version control allows collaboration and avoids the need to email copies back and forth. Synchronisation works across Windows, Android, iOS, Mac and Linux platforms, providing the ability for multiple users to work together on files, even when they are offline. Dropbox is already extensively used by lawyers, but the ability to control access to files or folders also means that clients can be given a login to view relevant documents pertaining to their case.
Another document storage and collaboration tool designed for businesses in general, it can also be effectively adopted by law firms to keep clients in the loop. It comes with its own document creation software, allowing you to create word documents and spreadsheets without installing any software and, as the “Big G” is behind this system, reliability and security are excellent. If you’re familiar with the Google ecosystem, using Google Drive will come naturally and there’s no cost up to 15GB of storage. Just as with Dropbox, it’s easy to share documents with particular clients and allow different levels of access (view only, comment or editing). The comment function is particularly useful, as clients are able to provide input on drafts without actually making any changes themselves.
Although less well known than Dropbox, Box has actually been around for longer, having been founded a couple of years earlier in 2005. It provides a largely similar service to its similar sounding counterpart, but Box is more focused on businesses and it’s used by the majority of Fortune 500 companies. Importantly for law firms considering sharing documents with clients, Box boasts higher levels of reliability than Dropbox and even Google Drive – and it takes security and legal compliance extremely seriously.
Most people have already used Skype for chatting to a distant relative and therefore are familiar with its functions, however many businesses are still hesitant to adopt the use of videoconferencing technologies. This will not be the way for much longer as law firms cater to an increasingly globalised marketplace; thus staying in touch with clients without becoming a faceless entity requires a novel approach. For instance, Moore Blatch offers will writing services to expats using Skype and believe that “there are many ways in which the legal profession can benefit from today’s advances in technology” such as the ability to provide legal services to an international client base. Alternatives to Microsoft’s Skype include Google’s Hangouts and Apple’s FaceTime.
Although businesses have started to use phone messaging over the last few years – often simply as an update tool complementary to email notifications – the use of SMS by consumers has been on the decline, largely due to the rise of internet-based messaging services such as WhatsApp. Messages sent via WhatsApp are encrypted, so lawyers looking for a secure way to communicate with clients may well be better off using the service provided by this Facebook-acquired company instead of the humble email. However, the etiquette of lawyer-client communications will often preclude the use of text messaging services for anything beyond the odd case status update (preferably without the use of emoticons).