How Law Firms Are Using Microsoft Office 365
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 toward 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.
What is Microsoft Office 365?
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.
The most fitting plan that covers the greatest range of essential tools for law firms to use to be productive is the Business Standard. This plan includes:
- Microsoft Word
- Microsoft Excel
- Microsoft PowerPoint
- Exchange Hosted Email
Those are the most essential tools that any law firm can use to be productive.
How Law Firms Can Use Them
Microsoft Word does not need any introduction. It’s obviously the word processing software that you can install on your desktop and multiple devices to edit documents.
The best known spreadsheet software every law firm knows.
AKA Hosted Email
If you have an exchange server (an old school email server) or another service like Gmail, Office 365 email is an alternative stable and secure provider. Exchange online comes with 50 GB (upgradable to 100 GB) of storage. If you exceed that, you can turn on a policy to archive older emails.
Many Law firms use some advanced features as well in exchange, such as sending encrypted emails. This is common if the data being sent is sensitive, such as information that contains medical information or financial information like bank account numbers, etc.
Use of role- based mailboxes
Role-based mailboxes are mailboxes that can be used for specific purposes and not an individual necessarily. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org for billing tickets or email@example.com for website inquiries coming from clients. Those mailboxes can receive emails but not send emails. They can also be shared and used by multiple employees at your firm.
The use of shared mailboxes can save you licensing costs on an extra mailbox that would otherwise not be needed and grant a team of users access to manage, say, your website inquiries that come from the website.
Law firms sometimes benefit from delegating their mailboxes to other staff or assistants to manage their calendar for them. This is done by delegating a mailbox to a specific user.
Using Exchange Mobile App
If you’re not at your desk, you can access your email using Outlook Email App. You can get that from your app store on iOS (iPhone) or Android Play Store. This app is snappy and allows you to view and respond to your emails on the go and view your calendar.
Get Calendar Reminders on your Phone
With the Outlook App on your phone, you can set reminders and have your phone alert you of upcoming meetings using push notifications. This is a priceless feature for lawyers that have many appointments that are always on the go.
As an owner who works with others, you can set up email rules. For example, if you have an employee you want to monitor their outgoing emails, you can set up a rule that sends you notifications of the emails being sent out even if you’re not cc'd on the email. Another example, if you have a spam email that is sending emails you want to block, you can set up a rule that blocks those users.
Outlook is the desktop or mobile app program you install to access your emails. Note, Outlook is not the only way to access your email, you can access your Office 365 email using a web browser as well. You simply go to outlook.com, and login using your Office 365 credentials. By doing so, you don’t need to install anything on your computer.
What is the difference between Outlook and Exchange, you ask?
Exchange is a service to simply store your email. Outlook is the software to access it. For example, you can have Outlook access gmail emails.
What is the benefit of using the Outlook desktop app vs. using the browser to access emails?
With Outlook desktop, you are able to access your emails offline. Say, on a plane or if your internet goes out. This is because Outlook downloads your recent emails directly to your computer. Another reason is that Outlook caches data, so sometimes it's more snappy to use Outlook. You can also use the Outlook desktop app to connect to other email providers like Gmail. Thus, allowing you to manage multiple mail services in one interface.
This is an undiscovered hidden gem. Many law firms are used to using file servers and file shares that map network drives. The network shares are shared drives that usually have a letter on your computer like the L drive etc. With new technologies coming onto the scene, SharePoint is a new modern tool that your law firm can benefit from as an alternative. SharePoint can provide you with a cloud-based, web browser-based document store. This store has many neat features like version history, tagging of documents, very fast file name searching features, file content, and smart search terms. This makes it easily shareable among your associates and team members.
The way search works is that all your files are indexed. Much like Google search, you type in what you’re looking for like a customer name, case ID, etc. and the results come in a fraction of a second. The l terms you look for will be highlighted in bold with a sample snippet showing where it occurred in the document.
