KEYPOINTS FROM ARTICLE:
- Microsoft highlights their continued development of Teams, in some cases specifically for Law Firms.
- Advancing Communication and Collaboration for Law Firms remains high on Microsoft’s future development agenda.
- Features and benefits of Microsoft Teams continue, as full Enterprise Telephony using Direct Routing now provides full administrative control over system/user management aspects.
- How Legal Firms use Microsoft Teams is becoming the defining line for how much success firms can expect.
- Implementation of collaboration and communications solutions is quickly becoming an existential change, versus an elective one.
As we’ve discussed, Microsoft Teams is quickly becoming the go-to-meeting and collaboration platform for law firms, especially as COVID-19 continues to thwart phased office returns.
With no ideal return timeline in mind, many firms are finally committing to the Microsoft Teams “one solution” approach they wanted, after realizing 2021 expenses were much lower than expected, and that most licensing had already been purchased through the MS operating system and 365 aspects.
“Lawyers (and most all the broader legal functions) must adopt a team centered approach.
First, it will require a cultural reboot throughout all aspects of legal architectures.
Secondly, this Teams integration process is not like simply flipping a switch,
it’s absolutely an existential change, and not an elective one.”
One of the major reasons firms are finally moving forward, is the realization that Microsoft Teams immediately provides what’s called “technical equality” to all their employees, whether in the office, working remotely or most beneficially, those working in a hybrid scenario. So now, firms are using this familiar platform to ensure compliance, drive efficiencies and promote adoption of these new methods through a managed, partner strategy, where they get solutions that provide consistent, best-in-class functions, complete with inbuilt governance, document templates, metadata and so much more. The cherry on the cake of course, is the secure document storage, sharing and signing and real-time 365 program collaboration, all delivered with HD audio and video conferencing aspects that are securely linked to case management systems.
While all of that is impressive, it’s difficult to fully encapsulate, without looking at some specific case examples of exactly how all of this is being used and the specific benefits delivered time and time again.
Microsoft Highlights Organizational Perspectives for Law Firms
Microsoft has made no secret of its ambitions for Teams as the default platform for law firm workplace collaboration. As we’ve discussed, it provides a secure central hub for all kinds of important routine communications, conferencing, and information sharing – both internally, and externally with clients, stakeholders, and business partners.
According to Microsoft, their mission is “to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.” The goal of Microsoft 365 Solution for Legal is to address the concerns over blind subpoenas while helping Law Firms realize their full potential using the most secure cloud and to leverage Microsoft Teams in a way that is curated and configurable to meet those requirements. They have recognized the value and needs of things like Document Management Systems (DMS), Secure File Sharing, Encrypted Accesses, and User Rights Management to name some of the more obvious.
Law Firms (and most all general organizations) love that Microsoft figured out how Teams can dispense with the need to use multiple, disparate applications to view and work on projects such as legal matters. These solutions at face value alone provide a single, protected hub and a single coordination point for everything legal teams need – including chat, meetings and calling, as well as customizable planning and task management, document storage/sharing and much, much more.
Microsoft Teams is familiar, easy, and intuitive to use, and it connects directly with Office 365 tools that employees have already used for years, specifically for tasks like creating and editing documents, presentations, organizing, tabulating, communicating and for managing email.
One of the most recent and exciting advancements that law firms are really embracing is the ability of Teams to handle full-scale, enterprise telephony, through Direct Routing. Teams can now fully act as the PSTN/PBX hub, allowing the organization to fully manage and control every aspect of telephony, including all incoming and outgoing calls. Better yet, it brings vast cost savings for this historically expensive, troublesome / problematic area with less hardware maintenance and even ditching the PSTN/PBX relationship that’s been hanging over heads of law firms for decades. They rely on the telephone as much, or more than most other industries with a need for tracking use and time spent.
Continued Development… Specifically for the Legal Industry
More and more vendors are providing Teams integration now, realizing the vision of a Team ‘hub’ where lawyers can access a single logical view of their client(s). Imagine being able to surface information from your project or document management system, your customer relationship management platform, and/or from other applications, all via a single viewpoint. Teams makes that possible.
Teams’ powerful planning and task management tools are particularly attractive in a legal context, especially for driving high-volume, task-oriented matters such as conveyancing, where there is a pressure to deliver work efficiently and cost-competitively.
This is a good sign as to the attention and direction of Microsoft, specifically for the legal industry. Having an excellent team space is key to being able to make creative decisions and communicate with one another. Shared workspace software makes this much easier to achieve, especially if a particular team is based in a very large company, has many remote employees, or is made up of a significant amount of team members. This Unified Communications offering provides Technical Equality for all employees, including hybrid, remote or on site as these solutions work on any device, from any location and provide the same experience / tools to all parties, while tracking and reporting time usage for invoicing.
