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The Strategic Use of Google Hangouts: Time Well Spent For Your Firm

Many attorneys use Skype for their regular video meetings. While basic Skype is free, the extras now require a premium membership – a must-have for meetings which necessitate the use of screen sharing. That has led some attorneys to try Google Hangouts, Google’s free Skype alternative.

Google Hangouts is available to attorneys who have a Google+ profile. Google Hangouts is a convenient way to conduct video meetings with one or multiple (up to ten) users. You can share your computer screen with the Hangout participants, great for presentations or to point out part of a document. You can even live stream the conference to open it up to more eyes, and later save it to YouTube.

Why Use Hangouts?
When you need to connect virtually with one or more people, Google Hangouts is an accessible way to do so. You can facilitate a virtual conversation with one person or many, and can record it to replay later, or live stream it to open the chat to the entire internet. Google Hangouts can be quite useful when working with others and in attorney-client situations.

Screen Sharing. You can review documents with others, using your curser, highlighting text and making edits in real time.

Cost. If you add someone to your Hangout via their U.S. or Canadian phone number rather than their Google+ profile, it is free. And, that screen sharing option is free.

Live Streaming. Live streaming is a way you can conduct question-and-answer sessions – great for marketing videos which you can then upload to your website or to YouTube.

The Downsides
Some users have complained that the quality of the Hangouts connection wasn’t what they had hoped; the sharing screens option ran slow and the sound was sometimes muddy, compared to Skype, even when using full bandwidth.

And about that live streaming ... It's a great tool, when used exactly how you intend. But many firms are concerned about accidentally live streaming an attorney-client meeting or any other meeting which may include a concern about confidentiality. Accidents do happen, though Google+ has a way for you to disable Hangouts on Air.

The other issue with Hangout is more of perception; because it is tied to the social network Google+, some people may feel it is inherently less secure than Skype. Google has stated that none of the Hangout data is stored. The Hangout video streams and audio streams are encrypted, so off-site users can still securely join Hangouts (as well as Chat and integrated Google Drive files) are served over https. Still, you may want to check with your state’s ethics rules regarding confidentiality.

Think Outside The Hangout Box: How Can It Work for Your Firm?
Your firm can use Hangout to create video interviews of firm partners, as a way to showcase talking points for your website, and as a way to place valuable firm marketing content on YouTube.

Attorneys are reporting that they use On Air Hangout to connect informally with public attendees about estate planning, developing trusts or about legal issues in their community. On Air Hangout can also be a more streamlined way to open up a free public seminar to more participants; participants submit questions via the chat option, and are then answered via instant video. This format is a way to field some basic questions, showcase your expertise, and invite participants to contact you to speak more in-depth about issues concerning them. How else might you use Google Hangout?

Expand Your Reach. Does your firm send out a regular newsletter to current and potential clients? Invite those readers to regular Hangout sessions. With a little bit of planning, your firm can build a significant following for firm hangouts – the Hangouts can even augment your newsletter content.

Connect with Clients. Hangout is a standout tool for connecting with remote or "too busy to come in" clients who want to go over documentation or discuss complex issues. There are tech-savvy clients who say they appreciate the "face-to-face" aspect of virtual meetings, and Hangout can add a little bit of "wow" factor, as well.

Stay in Touch. Use Hangout for staff meetings. If your firm has satellite offices or if your legal team is scattered due to travel or case obligations, you can use Google Hangouts to share documents, make decisions and discuss issues. You can also use Hangout to train new staff, speak with recruiters, accountants, IT staff, marketing and bookkeeping.

Ready to Hangout?
Just go to your Google+ page. In the left-hand margin, you can select the “more” category, and then the Hangouts option. A window will open to allow you to start the hangout. Invite others by typing in their names, or their email, or their telephone numbers. You can choose to broadcast your chat live by checking the "live" box. If you do not want to stream live, be sure that the "Live" option is not checked.

Prior to launching your Hangout

  • Check to make sure your microphone and camera are working correctly. You may want to wear a headset to cut down on ambient noise.
  • Consider muting yourself when you’re not speaking during a webinar. Ambient noise in your location can be an issue.
  • Enable the live broadcast of your chat by choosing “Hangouts on Air” -- or check to make sure that you have not enabled live broadcast.
  • Are some guests missing? All attendees must be signed in to their Google account to participate.

About Author

Barbara Atkinson is a former Bigger Law Magazine staff contributor and editorial board member.

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