How Microsoft Teams Can Improve Your Legal Practice

Microsoft Teams
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My 18-year-old daughter, Sarah, recently shared an interesting complaint. She rarely checks her email and missed an important message. “Why can’t everybody just text?” she lamented. Sarah is not alone in her disdain for email. Microsoft Teams makes much more sense than Outlook to millennials or post-millennials.

Many older folks, like me, love Teams, too. Total Networks, my IT consulting business, switched from Slack to Teams internally a year ago. I was honestly a little hesitant initially. Teams was fairly new at the time and Slack was working well for the business, but Teams proved to be rock-solid immediately and kept getting better. We have since implemented Teams at a number of our clients and it is proving to be popular with them as well.

Jaburg Wilk

Microsoft wants Teams to become a platform for a new way of doing business. Tremendous development efforts are underway not only by Microsoft, but also with third parties that are developing applications that integrate with and extend the functionality of Microsoft Teams. This includes applications such as LawToolbox’s Deadlines which integrates with the product.

Microsoft Teams runs on your PC and phone providing convenient access everywhere. A web browser client is available as well. The application supports both one-on-one as well as group conversations that are prominently displayed. Meetings may be scheduled directly from within Teams and may be held as online video or audio meetings through the application.

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Various tabs located at the top of each Team page provide access various functions including files associated with the team. This provides a convenient way to coordinate coauthoring of files, allowing multiple people to edit the same document simultaneously.

If you are interested in using Teams at your firm, designate one person to champion the project. This person does not need to be technically inclined, but they must understand how your firm operates. Pick someone with the strongest ability to optimize your business workflow. Have them install the application and get familiar with it. Training is recommended and a knowledgeable consultant can be very helpful.

The basic structure of Teams is comprised of: Teams of people that work together and Channels within each team that establish separate discussion threads, groups of files, etc.

The simplest approach is to look at your organization and determine groups of people that work together and create teams that mirror that. It is common for individuals to be members of multiple teams. It is all about who should be communicating and collaborating with each other.

There are many ways to organize teams. Some firms might create a team for each client with a channel in the team for various matters. Or a separate team for each matter may be more appropriate. Think through the various possibilities and plan it out, including who will be the “owner” of teams and who will be “members” of the team. Discussing this with a knowledgeable consultant can be helpful.

Pay close attention to allowing Guest access. If you choose to enable this feature, establish clear policies and procedures to avoid oversharing. Document under which circumstances Guest access may be allowed as well as an approval process for inviting guests. I also recommend clearly labeling any teams with guests, perhaps as “<Team Name>-EXTERNAL” or “<Team Name>-INCLUDING CO-COUNSEL.” While Microsoft Teams already provides a warning for any team that includes guests, it may easily get missed if you aren’t looking for it.

My firm has found that migrating files from a local file server or other online file storage into SharePoint Online is an excellent first step. Then, when teams are created, they may be linked to files that exist in SharePoint Online. If you have a Document Management System (DMS), you’ll need a plan to manage what kind of files, if any, belong in a particular team. Some limited linking functionality may also be established from your teams to your DMS. If you don’t have a DMS, Teams and SharePoint Online offer some DMS features. Properly implemented, Teams and SharePoint may significantly improve your firm’s document management.

Last, but certainly not least, a solid training plan to educate employees on how the firm intends to use Microsoft Teams is essential. Dave Kinsey

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