ILTACON 2016: Social Media Collaboration Tools in a Post-Email World

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Efficiency, ILTACON, Legal Innovation

social media

If you are like me, your inbox is drowning in emails, and you’re constantly trying out new methods to manage the chaos — setting up rules to automatically move certain messages out of the inbox, color-code ones from clients, flag ones you only see briefly in between meetings for later response, and archiving others. Despite all these measures, you still might find yourself with 16,000-plus emails (hypothetically speaking); and thus, you might have found yourself eagerly awaiting “The Social Collaboration Tools Making a Meal Out of Email” session at ILTACON 2016.

Patrick DiDomenico, Chief Knowledge Officer at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, moderated a diverse panel of law firm administrators in various roles across very different firms, with each talking about the social collaboration tool with which they had replaced some of their email systems. The first speaker — Cindy Thurston Bare, the director of knowledge management at Orrick, Harrington & Sutcliffe — said the firm realized all its employees were drowning in emails. The employees also liked using chat but realized these conversations could not be saved nor could be used easily on mobile devices. Thus Orrick started with one practice group and got them using Slack, a team messaging app.

The project was a great success — over the past 18 months, the firm saw a huge replacement of email by Slack with up to 63% of non-client email messages replaced by Slack direct messages or posts to public or private channels. Indeed, Slack’s own statistics from their paid customer user base are startling: customers report 32% increased productivity, nearly a 49% reduction in email, 25% reduction in meetings, and a 79% increase in team culture. Indeed, Orrick noted Slack reflected and truly reinforced the culture of the first practice group chosen, which was one that shared a close, collegial culture even though employees were geographically dispersed.


[The firm] found that attorneys lived in their email and document management systems at all times. Moreover, busy attorneys were reluctant to make the time to go anywhere else or learn new technology.


Interestingly, when Dentons wanted to eliminate email for internal communication and also close the knowledge management hole that email represents, Ginevra Saylor, Dentons’ National Director of Knowledge Management, noted that the firm chose ThreadKM, a collaborative platform for legal professionals, for their email “alternative”. The firm had already tried Yammer (Microsoft’s social networking service that can be used for private discussion), as well as discussion boards, and other ideas but found that attorneys lived in their email and document management systems at all times. Moreover, busy attorneys were reluctant to make the time to go anywhere else or learn new technology.

Saylor says Dentons specifically chose ThreadKM because it could easily replicate matter-centric workspaces, had tight integration with the firm’s document management system (DMS), and facilitated agile legal project management. Dentons found the result has been a resounding success — lawyers are mandating their teams to use ThreadKM, and the firm has found that it’s solving some business problems that it was not currently envisioned as a solution towards (such as business development). Other regions at Dentons have requested access to ThreadKM as well, she said.

social media

Still, Yammer remains quite popular with some large law firms. Baker Hostetler, for example, made it the firm’s go-to collaboration tool after it became the emerging technology used by their clients. Katherine Lowry, director of practice services at Baker Hostetler, noted that they started the process of selecting Yammer back in 2011. The firm envisioned ideas on how to use Yammer, identifying specific uses they could use to sell the firm and attorneys on the benefits of the product. In the end, Yammer helped the firm connect its workforce of 14 global offices, with about two-thirds of firm employees are members of the Yammer network. This proved to be especially important over the past five years to better connect secretaries as attorney-staff ratios have drastically changed.

Gamification was one feature Fish & Richardson liked about Beezy — an enterprise collaborative solution for Microsoft products like Outlook, Yammer and SharePoint — and thought it’s adoption would encourage attorney engagement and adoption. “Lawyers are competitive and want to see their gaming points and want to see those next to their names at the top of a list,” said Raul Taveras, manager of Litigation Technology Solutions at the firm.


In the future, it will be essential for firms to better integrate social media collaboration tools into process workflow, pricing and profitability analytics.


Truly though, the fact that Beezy sits on top of SharePoint was crucial to a Microsoft-heavy firm like Fish & Richardson, Taveras added. The firm was fairly familiar with SharePoint and knew they could take advantage of SharePoint’s versioning, co-authorizing, and permissions, along with a key fact that integration with Active Directory makes mentions of other employees easy. Additionally, the user interface and user experience was so similar to Facebook or Instagram that they felt attorneys could easily adopt it.

Of course, one of the struggles with any of these options is encouraging, nudging and forcing adoption. One advantage of ThreadKM over Yammer, Slack or Beezy seemed to be the ability to pre-populate ThreadKM for all active matters — administrators automatically joined anyone to Workspace who had docketed time to that matter. Lowry explained that Yammer designated (and rigorously certified) certain folks as Community Service Managers, whose job was to share responsibility for training and monitoring.

The other thing all participants noted was carefully picking the group you start with first. Saylors noted that Dentons chose their Canadian offices to start up on ThreadKM and carefully created a core group with enhanced roles and responsibilities. Orrick carefully chose a practice group that was well-managed, had an early adopter partner and for whom they could carefully demonstrate real use cases early on.

Like every tool, however, each firm has been looking at future integrations between these tools and their other resources. In the future, it will be essential for firms to better integrate social media collaboration tools into process workflow, pricing and profitability analytics. As more organizations move towards social media collaboration tools to alleviate email strain, perhaps even totally replacing all internal emails, it will be interesting to see the future trends of these tools.