Lately, it seems like every legal tech product on the market is releasing or promoting a client portal. Some focus on document sharing, others on simplifying billing and ePayments. Still others focus on client communication and information sharing. So, what is a client portal? And, more importantly, why would an attorney want one?
Types of Client Portals
There really isn’t a singular way to define a client portal. Every attorney has different needs when communicating with clients. Most client portals, however, are built to suit the needs of the provider, not the client.
Timekeeping and billing software will typically focus on expediting client payment rather than sharing discovery documents. But, law practice management software usually attempts to facilitate information and document sharing between the attorney and client.
The simplest form of client portal is secure document sharing. However, there are many levels of workability and vastly differing needs among offices. Some attorneys simply need a secure folder where they can share documents with a relatively savvy client. Others require a method of requesting and tracking documents from the client.
Generally, attorneys can think about the document-sharing process in two steps. The first step is document sending. Lawyers need to send documents to the client, the court, and even opposing counsel. The second step is document acquisition. Lawyers need to receive documents from clients, and other parties, in an organized and secure fashion.
Although there will be rare outliers, most attorneys will need both of these. Complexity desires will vary, but this can be as simple as sharing a DropBox folder with your client. More robust platforms, though, could offer features like secure fetch, or document request workflows.
Most attorneys need to share information with their clients, beyond document sharing. This could mean gathering information at intake or allowing clients to see their case status at any time. Information sharing can also mean a secure, online communication channel between attorney and client. This is likely what most attorneys think of when they hear “client portal.”
Information sharing can get complex and will often seem daunting. Lawyers often have to train clients to communicate in an unfamiliar way. But this is where they stand to make the most gains. Lack of communication is one of the top client complaints about lawyers. And law offices usually spend an inordinate amount of time fielding routine questions and client requests. An information-sharing portal could alleviate some of this.
One of the most effective portals for attorneys is the payment portal. They allow clients to retrieve invoices, save credit card information, and even refill retainers electronically. While the ePayment fees will cost attorneys a little money, clients will be very familiar with online payment processes.
Client Portals in the Future
For many attorneys, comprehensive client portals (i.e. a combination of the three above) will become a virtual office-style platform to serve clients. Instead of meeting in a physical space, clients will first go to this virtual office for assistance.
Built-in video conferencing could make the attorney-client experience much more controlled and even more comfortable for the client. Attorneys could share a meeting recording with the client for their reference, potentially cutting down on future calls or miscommunication.
These virtual offices could even provide self-service options to clients needing simple services. For example, does an attorney have a landlord client who uses the same lease for every transaction? The landlord can create that lease in a managed platform. This would guarantee it was up-to-date each time the client used it.
Client Portals for Client Communication
There are infinite manifestations of the client portal in the future. All of them, by their very nature, will simply be ways to communicate better with clients. After all, that’s the goal. So when looking for a client portal, don’t find the flashiest thing available. Rather, start from the communication needs of the client. An attorney who satisfies those will have found the right client portal. Want to know more about client communication? Head to our Healthy Clients section. There, you’ll find resources on how to attract your ideal client and how to run a client-centered law firm.
Last updated October 13th, 2022