Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Client Portals

We went paperless at our law firm years ago. With the passing of those years email has become the communications channel of choice for our firm and our clients. When a piece of paper comes in on a case it is scanned into an electronic file cabinet and a pdf copy is mailed to the client. Same thing for paper we generate. Scanned into an electronic file cabinet, and a copy emailed to the client.

A divorce case can generate a lot of paper. Keeping all of that paper organized is not a skill that many clients have or want. We repeatedly get requests from clients that we send them second and third copies of their documents. When we meet with clients the files that they bring with them to the meetings . . . well . . . let's just say some are more organized then others.

That got me thinking, how could I make all that paper handling easier for our clients? The answer was pretty simple: a secure online file cabinet for each client's matter, that the client could log into to view and download copies of all of the pleadings, discovery docs, correspondence, and records for their case. I cannot claim credit for the original idea in this regard. Client portals have been around for years. They just haven't been practical for small law firms to set-up. Fortunately, and as with all things tech driven, that has changed. Dropbox, Box, SugarSynch, iCloud, Google Synch have all transformed the way stuff can be stored online. These online storage services have for a while now been making it easy for you and me to save our stuff online. The client portal that I am writing about here is more than just an individual Dropbox account. I wanted something that could be personalized for each one of my clients, and something that each one of those clients could take ownership of.

A couple of days of pleasant online research empowered me with the knowledge that there are an abundance of providers delivering limitless storage capacity for a system like the one I was envisioning. I settled on ShareFile from Citrix (a preferred vendor of ours thanks to their great GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting products). Impressed by the friendly sales and support personnel, the extensive video training and documentation on their website, and the comfort that I had with the system when reviewing it, I made the jump.

So far so good.  I paid the $1200 for an annual plan and set things up. First, with ShareFile's help, we created a main law firm site. A nice little extra touch from ShareFile, when they set up our site they even personalized it with our law firm logo. Then we slowly began rolling out individual boxes for each of our cases (indexed by the last name, and then first name of the client). We call each of these boxes file cabinets. We created a default template that is inserted into each new case's file cabinet. The sub-folders for that template include pleadings, discovery, client communications, correspondence, recordsuploads from client folder (so that clients can deliver stuff to us) and a few others.

We are rolling it out slowly. As a new case comes in we set up the file cabinet for that client. Then we start uploading pdf docs into each specific sub-folder within the file cabinet. The client receives an email from us with instructions on how the system works, and with a temporary password. The client then logs into the system, creates a permanent password, and begins accessing his or her stuff in his or her file cabinet. This client portal process does add a couple of extra steps to our usual scanning and indexing of stuff, but not a real bother.

The response from our clients has been overwhelmingly fantastic. Every single client loves it.!Their file cabinet keeps things organized for them. The docs are available 24/7. The clients can download the docs to their computers, or print out paper copies. If they have stacks of documents and records that they need to send to us, they can scan them at home, upload them to their file cabinet, and not have any size limitations that they might run into when trying to transmit via email. When we upload a doc to a client's file cabinet the client gets an email letting them know. When the client downloads that doc we get an email letting us know. Really cool. And it is not just pdf files that can be saved. Any file type is doable. Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, Pages docs, Numbers spreadsheets, PowerPoints, Keynotes, these client portals (be it ShareFile, or Box, or Dropbox, etc., etc.) are compatible with all of them.

These client portals are web based, so they are accessible wherever you have internet access and a browser, Citrix is a big company and so far we have not suffered from any down time at its end. Another nice feature for us is the ShareFile app. This password protected app allows us and our clients to log into the system remotely with our smartphones and tablets. These features enhance the mobility of our practice and facilitate my obsession with practicing law remotely. Of course all of the cloud storage vendors have similar apps.

$1200 may sound like a lot, until you think about it. We get unlimited boxes/file cabinets and unlimited storage. UNLIMITED. From now until forever everyone of our cases will have its own online file cabinet that will never fill up! And the price is only going to come down with time. Combine that with how thrilled our clients are with it and it is money well spent.

Please visit hardinglaw.com for more information about Harding & Associates Family Law 

#Harding&AssociatesFamilyLaw #californiafamilylaw #divorce #family law #superlawyers #americanacademyofmatrimoniallawyers #Pleasantondivorce #AlamedaCountyDivorce #ContraCostaCountyDivorce #lawyers

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