The Transparency Switch

Are you ready for your firm to flip the transparency switch?

For many law firms, their Achilles’ Heel is e-mail. Almost all correspondence is handled electronically, but lawyers around the world have not always been diligent in sending copies of this correspondence to their firm’s records management system. To be fair, most firms I know ask their lawyers to do the right thing, but until recently there has not been technology available to make doing the right thing easy. Now, with the availability of electronic tools that can prompt a lawyer for filing details before sending the message — or, even better, suggest how the e-mail should be filed — firms are on the verge of having accurate, real-time institutional records of their electronic correspondence.

Risk managers at firms will breathe a big sigh of relief when these systems are in place. However, have others considered the impact of having the e-mail collections available at their fingertips? Suddenly, the firm’s communications will move from obscurity to transparency. One obvious consequence is that with centralized access to all the correspondence with a client, a lawyer should have a better understanding of the ongoing conversation between the client and the firm, and should be able to provide better service. And, if lawyers come to see this centralized collection as accurate, complete and reliable, they should over time stop hoarding e-mails in private Outlook folders. This will be another win for client service and firm risk management.

But, have you considered what happens to communications within the firm when all e-mail is retained in a searchable repository? What if there is a complete, centralized record of e-mail correspondence among administrative staff? Will the quality of the support services they provide improve? And, will there be an impact on office politics?  Or will the e-mails that record the daily dramas of the life of any human organization be excluded from the drive to transparency?

There are interesting times ahead.  Are you ready for your firm to flip the transparency switch?

[Photo Credit:  hockadilly]

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4 thoughts on “The Transparency Switch

  • October 16, 2009 at 5:03 pm
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    The law of unintended consequences will probably apply as much here as in other initiatives, Mary. But I think that the potential upsides will outweigh the downsides.

    One aspect is that you'll need a search engine that will be able to separate all that chaff from the wheat, but those engines exist now.

    And just one story to indicate the rationale for keeping all e-mails. One of our lawyers was told by his client, “I never got that document. If you sent it to me, I never got it.” After a long search (pre-enterprise search), our lawyer was able to find the response back from the client that just said, “Thanks,” but that evidenced that the client had indeed received it. So those e-mails that appear to be just chaff may turn out to something more!

  • October 16, 2009 at 7:29 pm
    Permalink

    John –

    Thanks for the reminder that even the most pedestrian e-mails might have future value under the right circumstances. Since it's hard to predict what is going to be important later, it appears that we'll have to save everything and invest heavily in finding and sorting tools. The search engine vendors must be delighted.

    – Mary

  • October 16, 2009 at 9:03 pm
    Permalink

    The law of unintended consequences will probably apply as much here as in other initiatives, Mary. But I think that the potential upsides will outweigh the downsides.

    One aspect is that you'll need a search engine that will be able to separate all that chaff from the wheat, but those engines exist now.

    And just one story to indicate the rationale for keeping all e-mails. One of our lawyers was told by his client, “I never got that document. If you sent it to me, I never got it.” After a long search (pre-enterprise search), our lawyer was able to find the response back from the client that just said, “Thanks,” but that evidenced that the client had indeed received it. So those e-mails that appear to be just chaff may turn out to something more!

  • October 16, 2009 at 11:29 pm
    Permalink

    John –

    Thanks for the reminder that even the most pedestrian e-mails might have future value under the right circumstances. Since it's hard to predict what is going to be important later, it appears that we'll have to save everything and invest heavily in finding and sorting tools. The search engine vendors must be delighted.

    – Mary

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