Book review: The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies

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The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell (Chicago: American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section, 2008 )

The most important and remarkable thing about The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies is that it’s not really a technology book.

This might come as a surprise, considering the book’s authors are two of the most well-known and widely published legal technology experts around. Tom Mighell chaired this year’s outstanding ABA TECHSHOW and operates the blawgosphere’s unofficial “paper of record” at Inter Alia, while Dennis Kennedy is the closest thing to a household name in legal technology worldwide. Accordingly, you might expect that the latest work from these longstanding collaborators — this time on, well, collaboration — would be a tech-heavy read. And certainly, fans of legal technology minutae won’t be disappointed with the result.

But Dennis and Tom have done more than that: they’ve created a thoughtful, comprehensive, strategic guide for 21st-century lawyers to understand and appreciate the significance of collaboration, and how it can be be integrated into real-world legal practices. In doing so, they’ve reached beyond the legal tech hardcore to the exponentially larger base of lawyers who must respond to the wave of collaboration now striking the profession, but aren’t sure how to begin. Tom and Dennis get these lawyers started and give them a map to follow and signposts to steer by. Considering how central collaboration is about to become in the law, this book really can be called indispensible.

The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies clocks in at a little under 300 pages, with the final 50 devoted to a handy glossary, detailed appendices and a useful index. The 34 preceding chapters are a legal collaboration gold mine, starting with explanations of what collaboration in the law is, why it matters so much, how lawyers are already collaborating every day, and how to prepare a law practice for a strategic, client-focused adoption of collaboration. Chapter 5 includes a particularly useful blueprint for a collaboration audit — the authors want lawyers to go into this process informed, context-aware and prepared for what’s to come.

From that point, the fun really begins, with several chapters on document collaboration (everything from MS Word’s Track Changes to online tools like Google Docs to the perils of metadata) and project/transaction collaboration (instant messaging, Adobe Connect, online meetings, and project management tools, to name just a few). Then the book goes into the important subject of collaboration platforms like extranets, wikis, Basecamp, MS Sharepoint and even plain old e-mail, a dangerous yet widely used de facto method of lawyer collaboration. The authors wind up with sections on strategies, practical tips, and potential pitfalls of collaboration (chapter 32, which offers recommended collaboration scenarios for lawyers in different types and sizes of firm, is invaluable). Throughout, they offer up descriptions, pros, and cons of leading products and services and lists of many more. Tightly and concisely written (appropriately enough, collaboratively in Google Docs), the book offers a remarkable amount of detail and insight.

It’s important to note that this book is as much about understanding the power and growing necessity of collaboration as it is about exploring the tools to get you there — arguably, it’s a strategy text first and a technology work second. To that end, it’s aimed more at the collaboration novice than at the expert — Dennis and Tom use real-life illustrations from a typical law practice (and make homey references to kids and grandkids) to put readers at ease and facilitate their entry into this subject.

But by no means is this a Collaboration 101 book with no relevance to intermediate and advanced users — lawyers already interested in and familiar with collaboration tools and strategies will find a lot of useful information too. I know this area pretty well, but I learned several new techniques and approaches to collaboration from reading this work. Dennis and Tom have taken particular pains to note cutting-edge tools like Twitter, drop.io, and even the Texas Bar Circle, which I only blogged about in March. And even veteran collaboration junkies will benefit from the big-picture, disciplined, strategic, and (especially) client-focused approach to collaboration that this book constantly drives home.

I like most everything about The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, so I’ll set out only a few minor reservations here. At times, the authors make too much effort to simplify their subject — even the most jaded urbanite, for example, probably doesn’t need to have the word “silo” explained and defined. The sections on extranets are as detailed as you could ask for, but I wish there was more on intranets, especially regarding their potential as a knowledge management tool. Indeed, KM, arguably among the most important examples of lawyer collaboration, appears later in the book and not in any great detail (though I readily admit it’s a subject that, once broached, could easily fill a book of its own).

But that aside, there really is nothing more you could ask from a book that not only shows lawyers how to collaborate, but also, and even more importantly, why they should and why they need to. As Tom and Dennis say at both the beginning and end of their work, “Collaboration is not an option.” All the talk these days about Web 2.0, or even Law 2.0, essentially comes down to collaboration. Whereas the first iteration of most web-based technologies was individual, one-to-many and static, the newest online developments are collaborative, many-to-many and dynamic. People today expect interactivity — they assume that they’ll be able to participate actively in their chosen pursuits.

Lawyers need to understand this, because collaborative technologies are going to play a key role in the transformation of the lawyer-client relationship. The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies is where every lawyer should start that process.

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2 Responses to “Book review: The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies”

  1. Dennis Kennedy

    Jordan,

    Your review made my day (week, month) and makes me feel
    that the book actually accomplishes what Tom and I set out to do with it. Thanks so much.

    Dennis

  2. Melissa

    J Richard Kulerski, author of “Divorce Buddy System,” is dedicated to raising awareness among dispute resolution professionals. His book contains breakthrough information on how reasonable people can avoid the legendary frustration and expense of the divorce legal system.

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