KEYPOINTS FROM ARTICLE:
- Integration of MS Teams raises questions about security and data protection due to its always on, 24/7 available access to sensitive resources, documents, collaboration and more.
- The American Bar Association (ABA) says now that most fears are misplaced, and that Cloud technology providers take the risk, and that client information is actually much more secure versus being localized.
- Additional benefits mentioned by the ABA include less costs, less maintenance efforts, less passing of login information, and getting “Technical Equality” for all employees.
- Microsoft specifically dedicates resources for Law Firms and associated Applications and Services.
- The ABA also recommends seeking expertise for implementation, migration and integration of these technologies.
Looking Deeply at How Legal Firms are Creating Leverage with MS Teams over their Competition.
In the beginning…
Microsoft’s Office 365 was simply a bundle of disk-based Office programs, which then moved to a monthly (subscription-based) model and today delivers a suite of installable software and cloud-based tools to manage your law firm (or other business).
At face value, this was initially localized and deemed secure, but with the addition and coordination of Microsoft Teams, began to raise some questions about security and data protection due to its always on, 24/7 available access to sensitive resources, documents, collaboration and more.
There’s no question about the obligation of law firms to take appropriate measures to keep their client data secure. Today, through commercial cloud-based platforms, this combination offers significantly more in the way of data security and system reliability than old, on-premises/legacy/server-based systems.
According to the American Bar Association:
“Most fears about trusting client information to ‘the Internet’ are misplaced. One misconception is that client information may be intercepted as it travels across the Internet. Modern encryption has progressed to the point where it is unbreakable. Cloud companies understand that their reputations for protecting customer information are crucial. A single security breach would cost them dearly. Your client information is more secure stored on a reputable, professionally managed cloud server than on your office computers.”
As organizations realize these functions are indeed secure, they also realize the duty of protecting this data now falls on the Cloud services provider, along with a lot of hardware and maintenance efforts. At face value, this cost savings through managed services is a very attractive option and begins to answer why many firms have committed to this Microsoft Teams “one solution” approach.
But it’s the realization that this solution quickly brings “technical equality” for all employees, whether working from the office, remotely or in a hybrid work setting, that is truly the cherry on the cake.
Microsoft Teams Specifically Addresses Legal Needs
Law firms greatly appreciate how Microsoft Teams can eliminate the need for multiple applications (and passing of login credentials) to view and work on their legal projects. These solutions provide a single login into a protected hub and as a coordination point for everything a legal team needs to function, including chat, meetings, calling, document storage, sharing, and customizable planning/task management.
As Microsoft continues to dedicate resources specifically for the legal industry, the dedication is pushing more and more firms to adopt this one-stop solution as the foundation of their inevitable return to efficient business. This is because the planning and management tools of Microsoft Teams are ideal for law firms, especially those wanting to drive high-volume, task-oriented projects, with pressure to deliver work efficiently and at a competitive cost.
Another valuable aspect of the implementation is the ease of making creative decisions and ability to communicate, especially if a team is part of a large firm, has many team members, or remote employees. The Teams platform as mentioned, provides employees with the same tools and experience from any location or device, which of course is the basis of functional “technical equality.” Finally, one new benefit that law firms find incredibly valuable is the ability of Microsoft Teams to handle full-scale enterprise telephony (through direct routing), enabling firms to fully manage and control every aspect of your telephone system, including all incoming and outgoing calls.
Azure and Microsoft Teams/O365, in our experienced opinion, is the ideal answer because it’s surrounded by so many favorable conditions. It’s Microsoft’s continued development of Teams that offers some valuable features and functions designed specifically for law firms that solidifies our recommendation and lays the foundation of productivity for years to come.
- That advancing the capabilities of communication and collaboration specifically for law firms remains a priority of Microsoft’s future development plans.
- Features and benefits of Microsoft Teams continue to grow, with full enterprise telephony using direct routing now providing complete administrative control over system and user management aspects.
- The ability of legal firms to adopt and use Microsoft Teams is quickly becoming a key indicator for success that a firm can expect in the future.
- Implementing collaboration and communications solutions is becoming a necessity rather than an option. These are not things to want, they are instead things you need.
Microsoft Teams provides law firms with a valuable single point of coordination for a wide array of information sources, providing dashboard views and updates without changing apps and saving a significant amount of time for legal professionals. Additionally, Office 365’s business analytics and reporting capabilities give operations managers greater insight, improving financial management and efficiency.
