The collaboration platform that Slack launched led to an unprecedented shakeup in how organizations communicate internally—and that was before the coronavirus pandemic sent everyone home to work. Now that quarantining and social distancing have eliminated the opportunity for drop-in chats and hallway conversations, Slack is helping remote teams get their work done efficiently and maintain interpersonal connections.
But the data within Slack comes with its own set of risks around ediscovery and information governance, leaving legal teams to figure out how to proactively manage those concerns. That’s what inspired us to host our July 29 webinar, Slack for Legal Teams: Getting the Most Out of Collaboration While Mitigating Risk. As Hanzo's Vice President of Product, I had the great opportunity to moderate a thought-provoking discussion about how organizations and legal teams are using Slack and what they should be doing to get ahead of their ediscovery and information governance needs. Here are a few of the highlights and takeaways our esteemed panelists shared.
How Are Organizations Using Slack?
Mark Pike, the Legal Director and Product Counsel for Slack, knows plenty about how teams can use Slack to work better. He kicked off the discussion, pointing out that
“work is changing—it’s way more dynamic, there’s more collaboration, things are happening faster, and expectations are sky high. Not to mention, working during a pandemic adds a whole new set of challenges. Slack happens to be really well situated to help with those challenges.”
He highlighted one cutting-edge use case that’s clearly superior to traditional communication methods: the reacji channeler. With this function, an emoji reaction on a message operates to copy that message into a different channel. At Slack, if someone mentions an innovative solution that might be patentable, for example, one of the engineers will react with a custom lightbulb emoji. That copies the message into a shared channel that is visible to outside counsel, who can immediately start working on a patent application. As he said, “In the patent world, it’s critical to be able to move with speed. Slack helps us do that.”
Meghan Brosnahan, a Senior Manager for Records and Information Governance at Genentech, noted that Slack’s ease of use is a significant advantage. She observed, “Even those who are resistant to new technologies will often pick up Slack very quickly, and it integrates smoothly and effectively with other applications. It’s an incredible one-stop shop.” She also pointed out an advantage that’s more specific to legal teams: “From a privilege-protection standpoint, Slack allows us to create channels that essentially build fences around certain topics. We can create private groups that communicate only within these channels around specific topics. You can embed rules and set the channel up so that only people who are allowed to see that material are members of the group. It makes it much easier to protect your privilege and keep your topics on point.”
What Challenges Does Slack Present for Legal Teams?
But these advantages are only one side of the Slack coin. Slack also raises challenges—some familiar, some novel—for ediscovery and information governance professionals. Ellen Blanchard, the Director of Discovery and Information Governance for T-Mobile, said it’s “the casual nature of Slack conversations” that keeps her up at night.
“The question is, how do we encourage people to use the amazing benefits of this instant communication and yet still be thoughtful about what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. We want people to think about where that information could end up. The information is potentially there forever, so we need to carefully manage how people think about those communications.”
Brosnahan agreed that casual communications were potentially problematic, but she proposed using information governance to design a solution. “I would encourage everyone to think about implementing a tiered retention protocol. You can create a structure that pushes those more casual conversations into direct messages, where you can keep the retention period much shorter.” This delineation preserves channels for more substantive, work-related conversations, where the retention periods can be set at a longer period. “That’s also where you want to encourage people to keep their communications more formal, less off-the-cuff, and with less of that potentially problematic language that might be misinterpreted. We’ve built a lot of training around appropriate communication and content in different channels.”
Key Takeaways and Advice for Those New to Slack
Given that our audience was largely new to Slack, we asked each panelist to summarize their best advice for new Slack users. Pike encouraged new users to follow up directly with Slack for more information. “If you’ve heard about Slack but you don’t know how its governance tools work, or how the APIs work, go visit Slack.com,” he urged. “Check out some of our demos and recordings and get familiar with our offerings. And contact us through the website. Let us help you get set up with the right tooling to make sure you’re meeting your company’s compliance needs.”
Blanchard cautioned listeners to “be thoughtful and document what you’re doing. There are lots of great resources, but I don’t know that there are many crystal clear answers. This is an area of law that’s changing as new technology is emerging, so how the law is going to deal with it is in flux. Just be clear with how you’re approaching it and document everything so you can be consistent.” While there might not be absolute answers, she added, “No one’s going to say ‘that was totally wrong’ as long as you’re following what you reasonably thought was the best policy.”
Finally, Brosnahan emphasized the importance of learning how your business is using Slack.
“You can’t create meaningful retention schedules or litigation or regulatory responses unless you know how your people are actually using the tool—and you might be surprised at how they're using it,” she cautioned. “You also can’t create rules or policies that are meaningful and effective unless you know how people need to use the tool to do their jobs. If you create policies and rules that limit people’s ability to do their job, they’ll just go around you.”
Interested in learning more?
We’ve got a full replay of the webinar available on demand with more perspectives and advice about how to use Slack and manage the data within it.
Already familiar with Slack but need help implementing legal holds or preserving individual messages? Our purpose-built Slack preservation tool, Hanzo Hold, might be the answer. We invite you to contact us to schedule a demonstration.