Smart search allows you to pin-point the results to exactly what you need. This means you can find two words that are near each other, subtract results with specific words that are otherwise causing noise; find documents modified between certain dates, etc. This type of search is invaluable to successful lawyers who need to find things fast.
Version History is a feature in SharePoint that allows lawyers to find older versions of documents. Every time you save a document, it creates a version that you can revert to and restore. Use this feature to restore mis-edited documents, recover content that was deleted in a document at some point, or simply view who and when a document was edited for auditing purposes.
SharePoint Online also allows your documents to be shareable outside of your company. If you have a specific document you want a contractor or a third party person to edit, you can simply share that one document with them by entering their email in a search field. This will notify that user that they can edit, view the document and can then make edits. All the changes made are saved directly in SharePoint. The nice thing about this approach is you don’t have to keep sending a document by email back and forth to make revisions. All is tracked and viewable instantly after every save. However, be careful of this feature, as it can be misconfigured. An employee may inadvertently share a whole folder to someone who should not see it. Thereby, breaking client confidentiality. Make sure you and your staff are well-trained on this feature before using it.
What is the difference between SharePoint and OneDrive?
The main difference between SharePoint and OneDrive is that SharePointis designed for teams to collaborate and the OneDrive is designed for personal use. The OneDrive is usually owned by a specific user while SharePoint is central. Also, SharePoint has more robust features. So when you collect your company documents, it is best not to keep them in a personal store like OneDrive unless you are the only person in your company. Even still, you have to think if you add new employees how they will access it.
Mobile Access to Files
With Office App installed on your mobile phone, you can also view and edit files directly from your phone.
Microsoft Teams is the tool for meetings and live collaboration. Teams is an app that many law firms use today to chat with their coworkers. Chat is complementary communication to email but is designed for quicker communication and easier back and forth. When you open Teams you will find the list of your coworkers that you work with listed and you can chat with any of them directly or you can have rooms with multiple users.
Teams also provide voice and video calls similarly to Google Meetings and Zoom Meetings. This can be used as an alternative to phone calls. Of course, you must have a microphone hooked to your computer and headphones. Just like chat, you can click any user on the list and voice call them.
Note, Teams also has a mobile app for both iPhone and Android. If away from your desk, This allows chat communications to be directed to your phone. With Teams, there is the option of sharing your screen. This is an excellent way to collaborate, visually.
In addition, Teams allows users the ability to work remotely. While still being able to discuss topics and provide assistance to group members. Like, if they were working in the office. Teams can also be used to dial out using a regular phone line. This can in a way replace a phone system you have like RingCentral for instance. With this option, you get a regular phone number where you get to pick the area code etc. You can make and receive calls to that number. You can also setup call routing as well, such as dial 1 to connect to new inquiries or 0 for the operator.
You can use Teams for call bridges and have conference calls with clients. This means when a Teams conference is started, it will display a dial-in phone number for the participants to dial in. The participants can join the conference bridge without having access to a computer.
Finally, with teams you can invite external parties outside your law firm to collaborate with you as well.
Microsoft forms is a lesser known product by lawyers. Microsoft Forms is a tool to create basic forms that you can publish on a website and people can fill out. This is perfect for intake forms or website inquiries. A form can consist of fields like ‘first name’, ‘last name’, ‘email’, etc.. you can create custom fields as needed. Some fields can have drop-down options for the users to select from.
It is possible. after creating the forms, to publish them on your website. The process is not hard but may require you to contact your website admin to do so.
Security in Office 365
One aspect of security is device security and antivirus. For that, Office 365 has a product called Windows Defender. Windows Defender is available by default on Windows 10 and Windows 11. However, a business version is available as an add-on if you elect Microsoft 365 Business Standard. This business version provides a dashboard of your employees’ device security, users are easily notified if something suspicious happens and the version is equipped with next-generation protection tools geared towards limiting your network etc. This option also works on macOS, iOS and Android. Furthermore, it blocks websites that are known to be malicious.
