In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the need for profound changes for remote collaboration, Zoom quickly became the tool of choice. Three years out, it’s still widely used and with no end in sight.
How are lawyers and legal professionals using Zoom? Most say they routinely use it for client meetings, court hearings, and inter-office interactions such as meetings with colleagues working remotely. Fortunately, Zoom doesn’t disappoint and has quickly rolled out new features and enhancements.
According to its public relations department, Zoom added more than 1,500 enhancements to its platform in 2022, and more updates have launched in 2023.1 Here are some features that can be especially useful for law firms.
ESSENTIAL ZOOM TOOLS
In-meeting message threads
The popular chat feature in Zoom is commonly used during meetings to share information, comments, and more. Zoom also offers messages threads, which organize the chat messages to clarify to which messages participants are responding. It helps for conversation clarity and makes capturing information for post-meeting review and archiving much easier.
Zoom Meetings Q&A
You may not know that Zoom offers a webinars platform. While it has a similar look and feel to Zoom Meetings, there are quite a few differences.
One standard feature in Zoom Webinars is its Q&A pane, which allows hosts to assign, dismiss, and answer participant questions from one designated area. It’s a great feature but be prepared: seasoned Zoomers more familiar with the traditional Zoom Meetings chat box might need some time to get used to the Webinars chat tool. I frequently use the Zoom Webinars platform, so this feature is nothing new, but even with pre-webinar instructions, I still find attendees submit questions in the chat box. This can be sidestepped by enabling a chat lockdown for everyone except for hosts and cohosts but doing so may eliminate dialog between participants that often streams through the chat box during the webinar.
As of this writing, the Q&A is only available with its Zoom One Business, One Business Plus, One Enterprise, and One Enterprise Plus accounts. Zoom’s website provides a good how-to article for those interested in this feature.2
By using Zoom’s immersive view feature, all meeting participants are pulled into a single virtual space that allows everyone to collaborate cohesively. Envision participants sitting at a virtual conference table instead of the tiles we are accustomed to seeing in Zoom Meetings.
This feature is limited to 25 participants and available for all subscribers — just make sure you’re running the latest version of Zoom.
PowerPoint virtual background
This newly enhanced interface, which was long overdue, allows users to display a PowerPoint presentation as a virtual background with an overlay webcam image of the presenter in the corner that easily can be resized and repositioned. It makes for a much more impressive, interactive, and lifelike presentation than a shared screen with a standard thumbnail headshot.
Breakout rooms based on polls
Hosts can now create breakout rooms on the fly based on participants’ answers to polls. Poll respondents can automatically be selected to collaborate with one another based on similar or dissimilar answers depending upon the goals of the meeting. It’s a very useful function that can alleviate the need for small-group breakout preplanning.
ZOOM VS. CLIENT PORTALS
Besides Zoom, there are many collaborative tools available with client portals being one. Both Zoom and portals allow users to share information with others, but it certainly isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.
Portals are more useful as a solo interface for clients to access information. Adding whiteboards, screensharing, and Zoom’s interactive engagement functionality can further enhance the client interaction and the experience. Properly using the two in tandem can be a winning combination for your law firm.
In 2022, the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center surveyed attorneys on portal usage as part of its annual Legal Technology Survey. In her summary of the survey, Legal Ease Consulting President Allison C. Shields Johs noted that:
Only 33% of respondents to this year’s survey said that they use a client portal to communicate with their clients, which is only a slight increase over the previous three years. ... Fewer than 25% of firms with fewer than 50 lawyers use secure client portals.3 (Emphasis added).
Clearly, portal usage is not on the rise and, even more alarming, a large percentage of lawyers who do use them are not doing so securely.
ZOOM SECURITY AND DATA PRIVACY
We’ve all heard stories of Zoom bombing where unauthorized attendees slide into meeting rooms stealthily unbeknownst to meeting hosts. Perhaps you’ve been a victim of one of these tricks. The consequences of a breach of client confidences are devastating and can potentially result in disciplinary and malpractice actions.
Michigan lawyers have a duty to be technologically competent.4 It includes not only understanding technology and cybersecurity, but also taking reasonable steps to implement cybersecurity measures. Fortunately, end-to-end encryption measures are standard in Zoom; however, even with its recent security improvements, it’s still important to ensure you follow best practices to secure your meeting space.
ZOOM: LOOKING FORWARD
In an article in the September 2022 issue of the business magazine Fast Company, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan discussed the company’s success and future goals.
“Zoom might have a symbiotic relationship with online meetings,” Yuan told author Harry McCracken, “but that doesn’t mean it’s a one-trick pony.”5
Yuan told McCracken that Zoom has many happy users who think of it solely as a videoconferencing service and the company wants to fix that misperception. Yuan referenced recent additions that diversify the Zoom lineup, including:
- Zoom Events, which is for large-scale virtual gatherings ranging from internal sessions to ticketed affairs open to the public;
- Zoom Contact Center, a customer service platform that incorporates voice, chat, and text messaging along with video; and
- Zoom IQ for Sales, which uses artificial intelligence to assess interactions with customers.
From hybrid work refinements to metaverse transformations, Zoom’s additions in the years ahead will matter, but keeping the platform simple and user friendly is a primary goal for Yuan.
“I still remember that in the early days of Zoom, sometimes I’d look at a screen literally for one hour without doing anything, thinking about how to simplify the user interface,” Yuan told Fast Company. “To add a feature is easy, but to simplify is so hard.”6
Zoom’s website has great resources for users to stay current on updates and enhancements. Among its offerings:
- A release notes page highlighting product changes, enhancements, and bug fixes categorized by date.
- A Zoom Community page that helps users find solutions, ask questions, and collaborate with other Zoom users.
- A learning center offering free on-demand courses, live training, and short videos.
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