Efficient portal access allows lawyers to share information securely online with their clients. This information includes documents, invoices, messages, and much more. One party can add a message or share a document via a secure platform, and the other will receive an email notifying them that they have a secure message waiting. After logging in, they can see the document or message. At first glance, that process might seem burdensome. However, with the correct approach, a client portal can make communication more convenient for clients, and more efficient for your firm. Key advantages of a portal system are as follows:
- The main purpose of a client portal is to securely transfer information, and any information being transferred between parties needs to be encrypted.
- Concerns over client confidentiality have made it important that lawyers not send unsecured emails as they may find themselves in breach of ethics rules.
- As an officer of the court, a lawyer must do due diligence to ensure that the encryption software is up to date. There are client portals that are more secure than others and better suited for your clientele, so double-check with vendors you are considering before signing on the dotted line. Law Ruler, for example, has A-Rated security features, enterprise-grade security with 24/7/365 intrusion detection and prevention services for law firms and is HIPPA compliant cloud hosting available.
2. Document sharing
- Good client portals make it easy to securely share documents with your client and other pertinent staff letting you share multiple files and folders at once.
3. Bill sharing
- If bills are shared online, you will get them out more efficiently, while knowing that any information on your client’s case will be kept confidential.
4. Task sharing
- Does a client need to sign a document, or review an agreement by a certain deadline? With a client portal, it is easy to assign a task to your client and keep them on track.
5. Practice management software integration
- Some cloud-based practice management systems include an integrated client portal that is included in the cost of a subscription. While some programs such as Box, and Dropbox offer some of the same functionalities of a client portal, such as secure document sharing, a client portal that integrates with your current practice management system will ensure that you have all the functionality you need for your firm, while keeping information securely organized in one place.
6. Co-counsel sharing
- If you work with contract lawyers or outside counsel, a client portal will provide an extra benefit for your practice: you can share information from your legal practice management software with a co-counsel. For example, lawyers can share notes, communications, and contact information. Firms can even set custom rates for billable hours being logged by the co-counsel.
The volume of communication a law firm must manage increases exponentially as it grows. Electronic communications fly back and forth between parties rapidly resulting in many more pieces of correspondence that need to be kept track of. As early as 25 years ago, a firm might have received occasional fax and no email, and most correspondences came as letters received via USPS or FedEx resulting in 3 to 5 pieces of mail per day related to cases being worked on. Today, it’s not uncommon to receive 200 emails a day related to your practice, some with attachments and many needing a quick response. Voicemails are even emailed as sound files and faxes are often received as emailed PDF files. As a result, the volume has exploded, and paper-based systems are breaking down as volume goes up.
Much of what a law firm does is already digital. Many courts have gone to electronic filing, governmental entities are electronic, documents are traded between attorneys and clients electronically, and evidence and discovery retrieval are electronic. Lawyers who insist on running a paper-filled office will have to keep printing more and more electronic documents in order to maintain paper files and that is unbelievably expensive. Hunting for files is expensive too. Many law firms spend huge amounts of non-billable time looking for paper files which are rarely easy to find. Files might turn up in a lawyer’s office on the desk, under the desk, in a cabinet or on a shelf, in a secretary or paralegal’s or office, on a ledge somewhere in the office, in a filing cabinet, in someone’s car, at someone’s home or in someone’s briefcase or bag. The possibilities are endless. The cost associated with finding files can be astronomical. For example, five attorneys might spend 15 non-billable minutes a day each looking for files that they could otherwise bill at $250 per hour. At 6.25 hours per week and $25 per hour, that’s $1,562.50 each week, $6,250 every month or $75,000 per year.
Everyone knows that paper files can only be in one place at a time, but it creates problems. When a staff member finds the paper file he or she has been looking for, it becomes unavailable to everyone else in the office because they cannot see it. There may be a few people in the office who know where it is, but now that it’s in someone else’s hands, others may be running around the office trying to locate the missing file? By finding and taking the file, you have unwittingly annoyed and stressed those who knew where it was when you found it and are expecting it to still be there when they go looking for it. A paper file cannot be shared any easier than you can share a book you are in the middle of reading. Is that even possible? If you can’t share a file, you cannot collaborate on it. Attorneys need to collaborate with their clients, with experts, courts, and co-counsel. If your office is all paper and you want to share a file, you will find yourself spending money on multiple copies and quite possibly shipping boxes and the whole process is exceedingly slow. Once a paper file is located, the second search begins – finding the individual piece of paper needed within that file, and paper files are not searchable. Further, paper files do not contain a table of contents and although they may have separate sub-parts for correspondence, pleadings, etc., that does not mean that people who deposited paper into the file utilized that organizational structure. It also doesn’t mean that things are clipped into the file, nor that the items in the file are in any kind of order. In other words, the file may be a mess. That being the case, now you must find that ONE piece of paper you are looking for among hundreds, of pages that quite possibly are not in any kind of order. Accessing data via paper is slow. If data and case information is locked in a paper file, your firm is at a significant speed disadvantage. When your firm invests in legal technology that centers on client access and communication it becomes a talking point to your current clients.
Client retention is an important factor in the ever-changing legal world. Clients take their legal business to different firms frequently, always in search of better service and representation. Sometimes all it takes is one error or a bad interaction with a service partner or associate and a client will take their work to another firm that has been courting them. Adopting legal technology that eliminates common client complaints, and by communicating this evolution to clients is key to your client retention strategy. Clients want to hear about how you are going to improve your service and connectivity. The very first time they pull up documents on their smartphone or the first push notification for a document upload that chirps on their device is going to make your law firm stand out from other firms promising they are true business partners to their clients.