For lawyers, Microsoft Office is as close to a must-have piece of technology as there is. Some of the applications it contains, namely MS Word, are inescapably necessary for a modern lawyer to be familiar with. While others, like Planner, are a helpful addition to a cost conscious office. But they aren’t necessarily the industry standard. Although, you may not like all of the Office applications, you almost certainly need some of them (or at least a familiarity with them). Because of this, we dedicate a lot of resources to helping lawyers use these applications to the best of their ability.
However, Microsoft Office is not simply a suite of related applications anymore. Since the release of Office 365, it has gradually become a collection of integrated services with built-in document management, team collaboration, and resource integration software.
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Structure of this Resource Page
Microsoft Office is a behemoth of the software industry. It cannot be ingested in one sitting. Accordingly, we have various Resource pages and Blog articles written about different aspects of the software. This page works to give a broad overview of the Suite as a whole. For more specific analysis, drill-down into our other, relevant resource pages below.
Basics of Microsoft Office
Office Classic v. Office 365
Microsoft Office, classically, has been a set of loosely related productivity software with familiar graphics and similar underlying programming. The programs generally work well together. However, many times, you would need to use Microsoft’s proprietary coding language to get complex integrations done.
Now, Office 365 consists of various productivity and creation programs for the office environment. Each program can be used in tandem with the others, or as a solitary application. However, there is considerable benefit to using them together as a whole.
Common Microsoft Office Tools for Lawyers
What Microsoft Office Does for Lawyers
As we are fond of saying, lawyers don’t just need disparate pieces of technology, they need a legal tech stack. At the very least, a modern lawyer needs an email provider, a document editor, a task (or project) manager, a document storage solution, and methods for securing it all. The advantage of Microsoft Office (and GSuite for that matter) is that you can get a substantial amount of these products in one suite.
Office 365 Internal Integrations
Although all Microsoft Office programs generally work and play well together, Office 365 had introduced deeper integrations than ever before. Additionally, if a program does not directly integrate in the way you want, you can likely use Power Automate (f/k/a MS Flow), or Power Apps to create a custom integration.
As an example of the deep integration, whenever you create a team in MS Teams, you can quickly, and easily create a Sharepoint site. You can also create an Outlook Group, or even a specific Planner based on (and connected to) that team. Then, and this is where the real advantage comes in, you can create a workflow using Power Automate. When a task is completed in Planner, it alerts that team in the communication channel.
Microsoft Office has a seemingly endless number of external integrations. For the most part, there are very few companies out there that would shun an integration with them. One can find non-legal specific programs galore like Adobe Sign, Quickbooks, Calendly, Zapier, Survey Monkey, SalesForce, and Hubspot, to name a few. However, more and more legal tech companies are leaning in to collaboration with Office.
At the very least, many Legal Tech companies will integrate with Microsoft Outlook, or Word (depending on the type of program). However, increasingly, we are seeing deep integrations with products like Teams, OneDrive, and Sharepoint. Clio Manage, for example, will start a new Team for you when you create a new matter.
The Necessity of MS Word
Although alternative products are introduced seemingly daily, MS Word is still the industry standard for creating, manipulating, editing, sharing, and (most importantly) red-lining documents. Even attorneys who use Google Docs, or Apple Pages, will, no doubt, need a way to turn their documents into MS Word format.
And Microsoft knows this. Through Office 365, they have created a way to charge slightly more than what Word would be on its own, and give you access to many of these tools. There is little reason (other than personal preference) to use alternative products for your basic tech stack.
Keep in mind, however, that Google is doing this, too. And, many companies are looking to knock Microsoft off of it’s document editing pedestal. So, this may not be the case for too much longer.
Microsoft Office for Lawyers
Lawyers, like many other professionals, should take the time to understand the common features of Microsoft Office. When they do, they’ll likely save themselves a lot of time. Below are descriptions of common uses of MS Office applications and how they connect with each other.
Word: Document Creation
This is the work-horse of the Office suite—at least for lawyers. Word is a processing, editing, publishing, and reviewing platform that is by far the industry standard. Lawyers should be using this to red-line documents, create standard files from templates, and automate files that are reused frequently. They should understand what meta-data is being stored, how to use version control (and document compare), and how to use Quick Styles to make their document formatting easier.
