New technologies over the past decade have allowed firms to develop vast global networks, with hundreds of offices, thousands of employees, and complex system needs. Collaboration within these networks has risen in priority and the needs of the industry have created even newer technologies – ones focused specifically on legal collaboration.
The reverse is true as well: the increase in collaboration tools in the legal world has, in turn, prompted law firms to begin reevaluating the way they consume (and produce) information. Tools for document collaboration, workspace collaboration, and information rights management are highly efficient at automated tracking, reporting, and streamlining the massive volume of information generated by the legal industry.
Incidentally, the legal industry is notoriously not one typically aligned with values of collaboration and cooperation – let alone cross-departmental coordination. Perhaps we have the efficiency of these legal collaboration tools to thank for the slow (but sure!) cultural changes that law firms are beginning to observe internally. What is important to note, however, is that new technologies depend very much on their firms’ business practices supporting and encouraging collaboration.
In their post, David Bilinsky and Garry J. Wise take a look at the importance of collaboration in a law firm environment and caution inaction. They note:
“There is no doubt that the world is changing to more of a collaborative model.
We are facing the fact that we have to change or the world will change without us.”
John Chambers, Cisco CEO and Chairman, perhaps said it best:
“I believe that companies and leaders who do not change will be left behind. And so I had to move from being a command and control leader. You have to learn that you make better decisions through collaboration.”
Bilinksy and Wise approach the successes to be achieved in adopting a collaborative model and outline some steps to take towards creating such a model; to integrate collaboration into law firm business practices (and to move away from “just talking about collaboration”). A summary of their outlined steps to follows this methodology:
- Start with compliance: everyone on the team complies with the need to do something, but there is very little discussion or coordination between the team members.
- Next is cooperation: now everyone is still drawing their own plans, but at least now they are sharing what they are doing with the group. But the overall characterization is still on individual action.
- Lastly is true collaboration: here all the team members not only share their plans but they brainstorm together on generating new ideas of how to achieve the joint goals that transcend individual action. And by working together, they can achieve outstanding results.
Wise champions “centering collaborative discussions around specific, individual tasks and focusing on how processes utilized to perform them can be streamlined, regularized, and optimized.”
The greatest insight in Bilinsky and Wise’s article is in their identifying that true collaboration requires lawyers and legal professionals to “move beyond their inherent training” in how to be a skilled adversary. The legal world has a bigger hurdle than most to overcome to turn itself into an environment of collaborators. But, Bilinsky and Wise’s vision for a legal world, in which collaboration brings about synergy and creativity, is truly inspiring. The legal industry’s focus is shifting to collaboration tools and cross-departmental interaction, making the environment ripe for cultural (and process) change. Now, more than ever before, strength in the collaborative business model and opportunity in the emerging collaborative tools – when championed with confidence and determination – could lead law firms to that promising future of collaborative creativity sooner than they imagine.