SO WHY/HOW DO ORGANIZATIONS GAIN LEVERAGE WITH MICROSOFT TEAMS?
Looking beyond high-level generic views, let’s reverse the process and look at specific groups who used Teams for specific reasons, and the specific benefits they found during and after their implementation. Specifically.
As most firms are already using Outlook and Teams, they simply have not yet unlocked the full potential of all the tools on the platform. This is incredibly beneficial because licensing has already been bought and paid for and has been there the whole time! Many firms are missing out on the opportunity to collaborate securely with clients, increase internal productivity, reduce errors, and securely share knowledge and expertise, just because they don’t realize the vast extent of functionality!
Top Three Reasons why LAW FIRMS use TEAMS:
- DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT – Teams allows firms to replace existing/legacy on-premises Document Management Systems and in return, vastly reduces IT costs.
- CLIENT ENGAGEMENT – Allowing clients to see, provide or update information or documents, and ability to ask/answer legal questions via integrated functionality.
- INCREASED EFFICIENCY – By integrating all functions into a single application, users will save valuable time looking for information in various systems and locations and minimize the liability/risk of individual logins and passing or credentials.
Top Three Reasons why CORPORATE LEGAL DEPARTMENTS use TEAMS:
- INFORMATION/MATTER MANAGMENT – A central repository that allows the legal department to store important information.
- ADMINISTRATIVE REQUESTS – Allowing other departments to log requests and action items with legal teams/members and subsequently keeping track of these requests, response times, workload, tasks, etc.
- REPORTING AND ANALYSIS – By integrating subject matter information into reporting tools such as Power BI, used to generate useful insights around claims, contracts, workload, matter types can be created easily.
Top Three Reasons why PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FIRMS use TEAMS:
- CLIENT COLLABORATION – Collaborate with external stakeholders and clients on any project, case, or transaction by any number of team members.
- PROJECT AND TASK MANAGEMENT – Ensure projects are done in a certain way. Tasks are performed in a certain frequency and compilation of routine procedures and operations that the system administrator or operator carries out can be automated as a project template.
- USER ADOPTION – Ensure users can adopt changes and new technologies by integrating it into the applications they are already comfortable with, Microsoft Outlook and Teams
In our experience with Law firm clients, we see groups moving away from on-premises servers and software and moving to cloud-based solutions in droves. Microsoft Teams/O365 gives lawyers and law firms distinct advantages, and when gathering direct feedback from our clients, sees these common benefits regarding WHY this acceleration of managed change is happening.
These specifically include:
- Eliminate Servers & IT Headaches – Office 365’s cloud-based services, including Exchange and OneDrive, eliminate the need for on-premises servers and the (inevitable) IT headaches that come with server ownership.
- Updated and Secure App Versions – Office 365/Teams comes at fixed, per-user, per-month fee, that replace the constant financial need to buy server equipment and purchasing (and re-purchasing) Office licensing.
- Security and Compliance – When the right edition and options are selected, and when implemented properly, Office 365 (and your data within it) is in many ways more secure than the alternative of on-premises/legacy server equipment.
- Work Anywhere with “Technical Equality” – Teams and Office 365’s services, including OneDrive, OneNote, and SharePoint, gives your entire law firm the same work experience and access to the same resources no matter where they work.
- Practice Management Platform – When implemented and configured properly for a law firm, Teams, and Office 365, alongside your other legal software, provides a cohesive, end-to-end platform to manage your entire law practice.
There has been an enormous acceleration of law firms having MS Teams entrenched as their core communication layer, allowing law firms to explore how best they can further optimize and adopt the Microsoft 365 platform. This platform has already matured and eliminated a lot of integration issues within the MS Office suite.
These collaboration and content management solutions available for the legal market also surface the workspace and channels in Outlook without the need for a plugin, or via MS Teams where a firm can deliver a whole host of information about a client/matter alongside the content. This is all commonly done through a platform a firm has invested in and help focus the ability to have task management and powerful reporting/analysis available in the same offering. Administratively and regarding liability or risk, organizations cite the following benefits and reasons regarding what they experienced in the implementation process.
- SINGLE USER INTERFACE – All information such as Documents, Tasks, Meetings, Notes, etc. is displayed in context within a single application.
