MS Teams for the
Distributed Firm

In the Distributed Firm, firm members regularly work in and out of the office, relying on remote technology to access email, files and software. This affords them more work flexibility and it benefits the firm by presenting an attractive culture for incoming talent.

 

With these benefits there also come challenges with managing internal communications, collaboration and document workflows within distributed teams. The absence of in-person interactions can often leave firm members feeling disconnected and less productive: successful firms will overcome this by adopting new models of communication and leveraging supporting technologies.

 

MS Teams is a powerful tool that brings distributed teams together to maximize productivity and client service.

MS Teams

MS Teams was designed by Microsoft to bring workers together in one central, online space. Built on top of Microsoft’s 365 platform, Teams delivers critical capabilities such as instant matter context for conversations, video conferencing, screen sharing and simultaneous document review, all of which contribute to the firm’s productivity and enable them to maintain a healthy culture and quality work.

Poised to replace Outlook as the primary hub for internal communications, Teams enables firm members to easily locate all relevant discussion and documents for a project or matter in one dedicated channel.

 

Structure

 

MS Teams is structured as two organization levels: Teams and Channels.

 

Teams

 

Teams are groups for employees who have a shared goal or purpose, such as a working group or departmentThey can be used for special dynamic work such as a major case or research projector they can be used for regular work, set to reflect the structure of the firm. Team can be made private or it can be opened to the entire firm.  

 

Channels

 

Inside each Team firms can set up to 200 Channels, where the conversations take place. Each has its own discussion threads, documents, scheduled meetings, and more. Lawyers and staff no longer have to waste time searching through email and file systems for the documents they need to attain matter context; Channels package documents and team conversations together, enabling firm members to review the entire history of a matter in one place.

 

MS Teams should be set up in a way that makes sense for the practice. A clear plan for Teams and Channels should be built ahead of time as it’s easy to wind up with a disorganized list, and this can be difficult to restructure afterward. Firm members can be assigned to one or multiple Teams, and if necessary, individual Channels can be set as private.

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Videoconferencing

Meetings can be scheduled and hosted inside of each Channel, with invitations sent intra-firm and to external parties. As a Microsoft 365 application, Teams enables firms to synchronize meetings to their Outlook calendars.

 

MS Teams’ Zoom-like videoconferencing features all the controls a firm needs to host secure, engaging sessions, including the ability to lock meetings, create virtual waiting rooms and share screens. Documents are easily retrieved from inside of the platform, eliminating the hassle and associated risks of downloading files to distributed devices.

The platform works on any device - all that’s needed is an Internet connection and a microphone or camera.

File System Integration

MS Teams stores all documents behind the scenes in SharePoint Online, another feature of the Microsoft 365 platform. It delivers valuable cloud capabilities for holding files and enhancing their mobile access, however its distributed structure makes document retrieval time-consuming and it doesn’t integrate with most legal software. For these reasons, MS Teams is not appropriate as a main repository for a law firm’s documents.

The good news is that firms can extend the document management capabilities of MS Teams by integrating it with more robust, third-party document management applications. Worldox Document Management Software is a leading DMS that automates document workflows with MS Teams, enabling firms to benefit from collaboration, mobility and document capabilities of both applications. And because Worldox comes with online and Private Cloud hosting, all of this can be achieved without onsite servers

Collaborative Document Review

Few law firms think of document creation as a collaborative process, however in the Distributed Firm it becomes cumbersome and less efficient. Previously, firm members could quickly go over precedents and issues in person, whereas now they have to engage in lengthy, back-and-forth email exchanges, with multiple document versions attached.

 

MS Teams enables real-time collaboration where two or more firm members can simultaneously review a document, or share a desktop screen, making it a powerful tool for enhancing document creation.

 

Keeping track of versions during the review process is challenging in the Distributed Firm, and so mapping an efficient workflow between the firm’s main file system and MS Teams is critical:

 

  1. Firm members can create new MS Office documents in MS Teams or they can copy files over from the firm’s main file system.

  2. Inside Teams, the document is discussed and reviewed by team members – this working version is kept separate from the firm’s main file system until it has been finalized and approved.

  3. The document can now be moved back to the main file system where it is versioned and sent to external parties or retrieved for future use.

Document Management for the Distributed Firm

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System Prerequisites

As a Microsoft 365 application, MS Teams brings collaborative, online capabilities to firm file systems. Prerequisites for MS Teams include a Microsoft 365 subscription and a Windows, Linux or Mac network.

Inside Teams and SharePoint, firm documents are protected by M365’s built-in security features including two-factor authentication, data encryption and anti-threat software.
When configured by an experienced IT provider with Microsoft 365 certifications, firms can benefit from secure, high availability applications.

Private Cloud

Maintaining a secure and well-functioning IT infrastructure that supports efficient internal communication and document management can be a significant challenge in the Distributed Firm.

Firm members access documents and software using a variety of devices, some of which may be personal devices or shared with other parties. This increases security risks and more sophisticated IT management is required. For this reason, many Distributed Firms choose to outsource their IT to a Private Cloud provider.

Private Cloud refers to moving an organization’s IT infrastructure to a data centre under the management of a professional IT services group. All of the computing takes place inside the data centre, where email, files and software are kept secure. Users access them by logging in to a virtual desktop on any device in any location. No files are stored on their devices, significantly lowering risk of security vulnerabilities.

Moving to a Private Cloud also enables firms to offload the responsibility of owning and operating IT: everything is hosted and professionally managed by the provider, for a fixed monthly fee.

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Conclusion

MS Teams provides the work flexibility and collaboration tools Distributed Firms need to keep employees engaged, productive and delivering quality client service.

When paired with hosted IT in a highly secure and stable Private Cloud, MS Teams is a propitious option for the forward-thinking firm.