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For a busy law firm, taking advantage of all the tools available to streamline and increase productivity is vital. Continuous innovations in cloud services and software geared towards handling various business services have paved the way for businesses across all industries to grow and succeed. For law firms, it’s becoming increasingly important to incorporate cloud computing into infrastructure and daily processes; Not only does this optimize day-to-day operations within the law firm, but it helps legal teams better support their clients.
One important productivity tool the legal industry is beginning to use more is Microsoft Office 365. Below we’ll take a look at how law firms are using Microsoft Office 365 and how it can benefit your legal team.
Microsoft Office 365 is one of the most significant software as a service programs (SaaS) available for home and business use online and via desktop. Launched in 2010, Office 365 quickly became a staple in company offices and computers due to its versatility. Not only does this software offers an array of options to support functionality within a business, but it also continually updates and improves to maintain relevance. Essentially, your law firm will always have the latest version without having to lift a finger.
This cloud-based software has five main applications that make up its main functions: Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Powerpoint, Microsoft Word, Microsoft OneNote, and Microsoft Outlook. Outside of these applications, however, users have the benefit of a variety of web-based tools that can be used across various platforms and devices easily. These tools are easily downloadable on an as-needed basis when you and your team see fit.
With so many options, it’s essential to have basic knowledge of what each tool and app can offer. Below is a comprehensive list of tools available for use:
While the legal community often remains hesitant in using cloud-based services and software, Microsoft Office 365 retains its popularity in use. While there isn’t exact information pertaining to how many firms are utilizing Office 365, NCVSCPA concludes their best guess is that 35-50% of law firms are using it in some form.
Microsoft doesn’t have exact numbers on usage either, thinks a decent amount of law offices are utilizing its services. Brandon Koeller, Principal Program Manager Lead at Microsoft, explains:
“So it’s often difficult to categorize organizations by lawyers or not lawyers and Microsoft has surprisingly little information about exactly what all of our customers do as their day-to-day business. I do know that 90% of the Fortune 500 companies are on Office 365 and that 100% of those companies employ lawyers in some form or fashion.
So my sense is that there is a lot of lawyers that are using it, there is a lot of features that are built into Microsoft 365, including data loss prevention, e-discovery, a bunch of compliance features and retention and legal hold and things like that that lawyers are very, very interested in and that are very useable in the Office 365 platform.”
Within a single day at a law firm, a lot goes on, and Lawyers and their teams are expected to balance a lot. Microsoft Office 365 is proving itself useful in making things more accessible in the legal field online and via desktop. Here’s how:
Ben Schorr, Senior Content Developer at Microsoft, has a very informative article on AmericanBar.Org about how law firms can get the most out of using Microsoft Office 365. He discusses several key features of the popular SaaS that he feels lawyers and firms can benefit the most from; Office 365, Flow, and Forms are three services he feels law firms can benefit the most from. Here’s a brief breakdown on how:
Flow - Ben Schorr believes this service to be important because it can automate various actions and workflows within the law firm. He gives an example of how this could potentially work for law firms:
“For example, you can create a flow that when a new document is saved in a particular folder on your firm’s SharePoint site, it starts an approval process that requires one or more people in the firm to approve the document.”
Forms - Through Forms, Ben Schorr explains, law firms can obtain feedback from clients through the creation and utilization of questionnaires, intake forms, and surveys.
Groups - Ben Schorr describes law firms as “sets of circles” that deal with various practice areas, administrative, and other support teams. Because of this, he feels that Office 365 Group has a lot to offer. Through Planner, Notebook, SharePoint, email, and calendars, members of each formed group can share resources and collaborate.
Security is crucial within the legal world and often a prevalent concern among lawyers when using any online service. It can be said that the documents and data within a law firm are its most valuable assets - and one that needs to be protected at all costs. Microsoft addresses the security of Office 365 directly on its website on a page directed towards its use in the legal industry. They state the following:
“Office 365 is compliant with world-class industry standards, including ISO 27001, EU Model clauses, HIPAA BAA, and FISMA. It has built-in capabilities such as permissions, versioning control, eDiscovery, and records management to ensure documents are managed, controlled, archived, and can be retrieved in one place with reduced overhead.”
Microsoft further explains that data is protected through its built-in security that protects against various threats, such as malware, phishing, and spam.
Microsoft has several different business and enterprise plans available to choose from. The plan you choose will come down to the size of your law firm and what your individual needs are. All plans include access to the basic functions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and require an annual subscription. Here is a brief synopsis of the difference between the three main plans:
This plan includes Outlook, Word, Excel. OneDrive, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Access. It does not include company email use, calendaring, team apps, Bookings, or MileIQ.
This plan includes OneDrive, Exchange, Teams, and Sharepoint. It does not include Teams, Bookings, MileIQ, or desktop versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
This plan is the most expensive and includes all services and is available both on desktop and mobile.
Law firms can sign up for Office 365 independently or they can get support in deployment and migration from specialized cloud companies such as Albatross.cloud. The complexity of Office 365 means there are many things to consider around licensing, support, management, security and configurations.
Consult with your IT vendor or a cloud company to help make this launch.
Because of all the versatile services encompassed within Microsoft Office 365, it has a lot to offer in the form of solutions for law firms. This SaaS has the versatility and capabilities needed to support individual law firms in the capacity required to accomplish what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis. While law firms should always be vigilant in regards to security, Microsoft is an established cloud service provider and seems to stand behind their security efforts, including spam and phishing protection, and understand how important it is to the individual law firm.
Let's face it, downtime, hiccups and technical challenges are unavoidable in every business and they can be frustrating and downright costly.