I was having a discussion with some attorneys recently about making everything accessible from within Outlook. Their collective spin was that they spend all of their time in Outlook, so IT needs to make everything work from within Outlook. My response to this was, “We need to get rid of Outlook. Email clients like Outlook have been the worst thing for the legal profession since we were forced to transition away from WordPerfect 5.1.” You can only imagine the reaction I received from these attorneys. I was being a bit over the top, but sometimes you need a little drama to get people’s attention.

I am not suggesting that we abandon Outlook, though the insistence that everything work from within Outlook is causing serious performance issues. The real issue is that programs like Outlook tend to thwart the sharing of knowledge.

There is a great deal of institutional knowledge in email. Many conversations begin and end in email. And although we have the ability to save those conversations into a knowledge management system, the user needs to take some action, which requires consistency and time – time that most knowledge workers do not have. The unfortunate result is that we leave a lot of institutional knowledge (your firm’s collective knowledge, intellectual property and culture) on the table, only to disappear with the retirement of your firm’s thought leaders.

I do not have the fix for this just yet. But I do know that we need to appreciate the amount of information that is lost in emails. There are technologies available today that make it much easier to collect and repurpose this information. Threaded discussions (or forums) are one way to accomplish this. Social networking tools have the necessary features to extract information from discussions, apply tags to help categorize information, and at the very least, to store information in a way that makes it easy to index by search engines. Migrating users to this approach would require change and orchestrating change is difficult. There are some very interesting search engines that can infer meaning based on context and can cluster information based on concepts. One interesting approach to this problem is Recommind’s Decisiv Email. Decisiv does a great deal of the heavy lifting necessary to get email content into a system that provides fast and easy searching. They do this by making intelligent suggestions about how email should be filed. This same approach can (and should) apply to email tagging.

We need to start fixing this now. We are in the midst of an important transition as senior members of our workforce continue to retire, taking their knowledge with them. Past generations walked down the hall and met face to face – this is how institutional knowledge was passed on before the web changed our lives. Not only do we as individuals suffer from this lack of knowledge transfer, the entire organization suffers as well.

  • I don't have any hard statistics on how much time a lawyer spends in Outlook, MS Word and IE, but I'm guessing it is a high percentage of their computer time. Companies like LexisNexis (with their LN for MS Office product) are banking on the fact that you can't get them to break this habit.
    Just like WP 5.1 (which many lawyers over 45 would still be using if you didn't physically remove it from their computers and ban them from reinstalling it), breaking the comfort of Outlook has to pitched either as a "your clients don't use this anymore" argument (which is probably not true right now), or give them an alternative that is just as easy… but is faster and offers more flexibility. Perhaps a secure cloud model with an interface that mimics the look and feel of Outlook??
    I'd write more, but I just saw my Outlook pop-up window tell me that I got a reply to my reply that I sent to a lawyer who forwarded a question to a client that he got from another lawyer…

  • Very good your post!
    In fact with Outlook, business information tends to be dispersed … often in multiple PST files! 🙂
    I do not say that Outlook is a bad tool! Far from it … is an excellent tool but has this disadvantage: dispersed information.
    I leave two tips that can help replace the Outlook: a solution for ideas management (Teepin – http://www.teepin.com) and one for meeting management (Yoomit – www, yoomit.com).
    The big advantage of using Teepin and Yoomit is that business information (which has value!) Is available in one place!

  • R.

    The key is combining the processes into one common interface that embraces cloud/SaaS. Take a look at Qtask.

  • I agree with what you are saying. There are other options like setting up client portals that does the same job of communicating with clients via chat conversations and sharing documents. The history is stored with the portal systems. The biggest benefit is you are not bogging down your outlook email PST files or getting close to violating Microsoft storage licensees. I talk about portals in this article. http://halakconsulting.com/blog/2010/04/go-beyond-email-for-client-collaboration/