slack on slack

Why our legal team adjourned external email in favor of Slack Connect

After moving our collaboration with outside counsel to Slack, communication is faster, more organized and just plain easier

Author: Cyndi Wheeler, Director, Intellectual Property27th May 2020Illustration by Giacomo Bagnara

There are days when communication for a busy in-house legal department can resemble the scramble at Tokyo’s famous Shibuya Crossing. The process involves coordinating with business partners, outside counsel and other internal stakeholders, including other members of the legal team. And all that coordination means a lot of emails.

Emails between in-house counsel and business partners. Emails between in-house counsel and the paralegal. Emails between in-house counsel and outside counsel. Emails forwarding correspondence. Emails providing instructions. Emails to schedule phone calls. Emails adding that one person who should have been cc’d but wasn’t. Emails with subject lines like “[External] FW: FW: RE: Client Matter – URGENT.” Emails that say nothing but “Thank you.” Lots (and lots) of emails.

Unless, of course, you didn’t need email at all.

Moving our external legal partnerships into shared Slack Connect

We use Slack to manage all of our legal communications from the start: corporate, commercial, employment, litigation and intellectual property matters, among others. For example, we create a private #patent-invention-name channel for each new patent matter where inventors, in-house counsel and outside counsel collaborate to draft and file a patent application. When Slack launched Slack Connect, where two or more organizations can share a Slack channel, it was an easy decision to transition our legal projects to this more collaborative way of working.

Shared Slack channels allow teams in different organizations—like an in-house legal team and outside counsel—to collaborate with each other as smoothly and productively as they do internally. We use them to get outside counsel ramped up on matters, triage requests to the right subject-matter experts, and ensure close communication with business partners. Instead of jumbling separate files and conversations in individual inboxes, shared Slack channels bring in-house and outside counsel together in one organized space to easily find and access relevant information.

“With shared channels, we are able to view relevant information associated with the legal matters we handle for Slack in a centralized location, which gives us the ability to make informed decisions quickly and to involve relevant parties as needed, without extensive email dialogue.”

Libby ZinkePartner, Lee and Hayes

Channel administration becomes more streamlined too. Once a partner law firm has been added to a channel:

  • The firm can manage which of their attorneys and staff may join the channel
  • The firm can administer channel names, privacy settings and even channel disconnection, all while retaining a copy of the firm’s channel history
  • Both in-house counsel and outside counsel can add subject-matter experts or stakeholders to the channel as needed
  • A new team member can quickly get up to speed by reviewing all of the prior documents and discussions stored in the channel and will be able to immediately reference any pinned high-priority documents or conversations

How and when to share channels

Once we share a channel with one of our law firms, a Slack in-house attorney will pin several introductory documents to the channel, including information on how to use channels and Slack’s outside-counsel guidelines. We also provide tips on how to use Slack effectively:

  • The meaning of commonly used reacji. For example, we place 👀 on a message to signify I’m reviewing this and a ✅ when a request is complete
  • When to use @-mentions—always @ if you need someone to see something, but use @here and @channel sparingly
  • When to thread messages versus posting a new message in the channel. Threads are ideal for asking a question, adding context or giving feedback without disrupting conversations at the channel level

Private channels for sensitive matters

Private channels can be used in nearly infinite ways to speed up and organize communication between members of an in-house legal department and their trusted law firm advisors. Here are a few we use:

  • #litigation-plaintiff-v-defendant: a channel for new litigation matters to chart out case strategy, coordinate on discovery, collaborate on pleadings and prepare for hearings. As the composition of the core case team changes, a law firm can add or remove attorneys or staff from the channel. When the case goes to trial, it might be time to bring in a member of the appellate team for advice. Or if a tricky niche issue arises, an attorney with the right expertise can be added to the channel, and that person will have all of the background on the issue at the ready.
  • #law-firm-client: a channel with a trusted partner law firm where in-house attorneys can go when they need a quick bit of advice and where the firm can pull in the relevant experts to advise as needed
  • #law-firm-client-weekly-sync: a channel for new and ongoing projects to efficiently track various matters and the status of action items, including agendas for weekly calls

Coming soon, we’ll have the ability to bring different subject-matter experts together from multiple firms into one shared channel—keeping everyone aligned and moving toward a common goal.

Shared Slack channels have become indispensable for the Slack legal team and our partner law firms. By bringing all our work and communication into one place, we’re one step closer to working together in the same (virtual) room with our partners. And did we mention? No more email.

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