- REPLACE LEGACY SYSTEMS – Replace existing (on-prem) systems with Microsoft solutions that are part of the Microsoft 365 platform.
- WORK ANYTIME, ANYWHERE – Avoid complex infrastructures or remote working solutions and allow users to work anytime, anywhere.
- SELF-SERVICE – Provide clients or business units with the ability to collaborate and use self-service advisory applications.
- REDUCE IT COSTS – Use the functions that are already part of your Microsoft 365 subscription and reduce the IT effort to maintain standalone systems.
- PROJECT & TASKS – Leverage Task and Project Management functionality to template a matter or case approach.
- EFFICIENCY – Avoid losing valuable time looking for information in different sources and ensure all relevant data is integrated.
- COMPLIANCE AND DISCOVERY – Ensure all data is stored in your Microsoft 365 environment with universal security policies and retention settings applied.
Firms Need to Seek Expertise for Implementation, Migration, and Integration
One of the issues we face is that while the applications and centralized hub are familiar and easy to use, the misconception about implementation is not a shared experience. Meaning some think they can quickly get it all setup and either fail miserably, or unknowingly leave huge security holes in the process. Allowing users to install/create/use Microsoft Teams without any proper guidance can cause serious information management concerns. When provided through a managed capacity, the complete life cycle of all your Microsoft Teams can be fully managed, typically setting routine duties such as:
- Automatic creation of Microsoft Teams, based on input from primary systems (PMS, SAP, ERP, etc.) or manual via structured triage forms and approval flows.
- Build templates and ensure information is accessible in a secure, standard format and consistent naming conventions are applied.
- Automatically add extra content such as buckets, tasks, tabs, or notes to your team, depending on the status of a project.
- Ensure users can save their incoming e-mails and attachments directly from Microsoft Teams, so all information can be stored in a central location.
- Apply archiving actions and retention rules to ensure information stored in your Microsoft Teams are compliant with regulations or company policies.
Lawyers and the legal industry have been forced to adopt a team approach for collaboration by applying digital teamwork principles to the industry. This change will require education, training, products, and service providers throughout the entire legal system. It’s important to remember that this process is not easy and that the necessary changes will be incremental and even painful in some cases.
In the past, the legal system has been focused on individual lawyers instead of clients or the entire legal team. For instance, territorial rules were established to protect a region’s lawyers from outside competition, which would likely benefit the client. Legal metrics typically focus on an individual’s input, such as hours billed or profit-per-partner, rather than customer satisfaction. Because of these factors, some deep, ego-centric patterns will also need addressing as lawyers start embracing team-centered and collaborative solutions.
The Future – Microsoft Spotlights Organizational Perspectives
Without question, it was the pandemic that made Microsoft Teams the leading chat and collaboration platform for legal firms across the globe. Of course, many firms were already using the platform in some ways for internal communications, but the pandemic produced a sudden shift to remote working, which incredibility accelerated the adoption of Microsoft Teams. This is what filled the sudden need to support a remote workforce. While not the type of issue commonly addressed through most organizations’ normal processes, it was the pandemic that created the situation that effectively required switching to remote operations overnight.
“We have been working on this (Law Matter Management) since the launch of Teams by Microsoft earlier this year. And have already begun providing a few firms with beta instances for testing”, said Marcel Lang, President, Epona USA. He added, “As Microsoft continues to improve the Office 365 offering with powerful products and capabilities such as BI, Planner, Groups, OneDrive for Business and more, we continue to find ways to make lawyers even more productive by holistically combining traditional DMS with the power of Teams and Office 365.”
Microsoft’s corporate mission is “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Microsoft’s goal is to help Law Firms reach their full potential by using the most secure cloud services and configuring a system to meet their unique needs. Among other features, the platform recognizes and addresses the need for functions such as Document Management Systems (DMS), Secure File Sharing, Encrypted Accesses, and User Rights Management. They have positioned their Teams platform as the leading option for law firm workplace collaboration, as the platform most ideally provides a secure central hub for daily communications, conferencing, and internal or external information sharing with partners, clients, or stakeholders.
Legal firms that have implemented Teams quickly see valuable benefits. Remote access enables firms to better serve clients with faster response times from any location or device, which translates to increased billing. While Microsoft Teams has roots in chat apps that create a channel for specific conversations, it also adds valuable context such as documents, data, and other pertinent information. These are the features that make Microsoft Teams the most ideal solution (by far) for the legal industry and beyond.