For more on utilizing Word, head to our MS Word resource page.
Outlook: Email System
Outlook can be confusing sometimes, especially since the desktop version can serve up any email account you load into it. And, depending on what features you need, it may not be time to shift to the cloud-based program just yet. But if you want more seamless integration with other Office 365 programs, you may want to start heading that way.
Many of the Outlook features that lawyers need relate to calendaring and managing time. Lawyers using Microsoft Office should be utilizing the robust calendaring features, the ability to incorporate email into tasks, and the templated response features available.
Other than scheduling, however, attorneys should also be using Outlook to make their communications more secure. Due to the inherent lack of privacy in the sending and receiving of email, lawyers should definitely be using Outlook’s encrypt feature when transmitting client information.
OneDrive/Sharepoint: File Management
A modern law office must store its documents somewhere other than in a physical file cabinet. A remote office needs to do it somewhere in the cloud. Microsoft Office offers two options for lawyers looking to store their data, and, depending on your set-up, either one could be right for you.
OneDrive is like personal storage in the Cloud. It’s your own little remote drive. Although it can be used as an office network drive, that is not its best and highest use. Unfortunately, many LPMS systems only integrate with OneDrive, so you may have to use it by default.
Sharepoint is Microsoft Office’s network drive. Lawyers and law firms would use this instead of on-premises office network storage. It’s more like your local Server. Here, you can store common files that can be shared with the entire office with ease (or you can limit access as necessary). This storage location integrates directly with the Planner app, Teams, and Office to help you manage your information broadly.
Planner: Project Management
One of the most underused applications in the Office suite is the Planner app. This is Microsoft’s answer to Trello, Monday, Asana, and other Kanban style project management applications. Here, lawyers should be utilizing the shared workspace to keep track of team members’ tasks, and to create workflows for common tasks.
Read more about Project Management for Lawyers.
Teams: Inter-office Communication
Teams is more than just Microsoft’s answer to #Slack. If used correctly, it can be a hub for your day-to-day tasks, and a place where your office collaborates. It can combine your Planner, Sharepoint, Tasks, Calendar, and loads of other applications, all within a specified communication channel. Additionally, it has replaced Skype for Business, so you can run your phones and your video conferencing through it.
Things to Know
There are more tricks and nuances to Microsoft Office than one person can really be expected to take in. Additionally, due to the endless creation of new integrations, and Microsoft’s constant updates, helpful resources are added daily. Below, however, we have compiled a quick list of some of the more helpful resources for lawyers that we have found in Microsoft Office.
Office Tips & Tricks for Lawyers
Use Quick Styles for consistent formatting
Quick Styles allows you to save formatting settings as an easy to use button in the Home ribbon. This means that you can easily switch from your formal Court Filing style with all the necessary formatting rules, to your office’s correspondence style with the click of a button. It’s as easy as setting up the styles in your document once and then saving them.
Set-up “Send on Behalf of”
In Outlook, an administrator can give other users permission to view the mailbox of, send on behalf of, and send as other users. This allows an attorney to give certain permission to a legal assistant to manage their email without having to share their password. This comes in handy if you turn on two-factor authentication like you should.
Turn on Password Protection for Sensitive Documents
Most Office creation products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) will allow you to password protect all or a portion of the document. For lawyers, this is an important feature when trying to protect sensitive client data. Or, you can simply limit other users’ ability to edit the document. Which can help when you’re sending a document for approval and signature, but not edits.
Create Templates for Common Documents
Templates can be easily created in Microsoft Word so you can quickly build and edit documents that your office commonly uses. These are documents like standard Leases, Simple Wills, Powers of Attorney, and other documents that contain a lot of boilerplate. Templates can get very complex and, as you’ll see, are very powerful. However, don’t get overwhelmed. Templates can be as simple as a document with a pre-formatted caption at the top, or useful correspondence with your local court clerk on your letterhead.
Take the Time to Sharpen you Axe
Whether you are an Office 365 expert, or a novice, the best way to get the most out of the Microsoft package is to take some time to set it up on the front-end. It may take watching some YouTube videos, or you may hire a third-party expert, but you’ll save time and money on the back-end.