Microsoft Office 365 for Law Firms Lawyers and Attorneys
Commencing with its inception, Microsoft's Office 365 primarily comprised a collection of Office suite applications, accessible via a monthly subscription. Since then, this innovative software has undergone substantial evolution, culminating in the provision of an extensive assortment of installable software and cloud-based utilities, optimally designed to streamline business operations.
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Getting Started with Microsoft Office 365 for Law Firms
In this insightful piece, we will demonstrate how to establish, arrange, and effectively harness the multifarious features of Office 365, thereby creating an all-encompassing Practice Management Platform, tailored to meet the needs of your entire law firm.
Note that ‘Office 365’ is now called ‘Microsoft 365’ (the rename makes sense considering that the suite is more than just Office apps), but we’ll refer to it as Office 365 in this article, as that’s the more commonly known name.
• Microsoft Teams
Teams provides group chat and collaboration. At it’s core, Teams is a group chat and instant message tool, but is deeply integrated with the other elements of Microsoft Office, and can provide a kind of central dashboard for your law firm, as we’ll explore later.
Excel allows you to create and view spreadsheets, charts and tables. Excel is great for managing financials, tracking performance metrics, or even organizing general lists of information in a structured fashion.
Outlook is a versatile tool: At it’s core it’s where you send, receive and manage email. It also provides a rudimentary contact database and calendar, which can be shared and accessible across your law firm.
PowerPoint allows you to create great-looking presentations; from project plans, to product pitches to meeting agendas.
Word allows you to create, view, edit and collaborate on documents. Word is the most well-known word processing application, and used by most law firms (and other businesses) across the world.
OneNote is a tool to create, store and manage notes. Think of OneNote as your “database for everything,” from case notes, to legal research, to managing and storing miscellaneous information that doesn’t fit well anywhere else. You can maintain your own personal notebook as well as create firm-wide, team-wide or even case-specific notebooks.
OneDrive is simple, secure cloud storage. OneDrive will replace your on-premise file server and serves as a single, central file system for your entire firm. Most law firms create top-level folders for each client or matter.
• Power BI
Power BI is a big data and analytics tool. Power BI is sometimes useful to large law firms that need to aggregate and analyze large volumes of data.
Exchange is the email service, or “back-end” of email for your law practice. Exchange is where you’ll create mailboxes for each of your firm’s users as well as manage distribution groups and email permissions.
SharePoint allows you to create Sites, each site can contain libraries (folders for sharing across your firm), lists (for any kind of information, including clients, contacts, and matters). SharePoint is often used by law firm to create a firm-wide portal or Intranet.
Project is Microsoft’s project management software, used instead of To-Do and Planner for more robust and complex projects. Project includes task management as well as more sophisticated tools such as charts.
lanner is Microsoft’s tool for managing simple projects. Planner is good for individuals and small teams that like visual, card style (Kanban) views for project management. Midsize and larger firms may prefer to use their Practice Management software for managing cases and projects.
• Power Automate
Power Automate (previously ‘Microsoft Flow’) is an app integration and automation service, similar to tools like Zapier. Power Automate can connect separate applications (that wouldn’t otherwise talk to one another) and automate repetitive data entry.
• Power Apps
Power Apps is Microsoft’s no-code/low-code service for building your own web-based apps. Power Apps serves as a modern, cloud-based counterpart to Microsoft Access, and is useful to law firms that need to develop niche or specialized applications.
Bookings is Microsoft’s tool for managing online booking and appointments, similar to tools like Calendly.
Forms is a platform to create simple online forms (that store data within your Office 365 database). Similar to services like Google Forms and Formstack, law firms can use Microsoft Forms for client contact and intake forms.
• Intune (Endpoint Manager)
Endpoint Manager is what your IT support uses to control all of the devices for an IT infrastructure. This is a modern style of management. Most IT support firms are still stuck in a legacy style of management by using servers and on premise Active Directory.
These tools serve as the bedrock of your law firm’s technology, a set of foundational tools for everyone in your practice. Office 365 is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and provided in a Subscription-based-License (SBL) model. This means that everyone in your law firm will have the latest version of the Office suite for a fixed per-user, per-month fee.
Is Office 365 safe for Law Firms?
