Do you need to share documents with clients in a secure environment? Software companies seem to think so and Client Portals are the rage!
When LexisNexis introduced Time Matters v13 one of the big new features was a client portal tied to WatchDox. Gavel & Gown had previously added integration with Box.com and, with their newest version Amicus Attorney Premium Edition 2015 has added a full client portal feature. Many have used ShareFile, GoogleDocs or other tools to accomplish similar objectives.
There are lots of options. If you Google “Client portal” you will get 3,860 results. Some of these are articles about the benefits but many are products that fall into this category. When you Google “Document sharing” you will get similar results.
So first ask yourself, do you need it? There are several scenarios where sharing via email is not practical. One is security and another is document size. You can improve the security of emails by encrypting or password protecting the document. However, that can be inconvenient for client and, depending on the program you are using it can be expensive and inconvenient for the sender as well. If the user wants to make comments and send the document back do they have the proper environment to send it securely? Additionally most email systems have a limit on email size.
Depending on the limit, you may find that documents you create are too big to send. One final concern with emailing is that it is hard to restrict what the user does with the document once they receive it.
Some firms choose to use Dropbox or similar file storage programs. For law firms, accountants, and many others, it is critical that you review the terms of service before using one of these programs to share files. Confidentiality and security may not meet the needs of the firm or, in the case of lawyers, the Bar Association acceptable practices.
Enter client portals. A client portal gives you a way to share a document in a secure manner and to control what the user does with the document. Can the user edit the document or share with others? Generally speaking you can also allow clients to upload documents to you as well.
If you have need for a client portal here are some important questions to ask:
- How are the documents secured? Are they secured with uploading and downloading?
- Where do the documents get stored the cloud or my premises?
- What levels of control are available in how the end user sees / uses the document?
- How much storage do I get at what price? Is storage per user or per firm?
- What sharing capability / security exists internally?
- Can I set documents to expire automatically?
Each firm will have its own needs. A good place to start is to look at the features in your current practice management software. Evaluate the firms’ needs and then talk to consultants and other users. Check with your local associations. Choose some vendors to interview and test. You want the software to be easy for you and your client to use or it will probably go unused.
The right client portal can save your firm time and money and help you better communicate with your clients. Now that’s a win for everyone.
About the author: Caren Schwartz,one of Intuitive Accountant's Top 10 ProAdvisors for 2014 is an Advanced Certified ProAdvisor, and a member of Intuit's Trainer/Writer Network.
She is principal of Time & Cents Consultants, LLC. of Fairfield, Connecticut, which specializes in working with professional firms on billing, accounting and practice management solutions using QuickBooks and a variety of applications.
Caren is a Certified Consultant on Timeslips, and Amicus Attorney as well as a Certified Independent Consultant for Time Matters/Billing Matters and PCLaw. She is also a reseller for Tabs3 and PracticeMaster software.