For law firms also concerned about security, 2FA is something that can be enforced. We generally always recommend you turn this on. When turned on, you can make two-factor authentication either optional or required. Although many law firms find this to be a nuisance, it is extremely recommended to be enforced. Threat actors have multiplied and scammers and hackers are always trying to break into accounts. This will ensure that your security is adhering to best practices.
For law firms willing to invest a bit more, there are plans that cover what Microsoft calls “Advanced threat protection.” One of the most relevant to law firms is the ability to protect against sophisticated threats hidden in email attachments and links. This is important because email scams and hacks are common. You often see threat actors emailing your employees pretending to be a legitimate organization; however, the links in those emails can lead the user to a page asking for passwords, etc. This higher plan will help mitigate and avoid those issues. This higher plan is the Microsoft 365 Business Premium. At the time of writing it is $22/user/month.
Support & IT Options
Due to Microsoft being a large company, they rely on partners to provide many of the support, deployments and migrations to its services. Not just any IT company is a good fit though, Microsoft has a partnership program. So look for a partner that is indeed a Microsoft Partner or a Cloud Provider.
A good partner will be able to provide migration services such as moving your on-premises Outlook to Microsoft 365, or Gmail. When emails are migrated they should be complete with exact date matches as you had in the previous mail service.
The partners should also be able to migrate files and documents from file shares to Office 365 or SharePoint. Make sure the provider has SharePoint experience as many don’t understand or know what SharePoint does exactly.
Finally, good IT support for Microsoft 365 means that you should be able to reach out for help around anything relating to Outlook, Office etc quickly.
Microsoft Intune is also a tool often used by IT companies to better manage and deploy Microsoft 365 applications and manage policies relating to security etc on end user devices.
Complete List of Microsoft Apps
Although we mentioned some useful apps for law firms above, the list below is a more complete menu of tools that can be useful. Sometimes simply knowing those tools exist gives you ideas to use them in ways that are creative or more tailored for your firm.
- Word - A word-processing program that can create, design, and collaborate on documents.
- OneNote - Notes, drawings, web screen clippings, and audio files can be gathered and collaborated on within OneNote.
- Outlook - An all-in-one email application that includes a task manager, notes, web browsing, and a journal.
- Teams - This is a hub developed to support everything needed to help teams succeed, such as video calls, live meetings, chat, content sharing, and more.
- Powerpoint - Slides and presentations can be developed and shared through images, videos, animations, and text through this application.
- Excel - Data, calculations, and tables are organized and gathered through this application.
- Exchange Online - This is a cloud-based email and calendaring server.
- OneDrive - This is cloud-based storage for documents and files, and can be easily accessed anywhere.
- Sharepoint - With Sharepoint, users can store, organize, and share information across multiple devices seamlessly.
- Power Bi - This is a suite of tools used for business analytics and organization and data.
- Project - Project managers can plan, develop, design, and track tasks and workloads through this application.
- Access - This is a database management system that proves useful to software developers as an easy-to-use tool for creating applications and templates for businesses.
- Yammer - Yammer essentially acts as a social network that businesses can use for communication within their company,
- MilelQ - This is a mile tracking app.
- Bookings - When businesses need to track appointments regularly, this is a great tool to use for management and scheduling.
- Connections - This is a great tool to manage, build, and track business contacts for use with campaigns, promotions, newsletters, and more.
- Listings - Listings is a tool used by businesses to publish business listings on search engines and social media like Google, Facebook, Yelp, and more to make your company easier to locate.
- Invoicing - Create, edit, send, and track business invoicing through this application.
- Todo - Todo is an app used to track and prioritize tasks. It also syncs with Outlook.
- Customer Manager - Tracking customer communication history and tasks is made easy for businesses through this app.
- MyAnalytics - This is a tool to track and analyze everyday business activities to easily see where things can be improved.
- Flow - With so many applications often in use by businesses, Flow makes it easy to track and automate workflows across applications.
