OSB Professional Liability Fund

Client Portals: Take Control of Client Communication

March 6, 2020
by Rachel Edwards

Client portals allow lawyers to interact with clients in a secure environment to accomplish tasks such as gathering information, sharing documents, and making payments for services. The word “portal” comes from the Latin term for a gate, meaning it maintains two functions. It opens to allow access but also closes to ensure security. Portals are designed to facilitate communication between attorneys and clients. Email is generally not a secure method of communication, and it can be challenging to sort through the vast number of emails we receive every day. Client portals add a layer of security and free up your inbox. These services are widely available in other professions, such as for doctors and accountants. They can be a valuable tool for lawyers, so consider implementing them into your practice if you haven’t already.

Depending on the program, client portals contain various capabilities, including the following:

  • Gathering information from clients
  • Messaging with clients
  • Sharing documents
  • Setting appointments
  • Making payments for services
  • Sharing client-specific calendars
  • Assigning tasks to clients
  • Sending reminders to clients
  • Tracking attorney time
  • Document automation
Before choosing any particular program, consider the following factors:
  1. Whether you have or are considering practice management software. If you already use a practice management program, look to see if it has a client portal. If you’re considering using a practice management program, see if it has a client portal. Practice management portals allow for feeding of information into a client matter so all information is kept in one location.
  2. Know your goals. Are you trying to facilitate communication with clients? Then find a portal that allows them to send messages so they aren’t tempted to send an email or make a phone call. Are you seeking a way to simply exchange documents with clients? Then a standalone document exchange portal may suffice. Are you trying to increase fee collection? Then consider a portal that allows for electronic payment.
  3. Increase client accountability. If you struggle with clients not completing requested tasks, such as providing discovery, find a portal that has an “audit” trail to track when clients viewed documents or took action.
  4. Always vet the vendor. Client portals store information in the cloud, so be sure to vet the vendor in accordance with OSB Formal Ethics Opinion 2011-188. This becomes especially important if the program isn’t designed for a law firm, because it may not provide the level of security you require. A secure portal assures that data is encrypted while transmitted.
  5. Be prepared to train clients or provide training materials. Make sure you are familiar with the portal in case you need to explain it to the client. Or find out whether the program has training materials that can be given to the client rather than spending your time training them. And clients should be instructed to contact the portal company first if they’re having trouble with it, and only contact the attorney if the issue is time-sensitive.
Below is a list of client portal providers you may consider:
  1. Practice management software. The following practice management programs contain client portals and offer discounts to PLF members: Clio, CosmoLex, MyCase, PracticePanther, and Rocket Matter. Others include Filevine, Zola Suite, Smokeball, LEAP, and Actionstep.
  2. Standalone client portals. If not using practice management software, there are standalone programs that contain certain portal capabilities:
    1. File-sharing: Citrix Sharefile, Microsoft Sharepoint, NetDocuments, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and iManage.
    2. Various capabilities: DirectLaw is a cloud platform that allows clients to accomplish tasks such as fill out documents, sign contracts, send messages to their attorney, pay bills, and access a customized calendar.
Client portals can reduce interruptions throughout the day by allowing clients to communicate via the portal rather than through phone calls or emails. It allows you to control how the client communicates with you, and to control how you manage your time. The key is to set expectations with your clients up front, letting them know that they need to use the client portal, and enforce that expectation if they try to use other methods of communication.