Real-Time Global Collaboration: Can You Afford to Wait Thirty Minutes?

In today's international business and legal world, a half-hour wait can be 29 minutes too long.

Clients with operations around the world expect their law firms to operate from all corners of the globe as well -- and they expect instantaneous communication. That can be a challenge for law firms, which often struggle with simultaneous or synchronous collaboration when they are required to revise complex documents in a timely manner. Such documents can take seemingly ages to get everyone's input and finalize. The number of versions created by each reviewer's input adds complexity and time delays that can be costly to clients and reflect poorly on the ability of the lawyers to finish the project quickly.

Virtual team members, whether across the hall, across the country or across the ocean, need to collaborate in real-time. And that means uninterrupted access to any changes and revisions in documents immediately, not 30 minutes or an hour or a day after the changes are first proposed. Managing legal work internationally is difficult enough, and coping with the need for immediate and accurate communications can be daunting. Fortunately, the correct procedures, workflow and technical solutions can free lawyers from those concerns and let them focus on the law, not the logistics.

When situations arise requiring real-time results, the right document collaboration software can improve workflow by eliminating virtual collisions, while ensuring confidential data remains secure. When a history of change is required, some providers also offer a captured audit trail, detailing who said what, and how the document evolved throughout the collaboration process. Couple these real-time results with the ability to include client's input and instant global document collaboration becomes logistically effortless.

Keeping Everyone on the Same Page

When different people are revising the same file at the same time, it's no easy task getting the most up-to-date and accurate version in front of everyone who needs it. Busy executives can get very frustrated when they are in a conference call with their legal advisors and everyone has a different version of the same document. This is where a good replicating software program is important, particularly when team members office in different locations. Almost everyone has some experience with and access to word processing applications with basic document comparison and redlining features. Unfortunately, these common word processing redlining packages are often not sophisticated enough for rigorous document collaboration among different parties in different jurisdictions. A more robust software program allows for quick comparison of complicated and often extensive changes, making it easy to accept some, none, or all of the suggested changes.

Accountability and the ability to track changes are also important, particularly with large teams. It should be immediately obvious who requested which changes and when. If a user can see all the requested changes to a paragraph by the same reviewer through all the versions with one click instead of having to open multiple documents, then we may finally be approaching a true advancement in document collaboration. Document collaboration software needs to have certain protective functions. It should be designed so that virtual team members and various users in offices around the world cannot simply overwrite another's work. In highly regulated and frequently audited industries, such as finance, this is a critical function.

Improving Workflow

With documents flying around the world virtually and on paper, it's often difficult to make sure everyone with a need to know sees what they need to see, when they need to see it. Setting up a workflow process -- which ensures the correct people see or approve the proper files in the right order -- saves time, improves productivity and removes concerns that something important will be missed.

Staying Secure

When working with sensitive legal and financial information, security is a huge concern. Amongst law firm offices, a VPN or other private network may be an option. But when virtual team members include those outside the law firm, such as clients and accountants, other security measures should be considered. Options include encrypting data or protecting information with passwords.

Working with Fixed Formats

Fixed format files, such as portable document formats (PDFs), can be a great benefit, especially with files that should not be edited or revised. But the inability to manipulate such files can also be a hindrance in collaboration. Contributors should not be restricted because of fixed formats such as PDF files. Users should easily upload a WORD or Word Perfect document or extract PDF documents back to Rich Text Format (RTF) for ease of collaboration. When a deal had to be done yesterday, or a regulatory agency in another country needs a form ASAP, there is no time to waste. Spending half an hour on the phone with someone in another time zone to ensure everyone has the same version of the document can hurt the entire operation. Such borders and barriers, whether cultural, legal or geographic, can hinder teams from working together and achieving the best possible outcome for everyone involved. By removing technical borders and improving work processes, team members can focus on working together seamlessly and immediately.

Maybe the time has come where we can take the "One World" rhetoric and find a practical "One document" solution?