Top Collaboration Tools for the Law Office

Last blog post, we talked about the need for—and advantages of—collaboration in the legal field, both within the firm and with lawyers representing other clients. We mainly focused on tools that manage collaboration on document management. This time, we’ll look into video collaboration tools, and we’ll talk about the infrastructure needed to support document-sharing and video communication.

There are whole bodies of work in the field of psychology that attest to the power of proximity when it comes to collaboration. Long story short: face-to-face is the most effective mode of collaboration. (Click on the link to a study by Kraut, Russell, Brennan and Siegel on the subject.) But it’s not always practical, as we discussed in the last blog post.

Video collaboration tools offer an alternative to being in the same room that, if implemented properly, offers almost everything a face-to-face meeting can offer, but for the handshake and an offer of coffee.

“We learned that people were more engaged when they could see and hear each other well, basically interacting the way humans have interacted for thousands of years: face to face,” wrote Cisco Systems Inc.’s Harbrinder Kang in a Forbes Magazine article in 2013, speaking of a study of human behaviour the networking giant had conducted. “When personal meetings were not possible for our participants, they embraced technology, such as high-definition videoconferencing, that most closely emulates human interactions.”

A few years ago, there was an emphasis on enterprise collaboration involving purpose-built rooms with multiple cameras and furniture built to make it look like the high-definition image on the massive monitors was in the same room as you. It’s a remarkable experience, especially when collaborating with users from several sites. Speakers are highlighted front and centre on the main screen, other collaborators intelligently patched to the other screens—heck, you weren’t even sure when you were on for everyone else. Presentation slides and other media could also take the main stage, and control can be passed back and forth between users.

These Telepresence rooms are still the gold standard for video collaboration. But they require a lot of gold. A fully featured Telepresence suite can run a company upwards of $300,000. And since all of your collaborators won’t necessarily have a Telepresence suite, it’s important that other video collaboration endpoints be able to join the party.

Fortunately, there are a couple of protocols that make this possible. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) manages the connectivity of multimedia communications session. H.264 is more properly considered an audio-video compression format, but it levels the playing field between huge, high-definition video monitors and some lesser-powered endpoints.

In fact, those two technologies make it possible for any-to-any video communication among a variety of endpoints. Other than the majestic Telepresence suite, we have:

* Smaller-scale Telepresence units. Rather than taking over an entire boardroom, these single screens can inhabit a small office. They’re also more portable.

* Laptop and desktop collaboration tools. With an onboard Webcam (or perhaps a higher-end one for better resolution) and collaboration software like Skype, you can connect to most video conferences. Look for other features as well; Cisco’s WebEx platform allows sharing screens for even more collaborative possibilities.

* Desktop video phones. These are similar to your standard desktop handset, but they incorporate the necessary protocols, a video screen and a small high-definition display to incorporate video into your phone call. A neat example is Cisco’s DX650, though there are several manufacturers playing in the market.

* Smartphone clients. All of the smartphone operating systems accommodate video calls. WebEx and Skype are among the most popular.

In the next blog post, we’ll begin to examine some of the technological issues facing businesses in the government and public service realm.

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