07:00 AM

Cool software collaboration tips

By Jeffrey Schoenberger, senior consultant at Affinity Consulting Group LLC

Collaboration happens in two forms: asynchronous and real-time. We generally prefer asynchronous communication – text messages, emails, and voicemails – over real-time communication. How often do you text or email from your smartphone compared to making actual phone calls in a day?


Asynchronous collaboration allows people to work from anywhere at a time convenient to them. Early birds can collaborate with night owls. New Yorkers can collaborate with counterparts in the Far East. Time zones don’t matter. Here are tips to make asynchronous collaboration better:

Share basic documents

  1. If you’re not on the paperless bandwagon, start by getting a scanner to turn important papers into something that can be shared easily. After scanning the document, programs like Adobe Acrobat or ABBYY FineReader can convert a PDF to an editable Microsoft Word document.
  2. To collaborate over the Internet, your document must be accessible to your collaborator. The easiest sharing platform is Dropbox, although there are plenty of competitors in this market. In fact, Apple (iCloud Drive), Google (G Drive), and Microsoft (OneDrive) all offer free space, but I think they’re just a bit more challenging to share from compared to Dropbox.
  3. Apple’s Pages, Google’s Docs, and Microsoft Word offer free web-based versions of their respective word processors. If your collaborator doesn’t have the same word processor as you, they can access these free versions to edit the document you share, although they must create an account with the vendor if they don’t already have one.
  4. Each person can now edit the document. Some word processors also allow several individuals track their suggested edits.

Share information rather than a document

  1. Microsoft’s OneNote is the most cross-platform of the note-taking or “everything bucket” solutions. Create a notebook, share it with your collaborator, and either of you can put just about anything you can imagine in there: lists; checklists; images (whose in-image text, like a billboard or street sign, is searchable like typed text); other documents like Word, Excel, or PDF files; and even handwritten notes from an Apple Pencil (via the OneNote iPad app) or Surface Pen (via a Microsoft Surface device). OneNote is available on all the major platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android). There’s even a web-based version if you’re collaborating with someone who doesn’t want to download the free app.
  2. All major web-based practice management platforms offer some version of a client portal, but don’t be limited by the word “client.” These portals are shared spaces where anyone you allow can see and interact with information you choose to make available from your practice management program. Vendors offer a wide array of features under the umbrella term of “client portal.” Clio, for example, lets you share just about anything through the portal. Clients can even upload documents and send you secure communications through it. Cosmolex offers a similarly rich portal experience. Actionstep’s portal, on the other hand, is restricted to document sharing. Visit our Practice Management Center to get an idea of features, comparisons, and considerations regarding client portal services. If you decide to buy, the bar’s Member Benefits page provides discounts for many top contenders.

Real-time collaboration

If you and your collaborator need to work on the same document simultaneously, I have two questions for you: 1) how tech-savvy is your collaborator, and 2) how complex is the shared document (e.g., complex formatting, lots of images, etc.)?

Technophobe collaborators
If the person you’re sharing the document with is not a technophile like you, then the easiest thing to do is a web meeting where one of you opens the document and shares your screen. You can even grant keyboard and mouse control to your fellow participant, so that person can edit and navigate the document while the document resides on your computer. All major web meeting platforms support screen and control sharing, though many require a paid account. If you’ve made it this far into the pandemic without a paid account at Zoom, WebEx, or similar, this comparison chart will help you choose one. And, once you’ve made that choice, read up on video conferencing professionally and get a pair of good headphones. Although you don’t need it for mere document collaboration, I recommend getting a high-quality webcam. The ones built into laptops are not good, a fact even the Wall Street Journal confirmed. I have and like Logitech’s Brio Ultra HD Pro Business, personally. Despite the alphabet-soup of a name, it works wonderfully, has 4K resolution, a built-in microphone, a privacy shutter (great if your office doubles as a bedroom), and supports Windows Hello. Plus, it’s actually in stock now.

Complex documents
Complex documents share best in their native formats. In the legal world, this usually means Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Luckily, sharing is easy for these programs, and your collaborator doesn’t have to own (or subscribe to) Microsoft Office. Here are the steps to share a Microsoft Office document via OneDrive (or OneDrive for Business or SharePoint) so that others can open and edit it at the same time as you, so that you see each other’s changes as they happen:

  1. Save your document to OneDrive.
  2. Open the document via the Office desktop app or the Office web app.
  3. Click the “Share” button in the top right of the Office app.
  4. Enter the email address of your collaborator. Type a message if you like. Then click “Send.”
  5. As an alternative to the step above, you can choose “Copy link” if you’d prefer to send the person a web link via a text message or other means.
  6. The collaborator receives a link he or she can click to access and edit the document.
  7. When you both have the document open simultaneously, you will see a circle with initials of others in the document in the top right of the app or web app window. Clicking on a pair of initials reveals what page of the document that person is currently viewing or editing.

Mix and match

Depending on the information you’re sharing and the tech skills of your collaboration counterparts, one method may make more sense than another. In my experience, older clients prefer web meetings where you control everything as they comment or dictate text. Other folks prefer asynchronous document sharing because, like text messages or emails, they can review the documents at a time convenient to them.

The Manage a Practice page of the Practice Management Center contains scores of white papers, checklists, charts, and other articles relating to this topic. Missouri Bar members can also schedule a free consultation through the Ask an Expert page or by emailing MoBarLPM@affinityconsulting.com.