Offering a single point of coordination across a whole range of information sources – from matter-related documents stored in a firm’s document management system, to time recording and billing information captured in practice management or financial systems – Teams can be a huge time saver for legal professionals. It provides powerful at-a-glance status updates, without the need to switch between different applications, while Office 365’s Power BI business analytics/reporting capabilities offer operations managers smarter ‘business’ insight, too, boosting productivity monitoring and financial management.
The more control and peace of mind that legal organizations and their IT support teams have with Teams, the more they can promote the platform as an aid to matter-based collaboration, harnessing users’ instinctive preference to use its many features that support the way they like to work. Ultimately, the goal should be to allow legal professionals the freedom to communicate and collaborate spontaneously – as well as systematically – supported by a structure that will serve them well in the future.
Legal User/Organizational Successes from Enterprise Teams Integration
Without question, it was the pandemic that made Microsoft Teams into the must-have chat and collaboration platform for the legal industry. Despite its unprecedented adoption rate, firms’ still-growing familiarity with the tool and a slew of other challenges means Teams-specific integration and implementation requires initial and ongoing specialist expertise. This is also beneficial in ensuring data security (transfer and storage) and 100% adherence to client / lawyer confidentiality in all communications.
According to the 2021 LTN Law Firm Tech Survey, 59% of law firm tech executive respondents said their firm already uses Microsoft Teams for internal firm messaging. Such adoption was accelerated by COVID-19 and the sudden pivot to remote working.
“Teams got widely adopted because of the pandemic. It was kind of that rush to support going remote, and something that would be normally addressed through a firm’s regular process, there wasn’t time to do that,” said Bill Bice, CEO of legal industry workflow solutions platform nQueue Zebraworks. “They had to do what they could to be effective [when] switching to remote overnight.”
Lawyers—and the broader legal function—must adopt a team approach when using collaboration solutions, and through applying principles of digital teamwork to legal delivery, a variety of things will happen. First, it will require a cultural reboot throughout the legal architecture—education, training, product and service providers, regulators, and courts. Second, this process is not like flipping a switch, as it’s way more apt to be painful, incremental, and even a herd-thinning exercise, because it is an existential change, NOT an elective one. And that, they say, will make all the difference in the world.
Law has always been about lawyers, not clients, and the individual lawyer, over the entire team. Consider, for example, territorial practice rules designed to protect local lawyers from outside competition even if end-users would benefit. Legal metrics, such as they exist, focus on individual input—hours billed, realization, and origination and profit-per-partner (PPP), not net promoter score/customer satisfaction. The legal ecosystem is designed to nurture, advance, and protect the rights of the individual lawyer, not to foster collaboration and multidisciplinary teamwork that benefits customers. So right from the start, there are some deep and ego-centric patterns that need to be examined, as ideally, lawyers would start becoming more like what these solutions provide. Team centered and collaborative.
Post-Covid Survival of the Fittest Thinking
Legal groups accomplishing this have already seen vast benefits, including increased billing through remote access to clients and documents, as well as better served clients, faster response times and 24×7 use of these hybrid solutions, from any device, from any location.
In contrast to existing historical lawyer thinking, Microsoft Teams is all about context. All teams have a general channel plus specific channels that related to topic for that team. Users can subscribe to channels and an individual can be part of many channels. The activity across all teams is aggregated across all teams, like a Facebook activity feed, with at-mentions – @ – members can highlight messages for others and channel messages are threaded into conversations and can even have subjects, like email.
Teams and channels were pioneered by Slack, taking the idea from IRC (Internet Relay Chat), while channels create the context. Conversations, however, are only one part of context, leaving questions about what kind of documents and other information are converted to objects such as tasks. This is why Microsoft Teams was built and why the legal industry has been quick to adopt it, because Teams was bult to share and highlight context. Channels offer one-to-one and group chats where users can give specific or coded names to chat threads. Administrators can add new people and even control how many days back they can see all of this context. The chats support full rich text, animated GIFs and much more, as Teams offers a viewer and ability to edit objects stored in it. The ability to do this has transformed how Teams is used internally – as optimization, use tracking and analytics are very high when it comes to the implementation and overall architecture.
Today, Microsoft Teams has chat, calling, and other functions for context which shows threaded conversations and files, so that those files can appear in conversations (as well as top of channel), and all of this was built to be extended, as there is a store with multiple add-ins, which is divided into tabs, bots, analytics, and more. To top it all off is the one thing no company may ever be able to compete with, in that Teams is built on an Office 365 foundation of compliance and security first, and collaboration second.