Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the emerging and rapidly growing interest in client portals:
“A client portal is an electronic gateway to a collection of digital files, services, and information, accessible over the Internet through a web browser.
“The term is most often applied to a sharing mechanism between an organization and its clients. The organization provides a secure entry point, typically via a website, that lets its clients log into an area where they can view, download, and upload private information.
“Many federal and state privacy laws and professional codes of ethics require that organizations encrypt their clients’ personally identifiable information that is sent online electronically. Sharing such information through email does not comply with these requirements.
“Other advantages of client portals, as distinguished from email, include increased file size limitations and self-service access to a private repository. Client portals are often used in conjunction with workflow automation and document management systems to maximize work environment efficiency.”
As law office technology consultants, we are seeing “client portals” appear either embedded in, or working in conjunction with, various law office software applications, most notably in practice management software.
Both DropBox and Box are well-known “free” file sharing systems, but I would be reluctant to classify these as true “client portals” for various reasons, notably security flaws, end-to-end document encryption and control, and limited organizational capabilities.
Four apps that may meet your needs for a client portal, and that do a better job of security and organizational flexibility are:
- Legal Anywhere Connect
ShareFile is a product offered by Citrix, the massive technology provider for popular remote access and meeting software (GoToMyPC, GoToMeeting, etc.). ShareFile operates much like Dropbox, but offers many of the security and configuration features that the free version of DropBox lacks. ShareFile functions largely as a stand-alone app, but does integrate well with Outlook, and has an easy-to-use desktop app for uploading and downloading documents.
WatchDox, recently acquired by mobile technology company Blackberry, is a long-time player in the client portal marketplace, typically in Fortune 1000 companies. LexisNexis has recently created an integration between WatchDox and its Time Matters practice management software, making it easier for Time Matters users to securely share and protect documents linked to the Time Matters app with the firm’s clients.
NetDocuments is a stand-alone, Cloud-based document management system that offers extensive configuration options for integration with practice management software (including Time Matters and Clio). More importantly, NetDocuments has a built-in file sharing “ShareSpace” that offers various secure options for sharing selected documents with clients, opposing attorneys, and anyone else who needs controlled access to important documents for a matter.
Legal Anywhere Connect is an interesting, dedicated client portal with a host of configuration options, including the definition of workflow “rules” for document processing and sharing to improve firm efficiency. It integrates well with Microsoft Office and with Worldox, a leading document management system used by many law firms. We are just beginning to dive more deeply into Legal Anywhere Connect, and into some of the other Cloud-based Legal Anywhere product offerings (FirmConnect, Deal Room, etc.), and will have more to say about this company at a later date.
In choosing the right portal for you client document sharing needs, we suggest you review each product’s offering along five parameters:
- Storage space offered
- Portal organization/configuration
- Workflow / ease of use
As my partner Michael Gaines addressed in his recent article on WatchDox and client portals, we think there could be much more to a client portal than simple document sharing. That expansion of functionality seems to be the direction in which the industry is heading, so we will be monitoring this development and will update our understanding of this growing class of law office software as the industry matures.
If you have questions about client portals, or need help in evaluating the right approach for your firm, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 877-357-0555 or send us a message at [email protected]. We are always happy to talk portals!
Jack Schaller has been active in the field of law office technology since 1989, and has worked with a variety of commercial accounting, legal billing, practice management, and document management software products during his twenty plus years in the software consulting field. During his tenure as a software consultant he has garnered many sales and service awards for his work with legal software products. Jack is a frequent presenter at legal conferences and seminars, and is a regular contributor to TechnoLawyer and other technology publications.