There seem to be a number of lawyers in North America who are using a tool called Basecamp as a kind of extranet for their clients. Basecamp was created by a software development company called 37signals who have some pretty impressive work under their belt. Basecamp is a collaboration tool that lawyers are using to keep their clients involved in what is going on from day to day (you can take a virtual tour here).
The way it works is that you sign up (there are various packages available to cater for your needs) for anything from a free personal service to the Max $149 per month service. The services have the following functionality in varying degrees and capacities:
- file sharing;
- silo’d accounts to clients (client A will only see content relevant to her and not client B’s content);
- chat service for online meetings (perhaps);
- built in security (higher packages only);
- time tracking (higher packages only); and
What many lawyers use Basecamp for is as a central point to upload documents relevant to clients’ matters and basically collaborate with them on their matters. Clients can see the documents relevant to their files and can keep track of important dates and information that the attorney publishes on their project pages. Clients can also subscribe to an RSS feed which will keep them updated on what is going on in their files. The benefit here is that if the client uses feeds already, there is no need to go visit the Basecamp page and check for updates, they are delivered automatically to the client through the feed.
The end result is ideally that clients are better kept up to date and don’t need to call their attorney for updates. Of course this depends on the attorney keeping the system up to date but if the attorney uses something like Basecamp as the focal point of his/her practice then the work is pretty much done. Clients can subscribe to their particular feed or visit the site when it suits them and without having to pay their attorney to tell them what is going on (ok, this last bit depends on whether attorneys will charge to give you an update – I certainly don’t and I hope most of my colleagues won’t either).
I would love to see clients embrace this form of collaboration but I wonder if the South African market is ready for this sort of thing? I was chatting to some people recently who hadn’t heard of Wikipedia and the conversation reminded me that as much as I use new media elements in my daily life, I am the rare exception to the norm. This sort of technology is still new to South Africans and it may take a while for people to start to integrate it into their lives, despite its tremendous value. Until then, it remains a novelty. Unless, of course, you have a different view?