Video Killed the Radio Star, the first video played on MTV when the channel launched in 1981, spoke of the rise of video and decline of audio. Thirty-three years later, thanks to technology, it’s more practical than ever before for lawyers to “meet” with their colleagues via video conference or video chat. So, how will small firm collaboration evolve in the coming years?
Video technology has come so far that legal futurist Richard Susskind predicted in his Clio Cloud Conference keynote that, in the not-too-distant future, clients will be meeting with lawyers via high-definition, immersive tools along the lines of Cisco’s TelePresence.
Do today’s lawyers want to leave the telephone behind when it comes to remote collaboration? In August, I conducted an online survey of solo and small firm lawyers’ use of video technology to collaborate with colleagues in other firms. Participants were solicited via Twitter, Facebook and on the ABA’s Solosez e-mail list. Of the 36 respondents, 80% were solo practitioners; 11% were in 2–5 lawyer firms; and 9% were in 6–50 lawyer firms. The survey used the following terms:
- Video conference: video calling with more than two participants from desktop or mobile device
- Video chat: video calling with two participants from desktop or mobile device
- Teleconference: audio call with more than two participants using a landline or mobile telephone
- Telephone call: audio call with two participants using a landline or mobile telephone
The first question asked: When you are collaborating on a matter with one or more colleagues outside your firm, and you need to speak with you colleagues, do you generally prefer to do so by video conference/video chat or teleconference/telephone call? The results were striking: more than 90% of respondents said they prefer collaborating via teleconference or telephone call over video conference or video chat.
The next two questions asked participants to clarify why they prefer audio communications to video ones (or vice versa). The reasons respondents prefer using the telephone over video were about equally split between technology and vanity, such as ‘I’m too self conscious and video conferencing disallows multitasking’, and ‘I don’t want the distraction of wondering what I look like’.
Even though only three survey respondents indicated in response to Question 1 that they prefer video over audio, eight respondents answered the question: If you prefer to collaborate with colleagues by videoconference/video chat, why do you prefer it over teleconference/telephone call? Respondents’ reasons for using video were about equally split between video’s technological benefits and its interpersonal benefits:
Finally, all survey respondents were asked about their preferred video conferencing/video chat application. Skype took the prize by a 2-1 margin over its closest competitor, Facetime; Ring Central got one write-in vote. Google Hangouts, surprisingly, only scored 8% of the vote.
Some may attribute the low adoption rate of video chat and videoconferencing among solo and small firm lawyers to the conservative manner in which lawyers, in general, tend to approach technological change. Other, more cynical, analysts may attribute it to a lack of technological competence; to be fair, 40% of survey respondents did indicate that they prefer collaborating by telephone because video may be too complicated for themselves or their colleagues, despite intuitive, user-friendly, and ubiquitous options like Skype or Google Hangouts.
Still, I think there’s a business purpose for the low adoption rate. As a number of survey participants commented, video just isn’t necessary for run-of-the-mill collaboration sessions with colleagues. Lawyer collaboration, like the law itself, primarily involves words (text on paper/screen or audio), not pictures. While some aspects of the law are becoming more visual, I don’t foresee collaboration preferences changing anytime soon.