By Jane Oxley* of Smokeball software

Enough with the emails!

With many of us working from home right now, most law firms we’re speaking to are telling us that they have more emails than ever at this time. Not only do they have their normal overwhelming number of emails, now they also have most of the internal conversations through email too.

Responding to emails promptly, filing emails against a matter, finding the right email when you need it, is already extremely difficult and time consuming for firms (especially if they’re not using a system like Smokeball to auto-file them against the matter).  Add to this the additional burden of your important internal conversations, and your inbox can easily spin out of control.

So what should you use for internal communication? At Smokeball, we see three broad ways to make teams communication effective when working remotely, other than picking up the phone.  First, there are one-to-one, or small group discussions – we call this Internal Chat. Then there are “topics” that are broadly important to the firm to communicate to staff about, or to encourage the staff to discuss – we call these Channels. And finally, video conferencing to replicate as closely as possible the face to face conversations we are all missing out on.

Using internal chat

Smokeball has internal chat built into its matters and into our program generally. Having chat built into individual matters allows us to track the time spent discussing the matter. Smokeball has automatic time and activity tracking so our clients don’t need to time record in order to time bill (or ascertain fixed fee profitability). Internal chat is fast and easy, just like sending text messages to each other. You get notified when you have a new message. You can also share files to discuss with a person or relevant team, to keep your matters progressing faster. Internal chat can also be used outside matters, making it easy for your team to replicate the hallway conversations they likely miss when they’re working remotely.

Having internal chat embedded into your matter is extremely useful not only from a communication standpoint but also from a file management point of view. If you open up any matter in Smokeball, wherever you are working, you can quickly apprise yourself of the status of the matter by seeing the meetings that have occurred, documents created, emails received from the client and other side, but also the internal back and forth regarding the matter. If you are a firm owner wanting to check that the case is progressing, you have to take over a matter for a time because a staff member is out sick, or you simply haven’t looked at this matter for a week or so, this bird’s eye view of a matter is invaluable.

What channels are for

Channels are another way for you to communicate with your whole team or a sub-set of your team. Channels are classified under a topic. They can be used for a myriad of communication streams. Firm owners could have a private channel where they discuss HR issues or financials. The Conveyancing team could have a Settlements channel. You can create firm-wide channels for topics like “Working from Home Tips” or “The Mail”. If you have one person opening all mail, they can use this channel to ask your team which matter a piece of mail relates to if it isn’t clear on arrival.

At Smokeball, we use channels widely internally in all these ways. We also use them for lighter topics, for example right now we have a few Smokeball Olympics channels where we’re split into teams to compete on physical activity done in the day (something fun and encouraging our staff to get moving!). We have special interest groups that only some team members join such as a Game of Thrones channel. We see these fun channels as important even when we’re in the office, but right now with us all working remotely, the opportunity to blow off steam and have a quick break from “work” is even more important.

Video conferencing adds an important dimension

Video conferencing often moves matters forward faster than anything else. At Smokeball we use Zoom, and have now integrated Zoom into our software for our clients. We use Zoom for all team meetings, for quick catch ups to solve a problem, for one-to-one meetings and more. Video, with the benefit of all the cues we get from body language and seeing each other’s faces, connects us better than any other tool when working remotely. The great thing with Zoom particularly is that it is easy for communication with one person or a group of people, and it’s also incredibly simple to share documents or presentations to review together. With Smokeball’s integration to Zoom, you get the additional benefit of automatic time capture for every minute that you’re on a call internally (or with a client).

If you’re relying on email for internal communications, stop! There are better ways to keep your team in the loop, and to also ensure you’re capturing all the time you work each day.


*Jane Oxley, Chief Revenue Officer of Smokeball