In the past, there has been some resistance within law firms to using cloud IT solutions. But that is now eroding as more and more firms realise the potential offered by cloud-based platforms like Office 365.
Launched in 2011, Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud-based SaaS subscription service. It includes access to the Microsoft Office software suite throughout the life of the subscription, with automatic updates of all programmes.
Tools include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Teams, Planner, Access and more.
But how can these tools benefit your law firm?:
From a legal perspective, where staff are often working away from the office, it’s easy to see why cloud-based apps are so useful – they make remote working easy.
Office 365, for example, can be installed on up to five devices per user at any one time – giving your staff the ability to work on all of their devices. Studies show this boosts productivity. In a recent HSBC report into the technology sector, 89% of respondents said flexible working motivated them to be more productive at work.
The flexibility of cloud working also protects you from events like power cuts and office closures, as people can work from anywhere they have an internet connection.
Office 365 makes it easy to work on documents, as your team can access them from wherever they are and on any device through OneDrive – the cloud storage facility. And because OneDrive automatically updates when someone edits or changes a document, you will always be working on the current version. So, files are always accessible and always current, which is critical when staff are away from the office.
By its very nature, a law firm must store and handle a great deal of sensitive personal data – making security paramount. And with the advent of GDPR - and regulatory requirements increasing all the time - it is imperative that IT systems and cloud services protect against the risk of data breaches and cyber attack.
In fact, security is perhaps the main reason why cloud computing has traditionally been resisted by the legal profession, as on-premises solutions have been viewed as more secure.
But this is not the case. Office 365 itself is fully GDPR compliant and adheres to a series of stringent security standards – a result of Microsoft’s massive investments in security. Office 365 also includes compliance auditing and tracks and flags unusual activities (such as suspicious login patterns).
Plus, storing documents through a tool like OneDrive adds an extra layer of security by removing the need to store sensitive documents directly onto machines - or physically.
One of the most useful tools in the Office 365 suite is SharePoint – the document management system. This allows multiple people to edit a document simultaneously, and all changes are immediately incorporated into the master version. You can share documents with individuals outside your firm - such as clients and barristers - but only people authorised by the owner of the document can make changes.
Teams, Microsoft 365’s chat-based collaboration software, is another important tool for improving inter-employee working. With its team chat functionality, video conferencing solution and document sharing ability, all of your staff can collaborate effectively, and in one place.
With Office 365, you no longer have to worry about buying updated versions of programmes – it’s all included in the subscription. As soon as an app receives an update, you get the latest version automatically on your system. This saves you time, money, and hassle - and also boosts your security, as patches for security issues are implemented automatically.
The nature of the legal profession means you have staff in various locations at any one time, but who all need to communicate with each other quickly and effectively. Office 365 makes this easy through a variety of remote communication tools, such as Exchange Online and teams. You can even create a private social network within your firm using the Yammer app - facilitating business-wide idea sharing.
Microsoft applications are familiar to most people, as they have become ubiquitous over the years. So by using Office 365 you are building on what your staff already know. Pretty much everyone can use Word, Outlook, Excel etc – so there is no expensive training programme needed to familiarise everyone with the main tools in the Office 365 suite.They already know how to use them.
Adopting office 365 makes sense for law firms. Not only does it increase productivity thanks to the flexibility it offers, but it also cuts cost as you save on licensing several dis-connected third-party applications. It can help you save on office costs too, as your workforce will be more able to work from home, the courtroom or on the move.
It’s no wonder then that the legal profession is overcoming its traditional reticence to cloud-based platforms. Especially as law firm budgets are increasingly being squeezed - under the pressure to do more work with less.