- Planner - Plan and organize work within teams. Chat, file sharing, and due dates can all be managed through this application.
- Graph API - This is a reliable tool to build and develop apps to support workflows throughout your businesses.
- StaffHub - Through this app, employees and managers can stay in touch and organize and track schedules.
- PowerApps - Employees can build and share apps across devices and with multiple devices through this service.
- Sway - This is like a digital meeting presentation board. Employees can produce and share presentations and reports through this application.
- Stream - Videos can be uploaded and shared within the company with this application.
- Delve - Using personalized insights, Delve allows users to experience and find content within Office 365 that they need.
- Groups - Groups is an application that allows users to communicate within private groups.
What is the Consensus of Microsoft Office 365 Use Within the Law Community?
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, and 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.”
What Benefits Can Your Law Firm Expect from Using Microsoft Office 365?
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:
- Improvised Productivity - The product is designed to install and operate in the cloud. Data, users and exchange of information becomes frictionless. There are fewer things that could go wrong from an access or device perspective, which means more time for employees to focus on the actual work.
- Less software and hardware upgrade cycles - The cloud has changed how we work. You no longer need servers, for instance, to store documents, share files or even IT people coming on-site to set those things up. So hardware costs go down. Also, Microsoft 365 is subscription-based. Therefore, it is designed to automatically update. There is no need to budget for updates every few years and relicense any Microsoft software.
- Document Storage and Management - Safe and efficient storage and management of files and documents is essential within a law firm. Files, emails, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and more can be stored easily within Office 365 applications. You also gain the ability to track the sharing and modifications of files and documents. Various Office 365 tools are utilized to effectively manage document storage, including SharePoint, OneDrive, and Exchange. These tools are seamlessly able to integrate with other Office 365 products, such as Delve, Outlook, Power Bi, and others.
- Improved Workflow and Functionality - The fact is, various team members and colleagues often have different roles, responsibilities, or projects going on at any given time, it’s crucial to be able to share and manage and integrate workflows. Through the tools available in Office 365, individuals and teams can share data and documents, collaborate on projects and tasks, and coordinate on legal matters. Skype also proves useful as an easy tool for easy web meetings between coworkers and clients.
- Mobility Usage - Lawyers often have to work outside of the office and on-the-go. Due to this, having the capability of accessing relevant information and completing work on various devices is key. With Microsoft Office 365, your legal team has the resources they need available when and where they need them.
- Better Client Relationship Management - Client relationship management (CRM) is an essential portion of growing any business - especially law firms. Through various services, such as SharePoint and Dynamics, legal teams can store, manage, and track communications with clients as well as enhance and run dynamic campaigns geared towards client needs. Excellent CRM software like Office 365 can also improve client acquisitions within a law firm.
How Secure is Microsoft Office 365?
Security is crucial within the legal world and is 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 use and security of Office 365 within the legal industry on its website. 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.
What Microsoft Office 365 Plan Should Your Law Firm Sign Up For?
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:
- Microsoft 365 Business Standard is Recommended (this includes Word, Excel, Teams, SharePoint and hosted Email)
- Microsoft 365 Business Basic - This is a cheaper option if you already have a license to the Office apps such as Word, Excel. You pay less for not licensing those.
How to Get Started with Office 365?
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 Office365 means there are many things to consider around licensing, support, management, security and configurations.
It is recommended to consult with your IT vendor or a cloud service provider to help make this launch.
With 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 that seems to stand behind their security efforts, including spam, phishing protection, and understanding how those elements play an important role within security for a law firm
- American Bar Association, Obtaining the Most from Office 365
- Microsoft, Get the Most from Office with Office 365
- Law Technology Today, Time for Law Firms to Take a Closer Look at Office 365
- Tekmanagement, Microsoft Office 365 Applications List - Business Premium
- Legal Talk Network, Securing Office 365: An Ethical Imperative for Lawyers