Shifting workforce dynamics, along with evolving communication methods, are giving rise to a completely new category of technology designed to boost employee productivity. Organizations in other industries have already experienced the benefits of enterprise collaboration, and now this technology is making its way to the legal sector.

The rise of enterprise collaboration is redefining the modern law firm and how law practices will think about communication in the future.

A Mobile, Social, Global Shift in the Workplace

From where people work to how they discuss ideas and who makes the decisions, the majority of employees are looking for a change in how work gets done.

First, the tools used for personal communication are migrating into the workplace, causing employees to have a social, mobile and texting mindset in the office. Today’s employees no longer tolerate waiting for an email response or taking the time to listen to a voicemail, instead turning to platforms offering instantaneous communication. In fact, many workers prefer texting or instant messaging as their priority inbox. Further, thanks to the social and mobile insurgence, working in activity streams is more commonplace than ever, facilitating rapid and succinct dialogues with colleagues and real-time decision-making. This fast, fluid and immediate communication dynamic may be due, in part, to a new generation of employees expanding in the workplace. According to the Pew Research Center, more than one in three employees in the United States are millennials, and they are spearheading change in the workforce like no generation before. What does that mean for workplace communication? Younger, tech-savvy employees demand new and different communication platforms to share their creativity, ideas and knowledge with their coworkers.

Finally, modern workers understand that they can do the same job, no matter where in the world they are physically located. In fact, 43 percent of employed Americans spend at least some time working remotely, according to a 2017 Gallup poll. However, despite the desire for flexibility in where they work, employers expect the same levels of productivity, and employees demand the same experience as sitting in a room with their colleagues. In response, organizations are increasingly turning to video conferencing as the next best thing to a face-to-face, in-person meeting.

The Rise of Enterprise Collaboration

Tech-savvy employees in an on-demand communication culture are propelling today’s organizations to consider new technology to enhance communication inside and outside the workplace.

Collaboration platforms feature a fluid, fast-paced user experience, emphasizing quick, concise messages, on-demand video conferencing, screen and document sharing and ongoing team conversations—all in a single tool. Messages and documents are organized by activity streams, which can consist of matters, projects or discussions.

According to a 2017 study by Deloitte, 70 percent of respondents believe workers will spend more time on collaboration platforms in the future. Contemporary organizations understand that collaboration platforms are a method to improve coordination, performance and productivity across an organization.

Specifically, digital collaboration is fundamental to happy (and productive) employees. According to Deloitte, employees were 17 percent more satisfied with their workplace culture when they had access to collaboration tools and 22 percent more likely to believe their organization cared about their morale.

Lastly, businesses that consider collaboration as an important component of their overall strategy were four times more likely to see growth in their bottom line, according to a 2014 Deloitte study. As collaboration tools take hold across more industry verticals, businesses will see this technology as a critical piece of their IT stack, helping them remain competitive both in engaging talent and growing revenue.

But Can Lawyers Collaborate?

Collaboration platforms are quickly taking hold in the engineering and tech sectors, but does that mean the technology is right for legal?

Law firms are not immune to the changing workplace dynamics driven by the social and mobile revolution. Also, as in other industry verticals, younger attorneys are permeating the law firm workforce and replacing baby boomer partners as they retire. Indeed, laws firms looking to remain relevant in a competitive legal environment need to embrace these changes and see the shifting communication and collaboration landscape as an opportunity to differentiate.

Think about all the disconnected and disparate technology systems in a firm. Law firm partners, associates and staff routinely manage cases, strategize with colleagues, email clients, edit documents, log billable hours and update calendars—all in separate, unconnected systems. The disjointed nature of the legal tech landscape is costing law practices time and, more importantly, productivity.

Imagine improved teamwork and coordination on matters across all members of the legal team, including outside counsel and experts, no matter the geography. Through secure, always-on messaging, document sharing and video conferencing on both desktop and mobile devices, attorneys can experience unparalleled productivity. Trusted security methods will keep case team conversations private, allow file sharing only with authorized personnel and utilize industry-standard password and sign-on parameters.

Integrating communications, applications, workflows, business processes and data streams, collaboration platforms are poised to become the sole digital location for work within a firm. No longer will firms have separate email, messaging, video, document sharing, calendaring and billing systems. In the near future, such platforms will deliver access to a nearly endless array of other legal applications available in the marketplace – such as legal research, deposition, analytics and artificial intelligence software. In addition to improved productivity, such integrated applications, workflows and data streams will result in increased firm profitability.

Collaboration in Action: A Scenario

Consider this collaboration scenario. Employees at Acme Law Firm start and end their day in the collaboration platform rolled out by their firm to every attorney and staff member. Each individual in the firm organizes his or her conversations into private and team workspaces. A partner can easily send all members of a practice group or litigation team a message about a specific case or provide edits on a draft brief to an individual associate. When members of the case team need to speak face-to-face, no matter where they are located starting a video conference is as easy as clicking a button. Since email is still a critical part of how the firm communicates with clients, attorneys never need to leave the collaboration platform to send or read emails. Email is right there as an integral part of the platform. When someone steps out for lunch or leaves the office for the day, the mobile collaboration app indicates he or she has a new message. For Acme, the collaboration tool sits at the heart of the workday.

Collaboration software is already causing organizations, including law firms, to rethink communication in the workplace and will continue to do so. Having a truly modern collaboration strategy requires a combination of elements—from workplace culture and leadership to technology platforms. Collaboration isn’t just about sharing ideas; it’s about cultivating efficiency to do more and better work in less time.