"Office 365 is ONLY safe if it is setup and managed by a experienced professional and not recommend to try on your own. The video to the right demonstrates the more advanced security areas of Office 365. Your IT support should be sending you similar reports.
Safeguarding client data is a paramount responsibility of every attorney. In contemporary times, commercial cloud-based platforms such as Microsoft Office 365 offer substantially enhanced data security and system reliability compared to legacy on-premise/server-based systems. The American Bar Association attests to the fallacy of misplaced concerns regarding data security over the Internet.
Misconceptions about client information interception during transit across the Internet are unfounded, given the impregnable nature of modern encryption. Cloud service providers recognize the criticality of protecting customer data and are hence committed to maintaining impeccable standards of data security. Entrusting client data to a reputable and professionally managed cloud server is substantially more secure than storing it on office computers.
Microsoft Office 365 deploys best-in-class cloud infrastructure and security. However, the degree of security and redundancy offered by Office 365 depends on the edition and option chosen. For instance, Microsoft's entry-level editions may not include data retention or geographically redundant backups. Therefore, it is imperative to engage with IT or cloud providers to ensure that the appropriate options are selected to guarantee the security and integrity of client and firm data in the cloud.
How Office 365 Impacts the Law Industry
We have delved into the content of the Office 365 suite, and comprehensively explored the benefits it offers to law firms. It is noteworthy that Office 365 is not purpose-built for running a law practice and therefore, presents some limitations straight out of the box.
As an application designed for the general population, the suite lacks the requisite customization and functionality required to meet the unique requirements of a legal practice. Moreover, the plethora of available apps and services within Office 365 can be overwhelming, making it challenging to select the most suitable tools for law firms. In the ensuing sections, we will provide a definitive guide to setting up and customizing Office 365 to cater specifically to the needs of a law firm.
The framework we propose emphasizes customization and highlights the apps and services most tailored to the legal profession, namely Microsoft 365 Groups, OneDrive, Teams, OneNote, Forms, SharePoint, Calendar, and Tasks. We encourage you to adopt these frameworks selectively to suit your firm's requirements, utilizing the tools that meet your needs and disregarding those that do not.
Setting up Teams for lawyers in Office 365 Correctly
Undeniably, Microsoft Teams represents one of the most remarkable additions to the Office 365 suite in recent times. Fundamentally, Teams operates as a chat and instant messaging tool akin to Slack, with the capacity to create channels tailored to specific teams, departments, or practice areas. Within the Teams software, all individuals within a firm can engage in chat rooms and send instant messages to one another, with additional features including video conferencing and online meetings.
Messaging tools like Slack and Teams significantly reduce email clutter and increase the speed of communication between law firm employees. This facilitates the consolidation of two or three separate applications into a single, unified platform for law firms, fully integrated with the firm’s technology (including SharePoint, OneDrive, and Office).
In daily use, Teams can serve as a central hub for law firm communication, with the creation of channels tailored to specific teams, departments, or practice areas. Law firms can also configure Teams as an access point for other Office 365 elements, such as shared folders on SharePoint and OneDrive. Teams serves as a unified platform for channels, chat, calendar, files, notebooks, tasks, and more, with the additional option to link in non-Office 365 cloud storage, such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
Teams can be used in a web browser or installed as a desktop application, making it a highly accessible and convenient tool for modern law firms.
Accessing SharePoint for Case Documents in Office 365
As a comprehensive document and file storage system, SharePoint serves as the central repository for your law firm. It replaces the conventional network drive or share, commonly known as the S: drive, if you are transitioning from an on-premise file server.
Through SharePoint, you can create top-level folders or "libraries" that cater to your firm's needs. These folders, including the "Firm Documents" and "Clients" or "Matters" libraries, can be accessed by your team through the SharePoint interface or the OneDrive client.
To optimize your SharePoint setup, we recommend arranging your top-level folders accordingly, with a specific folder for each active client and a subfolder for each matter.
Creating separate subfolders such as "Accounting," "Marketing," "Legal Research," and "HR" within the "Firm Documents" library can be useful. It is also advisable to establish discreet Groups as your law firm's foundation and create top-level SharePoint libraries within each group that meet your specific requirements.
