Many aspects of modern case management software have been developing for quite some time. They are the product of years spent working through inefficient solutions only to be left dreaming of a better way.
In 2011, legal scholars made some five-year predictions about the future of legal software. They wanted to guess how the industry would change. Their first guess was, they assumed, the safest: in five years, almost all law practices will use client portals.
They saw how the biggest law firms were already rushing to offer client portals via cloud-based services that connected clients directly with their case information. They saw the tremendous benefits this brought, and that it allowed for perpetual, non-invasive communication across the legal profession. They also saw that cloud technology was becoming increasingly accessible, secure, and inexpensive.
Naturally, they assumed a great change would follow.
How did their prediction fare? Five years later, the 2016 ABA Tech Survey revealed that while 72% of large firms offered a client portal, a measly 11% of small and solo firms had embraced this new idea.
It’s a case of legal culture lagging behind technological possibility. Attorneys can be conservative and resistant to change — even when that change is in their best interest. For these most rational of professionals, old habits often trump reasonable adaptations.
But the promise of client portals still holds firm. For those astonishing numbers of firms who still have no portal solutions — or for those using clunky and outdated client portals — here are seven reasons to give modern client portals a try.
7 Powers of Client Portals
1. Open lines of communication
A huge number of complaints against lawyers (including malpractice claims) stem from bad communication. Even when it doesn’t escalate into a full-fledged malpractice suit, inadequate communication erodes client confidence, breeds distrust, and destroys your chances of getting client referrals.
Client portals open the lines of communication. They’re usually mobile-friendly, giving all parties access from anywhere. Your clients can watch as their case moves through various phases; they can return to past notes and find relevant documents; they can ask questions and get quick responses from their legal team.
It’s magic! Think of client portals as your client’s wardrobe door to Narnia, except instead of meeting witches and fauns, your clients get direct access to your office. That doesn’t sound like much, but for an anxious client, that kind of connection is better than a fairy tale kingdom.
The word ‘portal’ comes from the Latin term for a gate. A gate has two opposite but compatible functions. It opens to allow access, and it closes to ensure security.
And attorneys need that protected, gated space for client communications. As an ABA publication notes, the 2016 elections should have schooled us on the ever-present danger of stolen emails. But even still, recent legal tech surveys show that over 50% of attorneys send confidential or privileged information over email one or more times a day.
ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(c) insists:
“A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”
The use of unencrypted email for client communications is on shaky ethical grounds in many jurisdictions. In the midst of this uncertainty, secure client portals offer a far superior alternative to pasting scary disclaimers on client-bound emails.
3. Axe the interruptions
Let’s take a journey through the winding and unpleasant path of traditional client communication. It begins with an anxious client sending an email, which drowns in the sea of an attorney’s inbox. After much silence, a pissed-off client calls the office. If his attorney’s out, or too much phone tag ensues, he’s then storming into the office and demanding to see somebody face to face, just to make sure he gets some attention.
This is an escalation to ‘crisis mode.’ It means more angry clients who feel like they have to fight for your attention every hour of every day.
And it means unrelenting interruptions.
A client portal axes interruptions and builds efficiency into your workflow. Clients can ask and receive answers directly, inside a system that securely archives all communication. Instead of hassling your office staff to get a document sent to them, they can access it directly online.
Portals give attorneys the chance to focus again — especially when used with other communication tools, like Filevine’s case file texting.
4. Spread work throughout the team
An email inbox is a silo. It is designed to be seen by one person only.
Say your client sends an email. If you don’t get to it quickly, you anger your client. But if you do get to it quickly, that probably means you’re squandering hours of your day monitoring and managing a tide of emails.
A client portal isn’t a silo — it’s a carefully managed network. While an attorney is busy deposing witnesses or finally getting into the groove of writing a difficult brief, other members of their team might be better situated to address client needs.
The silo model corresponds to an outdated notion of legal work as performed by isolated individuals. Modern legal practice demands teamwork. Case management software helps that team collaborate — and portals bring your clients into the mix.
5. Keep it organized
Chaos reigns in email inboxes. Forget showing up to work naked or taking a test in a class I’ve never attended: my stress dreams are about scrolling through emails to try to see if there are client messages I need to attend to.
Client portals are a different story — especially when they’re part of a comprehensive case management system. They lend themselves easily to organizing and locating client communication.
And the benefits of organization aren’t just for you and your team. Many clients don’t have experience organizing large amounts of sensitive data. The client portal provides a crucial service to them by keeping it all organized and accessible.
6. Show your professionalism
We use portals all the time, whether we’re checking our bank account or looking at the results from our last medical test. Clients are more comfortable than ever with this way of connecting. And they may even feel that professionals who don’t have a portal for them are incompetent or behind the times.
7. Keep an audit trail
Should your client ever claim you failed to communicate with them, the client portal can become crucial evidence. Since it archives your interactions, it can counteract false claims of neglect.
With other case management tools, like Filevine’s Audit Report, you can see when your client logged in, viewed information, and downloaded documents. All of this is important protection, giving you confidence as you serve your clients.
Connect with your Clients
It’s becoming more clear every day that law firms that don’t emphasize consistent client communication won’t survive the fusillade of bad reviews they earn on Google. Without a steady flow of walk-ins and referred clients, your practice can’t grow as fast as it should, and you’ll be left behind. Client portals are an affordable and effective way to earn your client’s admiration, trust, and loyalty.
Quite frankly, the time for smoke and mirrors has passed. With modern legal software automating so many aspects of your law firm, there are no more excuses for keeping your clients in the dark.
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