What happens when lawyers want to work outside the office – Part 2

In the second blog of two, Mark Garnish, Tikit’s Development Director, looks at what lawyers will increasingly want from IT. He also outlines what he sees as the biggest challenge to law firm CIOs at the moment, and suggests what it is they should do now to position for making mobility a reality.  

In the first part of this blog I wrote about how Office 365 enables remote working: Office 365 users can access the whole Microsoft Office suite of products on any device – be that a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone. It means notionally anyone can work anywhere, on any device, at any time.

And let’s face it: this is the future. we are all hearing more and more about ‘mobile working’, or ‘smart working’, or ‘consumerisation’. The point is: people are used to accessing the internet online from any device, and they increasingly want and expect to be able to do the same with their work. Moreover, they increasingly want to blend the personal with the professional and to work when and where it suits them. Lawyers are no different and the pressure on legal IT departments to make this a reality will only grow.

The elephant in the room

At the same time I also noted that, unfortunately, Office 365 is incompatible with a vast majority of the legal software packages around today. This is the elephant in the room which, in my experience, most software vendors aren’t talking about.

Microsoft has shifted the whole way their technology works. Plug-ins don’t work in any implementation of Office365 unless it is the traditional desktop installed model. In my last blog I said

“To be truly 100% Office365 compatible you cannot have any client side code.”

So that means office plug-ins are dead. Long live their replacement; office adds-ins.

Quite apart from the fun that would been have had somewhere in Microsoft where somebody decided that plug-ins was a good and snappy name for the replacement to add-ins you might think a plug-in is more or less the same thing as an add-in, but you’d be wrong. In fact, they’re completely and utterly different both in technology and the way they’re used. The key is that add-ins work completely server-side. Currently a plug-in is some software that has been installed on a desktop, on the client, and works there.

It follows that when you move from the desktop to say a tablet or to word online, where nothing will be stored on the local machine, the plug-in just isn’t there for you to use. All of that vitally important stuff that helps lawyers use MS Office such as accessing documents via their DMS or generating new documents from a template management system must also sit server-side and be capable of ‘talking to’ Office 365 via a plug-in.

It doesn’t mean that law firms can’t use Office 365, simply that software vendors will need to redevelop their solutions to work as Office add-ins. And this isn’t something that just requires a tweak here and there to existing software – it is a complete top to bottom rewrite. A massive (and expense) task. It calls for radical changes to the software which is why a lot of legal software vendors are a little bit in denial about the impact of introducing truly 100% Office 365 compliant software.

In the meantime, the biggest challenge facing CIOs will be explaining to lawyers that IT has no viable solution to enable true mobile working.

What CIOs need to do now is three-fold. First they must fully understand what Office 365 can and can’t do and what it the appetite in the firm for truly mobile working.

Next, they need to manage the expectations of their user community. People may take the view that it’s unacceptable that they can’t work remotely, after all they can video conference to the other side of the world and download books.

Finally, and at the same time, CIOs need to start having conversations with their software vendors about how they are tackling the task of redeveloping their products to be Office 365 compatible. If your vendors are avoiding the Office 365 conversation – don’t let them.

Of course they could bury their heads in the sand in the hope that demand for mobile working will pass them by. It won’t and it is a very large elephant.

If you missed the first blog from Mark you can read it here.