How to Set Up a Client Portal

I’m used to the companies and people I do business with providing me with technologically advanced solutions.

  • My bank makes most of its technology available to me on my phone. I visit my bank’s website, and I can see my statements, my recent transactions, my balances, etc. I can pull up a copy of a check that cleared yesterday. I can transfer funds from one account to another. In fact, I can scan a check, upload it, and instantly see the deposit reflected in my balance.
  • Of course, my doctor does the same thing. I get email notifications of lab results, and one click takes me to the lab report, even if it’s the middle of the night.
  • It’s the same deal with my insurance company and my retirement plan.
  • Even my bathroom scale makes its measurements available to me on a website.

We’re all used to doing everything online, from buying movie tickets to making dinner reservations to buying our clothing. We expect up-to-the-minute information about our purchases. We’re able to review our history with most of the businesses we patronize.

Online Access to Client Files

What about our law firm? Do we make documents available to our clients online?

Generally, lawyers lag way behind the rest of industry. Our clients usually lack access to their file unless we’ve emailed them copies or they request a paper copy.

Many years ago, back in the mid-90s, our firm decided to take our documents online. It was a risky, expensive proposition back then. We had to commit to technology with an uncertain future and spend what was, for us, a great deal of money.

It paid off. We ended up with an advanced approach to managing our files and clients happy with access to their information.

How did we do it way back then? We did it with Lotus Notes. It was a great way to go at the time.

Time passes…

A few years ago, we ditched Lotus Notes and moved to the cloud. Notes was great and our clients were happy, but we spent a great deal of money on managing servers, upgrading software, and tweaking our system. The cloud beckoned.

Making the move away from Notes was traumatic. It’s never easy to transition data from one type of software to another. It’s not especially simple to move lawyers from something they’re comfortable with to something new. We had lots of trauma, but we survived.

Our Cloud-Based Client Portal

We moved our client portal to NetDocuments. NetDocuments is a cloud-based document management system. The company describes itself well as “an online place where you can store, share, and access your documents.”

Basically, NetDocuments is a bunch of servers, housed somewhere other than in our offices, that we access via the Internet. We upload our documents there (the site makes it easy to send it document images and emails), and we give our clients access to the documents via a secure website with a password.

Our clients can only see their own documents, not those belonging to our other clients, and we can determine which documents are visible to the clients (for instance, we exclude our attorney notes). Clients can log in to the site any time of the day or night.

NetDocuments charges us a monthly fee per user, and we find ourselves spending less on its services than we did when we paid for hardware, software, and support for machines housed in our own offices. The company’s services are more sophisticated than what we were able to provide when doing it ourselves, and it offers a far more robust and reliable infrastructure.

Typically, our clients aren’t surprised that we offer them access to their documents. In fact, they report that their spouses are upset when their counsel don’t offer them access to a similar system. I enjoy that part.

Is NetDocuments the perfect solution for creating a client portal? It’s good, but it’s not perfect. For instance, it integrates well with Microsoft Outlook, making it easy to forward an email to the system, but it’s not well connected to Google Apps Mail. Will that feature come one day? I’m sure it will. In the meantime, a number of vendors are in this space, and it pays to examine them all before making a decision.

Software, no matter how good it is now, inspires us to wish for additional features. That’s what NetDocuments does for me. I keep thinking of new and better ways for us to use the product as the company improves it and it becomes more sophisticated.

Is NetDocuments the best client portal we’ve ever offered?

It sure is. It’s terrific.

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