The SharePoint Admin Dashboard ->
OneDrive for Office 365 & Lawyers: How to Setup
Once you have set up your core, top-level folders or libraries in SharePoint, it is now time to configure OneDrive for your law firm. While it is possible for your team to access your firm documents and client/matter documents using the SharePoint web interface, we generally recommend using the OneDrive client for user-facing access to your top-level firm/matter folders.
Built into Windows and part of Microsoft Office 365, the OneDrive software provides everyone in your firm with access to your primary shared folders while also offering each user their own personal and private space for documents. This means that when a user logs into OneDrive, they can view their personal/individual documents under 'My Files' alongside any firm shared folders or libraries that they have access to from the same dashboard.
OneDrive also offers several benefits to law firms, including a familiar user experience that is similar to Windows Explorer, a consistent user experience for personal and central/shared documents, and the option to sync documents locally. Additionally, we will demonstrate later how you can also use Microsoft Teams as a client for access to your company folders.
Diving into OneNote for Attorneys
OneNote, part of the Office 365 suite, is a versatile tool that can be highly beneficial for lawyers. It is a note-taking and record-keeping application available in a desktop version and a mobile-device-friendly edition. With OneNote, creating notes is simple, as you can enter information in free-form pages through typing, copy/pasting, or even hand-writing with a stylus.
These notes can contain text, images, hyperlinks, embedded files, diagrams, or any combination of these elements. You can organize your notes in notebooks and tabs just like a physical notebook, making it intuitive and easy to use.
With Office 365 for law firms, you can create personal notebooks as well as shared firm notebooks organized by function, practice area, division, or groups as previously defined. This is ideal for keeping legal research notes, matter notes, client communication logs, and other relevant information. OneNote is a step up from simply having a folder full of Word documents due to its intuitive organization, which includes notebooks, tabs, and pages, providing a more organized and effective approach to note-taking and record-keeping.
Microsoft Exchange & Calendars for Law Firms
The effective management of calendars, appointments, and deadlines is critical to the success of any legal practice. Thankfully, Microsoft Office 365 offers a variety of tools for creating and managing calendars.
Each user in your firm has access to an individual calendar, which can be viewed in Outlook, the Office 365 web app, or Microsoft Teams. This robust scheduling tool allows users to create appointments, invite others to events, color-code entries, and organize the calendar using different views. Furthermore, you can create shared calendars that are accessible to the entire firm or specific teams or groups. Each Office 365 group automatically gets a shared calendar that can be accessed in Outlook and Teams.
Special-purpose calendars can also be created, such as those for court appearances or litigation deadlines. You can book events on both the attorney's individual calendar and the relevant special-purpose calendar, allowing for an at-a-glance view of all dates. Many law practice management applications integrate with Office 365 and allow for the syncing of calendars.
<- The Exchange Admin Dashboard
Examples of Email Reporting for Lawyers with Office 365
Report 1: The below image shows that all users currently have Multi-Factor Authentication Enforced:
Report 2: This report shows that email is successfully backed up:
Report 3: The below image is an example of a health Office 365 Tenant:
Report 4: A list of computers protected by Office 365 Defender Threat Protection
The modern-day law firm has come a long way, thanks to technology. From cloud storage to billing software, the tools at our disposal have the potential to transform law firms into well-oiled machines. However, getting everything to work together in a cohesive, easy-to-use way can be a challenge.
While it's certainly possible to buy and set up Office 365 on your own, it can be a time-consuming process. Early mistakes can also be quite costly. On the other hand, local IT consultants can help with Office 365, but may not be familiar with the intricacies of legal software.
That's where Edward Technology comes in. Our all-in-one legal practice management system integrates with Office 365 to provide a comprehensive, cloud-based solution for law firms. With Edward Technology, you can manage your calendars, store your files, and handle your billing in one cohesive platform.
We understand that no two law firms are alike, and our solution can be tailored to fit the unique needs of your practice. With Edward Technology, you can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that all of your technology is working together seamlessly, allowing you to focus on what really matters - serving your clients.
About Errol Janusz
Errol Janusz is a Microsoft Certified Professional with over 23 years of experience in supporting Microsoft products. From Windows networks and servers to Microsoft Modern Management, Errol has worked extensively with with each environment.
Below is a link to our YouTube video library that has more information about Errol and Microsoft Office 365. Our LinkedIn link below also has additional blog posts about IT management.