Helen Geib, General Counsel and Practice Support Consultant with QDiscovery, provides seven tips for promoting higher functioning, collaborative teams that are more efficient and effective, and produce higher quality results.

Collaboration is an integral part of legal work. Good teamwork is especially important in litigation and complex transactions. Yet, traditionally it’s received little attention. Better collaboration can be a key differentiator and a major boost to your business.

Better Collaboration Leads to Better Results

Good collaboration has many benefits. Most important is the end result. Simply put, people who work well together do better work. Highly functioning teams are also more efficient, which keeps costs down and frees up team members’ time for other tasks. Improved employee morale is a long-term benefit of collaboration. Job satisfaction reduces turnover and its associated costs. Experienced legal professionals with institutional and project knowledge are an invaluable resource.

You collaborate with your outside counsel. All lawyers collaborate with other lawyers and support staff. Team size grows quickly with matter complexity, importance and urgency. Specialization, both legal and technical, is a significant trend requiring increased collaboration. Service providers contribute essential technology expertise to e-discovery projects.

The question isn’t if we collaborate, but how well we collaborate. Follow these seven steps to collaboration success.

Know Your Goals Before You Start

  1. Determine project goals.

The first step is to determine project goals and requirements. This is a prerequisite for the next two steps of assembling the team and defining roles and responsibilities. You should also be ready and able to explain why the project matters. Knowing a job has purpose, and value is a powerful motivator.

Project Set-Up Is About People

  1. Assemble the team.

The next step is to assemble the team and choose (or confirm) the leader. First, you need people with the right skillsets. Second, they must have enough time available. Qualified people are in high demand. Third, you need to have the right number of people. Too many is inefficient, too few makes it hard to meet deadlines.

  1. Define roles and responsibilities.

The team leader has primary responsibility for defining roles and responsibilities. However, the team members themselves assist with self-assessments of their qualifications (in light of project goals) and availability. Roles may – and often do – change during the life of the project. Nevertheless, clearly defining each person’s responsibilities at the outset goes a long way to preventing duplication of effort, dropped balls and that bane of teamwork: turf battles. Of course, individual expectations must be clearly communicated.

  1. Establish communications expectations.

Poor communication causes many avoidable problems and exacerbates inevitable difficulties. The fourth step is to set expectations for project communications within the core team and with other project stakeholders. Email remains the norm, although texts and messaging apps are becoming more common. Phone calls are efficient for group updates and discussions. Frequency should be considered in addition to channel. There’s no one right way to handle communications. The key is to decide on a system that works for your team and ensure everyone knows about it.

Leverage Collaboration Technology

  1. Use technology tools.

Technology is there to help. There are many technology tools designed to facilitate collaboration and knowledge-sharing. These range from older resources like e-rooms to newer solutions like Slack. Before investing in a collaboration tool, consider your specific project requirements. Typical technology needs are shared-access resource libraries, collaborative document drafting and messaging platforms to replace or supplement email.

Every Team Needs to Be Managed

  1. Guide the team.

The sixth step is hands-on, active management of the team. The team leader bears responsibility to keep the project on track and on deadline. Good communication and organizational skills are a must. Team members should be kept up-to-date about project developments and deadlines. The team leader must monitor individual progress and make sure people have the resources they need to complete their tasks.

  1. Encourage teamwork.

For many in the legal industry, the final step is the hardest because it depends on soft skills. Collaboration has to be fostered and facilitated by encouraging knowledge sharing and open communication within the team. The team leader should be open to constructive suggestions and act on them when practicable. Most difficult is mediating conflicts between team members or between the team and other stakeholders.

Collaboration Is Critical in E-discovery

E-discovery is a case study in the importance of collaboration within and between organizations. Business litigation at a minimum involves the corporate client, outside counsel law firm and e-discovery services provider (outside or in-house). Many cases additionally involve subject matter experts, digital forensic providers or contract reviewers.

Technology facilitates teamwork in any legal matter. In e-discovery, it also necessitates collaboration. For example, the client, outside counsel and e-discovery services provider work together to identify and collect relevant Electronically Stored Information. Complex legal, procedural and technical requirements make defensibility a joint effort. If any of the stakeholders are absent from the process, the best case scenario is inefficiency. The worst case is spoliation and missed evidence.

Document review brings an added challenge. Compared to other legal projects, review teams have a very high turnover rate. Complicating the situation further, turnover is caused by several factors. These include short-term staffing to meet production deadlines and multiple review goals (responsiveness, privilege, deposition preparation, etc.) that require different skillsets.

Staffing changes in e-discovery illustrate a larger point. The seven steps of successful collaboration don’t always follow a straight line. Course changes are common in legal projects, especially in litigation. Project goals change and roles are redefined. Change has to be managed. Active management must be informed by a big picture perspective.

Collaboration is universal. Every type of legal matter involves people working together. Professional specialization, big data and legal technology add more people to the team. Even more important than collaboration’s universality is its value proposition. When people work well together, they produce better quality results, and successful teams are more efficient and productive. Make teamwork a priority by following these seven steps to better collaboration.