This is a three-part series that attorney Nicole Black, Director at MyCase, will be discussing online client portals and how they can benefit both lawyers and their clients. First up, an introduction to and overview of web-based client portals.
Lawyers often talk about the importance of providing excellent client service, but for many lawyers that simply means effective legal representation. The problem with this perspective is that 21st-century legal consumers expect more. They’re used to having instant access to whatever information they’re seeking — whether it’s instant streaming of music or videos, 24/7 online shopping or anytime bank account access.
Like it or not, this expectation of instant access to information doesn’t end at your law firm’s door (or with your office hours). Like every other type of consumer, your clients increasingly want convenient, 24/7 access to information about the legal services that they’ve retained you to provide. But how exactly do you provide that to them? The answer is simple: online client portals.
Web-based portals are already commonplace in many industries, including banking and mortgage financing. It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that legal consumers expect the same convenience when it comes to your services.
Fortunately, modern technology makes it easy to give your clients instant access to case-related information, and a number of web-based law practice management platforms, including MyCase, the company for which I work, already include client portals.
Portals Offer Clients Control and Ease of Communication
These portals empower legal clients by giving them control over their cases and expanding their access to information. Many of the portals offer features that reduce or eliminate the need for clients to contact you to find out their next court date or obtain documents. Instead, your clients can log in day or night then quickly and easily find answers to many of their most common questions.
You’ll find that some web-based practice management software includes all of the back-end office management tools you’ve come to expect — such as calendaring, contact management, document automation and storage, time tracking and invoicing — along with very robust online portals, which make it possible for you to share calendars, documents and billing information with your clients based on permissions that you grant. Clients simply log on and view all recent activity to which you have given them access — including new court dates, recently uploaded documents, and invoices —which they can then interact with in a secure, encrypted online environment.
For example, clients can upload or download documents, comment on documents or calendar events and even pay invoices. Some even permit you to add contacts of your choosing, such as investigators, experts or co-counsel, so that they, too, can access documents and information stored online. And, just like your clients, your contacts can upload or download documents and communicate with you about the case in a secure online environment.
Client portals that include built-in communications features, such as comment streams, can be invaluable since they allow everyone involved in a case to keep track of updates and developments. Phone tag and communication via unencrypted and insecure email become things of the past. Instead, all important communications appear in chronological order in one central location, ensuring that everyone is kept up to speed on new developments as they happen.
So, now that you understand what client portals are and how they can be used in your law practice, next time let’s move on to gaining a better understanding of how these tools can benefit both you and your clients.
Tune in for Part 2 of this series and learn how web-based portals will help streamline your law firm and increase productivity while decreasing costs. Then in Part 3, I’ll discuss how it benefits your clients and allows you to provide better client service.
Client portals are incredibly valuable tools for law firms because they allow lawyers to improve client service by increasing efficiency and streamlining communication. Law practice management software with built-in client portals simplifies client communication and provides your clients with secure, instantaneous access to information about their case.
Client Portals Offer a Number of Benefits
Client communication. First, client portals improve client communication. Web-based law practice management software with built-in portals enables you to communicate securely from anywhere, with real-time notification to recipients. Client portals virtually eliminate phone tag and free up time for both you and your administrative assistant. Instead of repeatedly calling your firm for information about their cases, your clients can log on day or night and quickly and easily find answers to many of their most common questions.
Secure access. Client portals also provide convenient and secure access to case-related information using any Internet-enabled device. Cloud-based case management software programs with built-in portals provide easy access to online document storage, searchable client files and client communications. Your files and client communications are available to you regardless of your location and you can easily access your calendar and share documents with both your office and your clients.
Team collaboration. Importantly, online portals can be used by more than just you and your clients. In fact, some law practice management systems, such as MyCase’s platform, allow you to add contacts of your choosing, including investigators, experts or co-counsel, so they can access documents and information related to the case that they are working on. And, just like your clients, your contacts can upload or download documents and can communicate with you about the case in a secure online environment. You set the permissions and determine who has access to specific information related to a case.
Why Client Portals Trump Email
Finally, client portals are not just convenient; they offer increased security over other methods of electronic communication, including email. This is because standard email is inherently unsecure — yet, surprisingly, many lawyers are unaware of this disconcerting fact. As emails travel to their intended destinations, they traverse an untold number of servers and can be intercepted and viewed by virtually anyone with the proper technological know-how and desire. As such, most emails are more like mere postcards written in pencil, their contents readily viewable by anyone with an interest in doing so. This security flaw in email, as it now exists, arguably places confidential client data at risk. This can be problematic since lawyers have an ethical obligation to ensure that confidential client information remains confidential.
Cloud computing platforms that incorporate encrypted client communication provide a ready-made solution to this problem, offering a much more secure method of communication that easily trumps unencrypted email.
So, as you can see, client portals offer law firms many benefits. But it’s not just lawyers who benefit — clients do, too. Tune in for part three of this series, where you’ll learn about how clients benefit from online portals and why many 21st-century legal clients who are used to 24/7 access to information prefer using this type of interface more than any other.
Web-based portals are increasingly familiar to consumers, since these portals are already commonplace in many industries, including banking and mortgage financing. It’s not surprising that many clients now expect instant access to information via web-based portals in their legal matters as well.
The reason? Clients want to know what’s going on with their cases. And they’re paying you a lot of money, so can you blame them? The problem is you aren’t always available to answer their questions right when they call. Sometimes another client’s case takes precedence or you’re stuck in court for the day. It’s a fact of life— attorneys are busy and sometimes just too pressed for time to get back to clients immediately.
The good news is that with 21st-century technologies, you don’t have to.
Client Portals Empower Your Clients
Instant, 24/7 access. Web-based portals give clients control over their cases and expand their access to information. These portals also offer flexibility and convenience by providing 24/7 instant access to case-related information, making it easy for your clients to quickly find answers to many of their most common questions. Clients no longer have to call the office to request a copy of a document in their file and instead can access the entire file at their convenience.
Secure sharing. Using online portals you can securely share calendars, documents and billing information with clients based on permissions that you grant. Your clients can then simply log on and view all recent activity to which you have given them access — including new court dates, recently uploaded documents and invoices. In many cases, clients can also upload or download documents, pay invoices and even comment on documents or calendar events.
An encrypted environment. Client portals also provide increased security that easily trumps unencrypted email. As discussed in my last post, when emails travel to their intended destinations, they traverse an untold number of servers and can be intercepted and viewed by anyone with the proper technological know-how and desire. This inherent security flaw, at present, may place confidential client data at risk.
Practice management software with web-based portals that include the ability to create comment streams provide a built-in solution to this problem, allowing everyone involved in a case to keep track of updates and developments in a secure, encrypted environment. Phone tag and communication using unencrypted email become things of the past. Instead, all important communications appear in chronological order in one central location, ensuring that everyone can stay kept up to speed on new developments as they happen.
Everyone Reaps Rewards
When you add it all up, everyone benefits from web-based client portals. They provide instantaneous, convenient access to case-related information for both lawyers and their clients. Even better, your important confidential communications with clients occur in a secure, encrypted environment when you use law practice management software with built-in portals.
Nicole Black is a Director at MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is an attorney in Rochester, New York, and a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” and co-author of the ABA book “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier,” and she co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.