What happens when lawyers want to work outside the office?

In this first blog of two, Mark Garnish, Tikit’s Development Director, reflects on the fact that increasingly lawyers will want to work remotely. Office 365 appears to make that possible, but first Mark advises that CIO’s be aware of its major limitation.

I’m fascinated by the way technology has developed over the last ten years or so, particularly consumer technology. It’s created devices with almost magical powers. I can hold a tablet in my hand that puts much of the world’s knowledge at my fingertips. At the same time it takes photos, plays music, downloads a book in seconds and lets me video-call Australia. Today’s technology is nothing short of miraculous. Most of us take it for granted and this leads people to think that pretty much anything is possible. And that’s a problem, because it isn’t.

A case in point is when a lawyer wants to do work outside of their office. The difficulty is that it doesn’t sound that hard to arrange, after all I easily check my bank account but actually it is. And that’s awkward because lawyers want the same flexibility from their devices when they are working as they do in their personal lives and find it hard to believe it’s not possible.

One part of the equation is already solved of course, because Microsoft have given us Office 365 so we can review and edit documents on pretty much anything, anywhere. It doesn’t even have to be downloaded onto the machine you’re using. It can sit in the cloud. This means that you can use the full suite of Microsoft Office products on whichever device you want – whether it’s a desktop, a laptop, a tablet or a mobile – at home, in the office or on the go.

So what is Office 365?

To quote Microsoft

“Office 365” refers to subscription plans that include access to Office applications plus other productivity services that are enabled over the Internet (cloud services). Office 365 includes plans for use at home and for business.

Many Office 365 plans also include the desktop version of the latest Office applications, which users can install across multiple computers and devices. The fully installed applications include: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access. (Publisher and Access are available on PC only.) And you can install them across multiple devices, including PCs, Macs, Android tablets, Android phones, iPad, and iPhone. When you have an active Office 365 subscription that includes the desktop version of Office, you always have the most up-to-date version of the applications.”

Office 365 also gives you access to Microsoft’s OneDrive – a filing cabinet in the sky. It provides the potential to store and organise all documents and files in such a way that they are always accessible from anywhere. Brilliant, but hang on …. that might be perfect for you at home but that isn’t going to work for a law firm with a document management system. I am pretty certain that most law firms haven’t yet approved OneDrive as their main document repository!

But for lawyers, there are some other big problems.

What you can’t do with Office 365 or the elephant in the room

A lawyer is very likely to be using a lot more than just Microsoft Office and a document management system (DMS). They may also use an email filing system. It’s also likely they’ve come to depend on formatting software, for example, programs that automatically handle paragraph numbering, or provide the right templates, or software that applies styles and formatting to their documents.

You may think lawyers can get by without some of these bells and whistles – but actually, wait a minute, they can’t. Because as much as Office 365 gives you notional access anywhere, on any device, at any time – it doesn’t, at the present time, give you access to most of the legal software that you have to use because none of it is truly Office 365 compatible. So much for magical powers.

Remote and mobile working most certainly the direction of travel, I can’t remember attending any legal conference for the last few years that didn’t have a least one mobility track. It is what all of us have in our private lives now and want in our professional lives. Yet, as it stands very little of the legal software programs currently available will truly work with Office 365.

And before you say “Rubbish, I have Office 365 and my plugins work perfectly well with my Office 2016” remember that to be truly Office 365 compliant it must work with every device that Office 365 works on. So to be truly 100% Office 365 compatible you cannot have any client side code.

How CIO’s can square this particularly tricky circle is therefore the subject of my next blog. In it I’ll explain a bit more about why some legal software can’t easily work with Office 365 and I’ll also offer some advice on what CIOs need to do now to adapt to a truly mobile Office 365 future.