The impact of MS Teams on law firm IG


This paper explores topics that law firms should consider to appropriately govern the use of Microsoft Office 365 Teams®. It is intended to provide an initial overview of Teams and provide guidance around the Information Governance (IG) concerns when adopting Teams at a law firm.

April 8, 202112 mins
Three coworkers talking in a hall

Purpose of this paper

This paper explores topics that law firms should consider to appropriately govern the use of Microsoft Office 365 Teams®. It is intended to provide an initial overview of Teams and provide guidance around the Information Governance (IG) concerns when adopting Teams at a law firm. We have identified several key areas relevant to the law firm IG practitioner, focusing on primary configuration options and application settings. Each of these areas is supported by discussions around key functions and available configurations that would be applicable to the law firm’s implementation of Teams as a replacement for Skype for Business chat, voice and meetings. We also address its use as a new collaboration solution leveraging Teams workspaces with channels, channel messaging, file management and app functionality.

Each major topic is followed by a set of key takeaways that summarize the primary considerations that you, as a law firm IG professional, can use as a high-level checklist on your own journey in the implementation of Teams.

The paper ends with a brief discussion of law firm specific governance considerations that affect the implementation of Teams, but also fall outside of the normal operational parameters of Teams lifecycle management (that are described in the paper’s earlier sections).

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Microsoft Teams is a cloud-based team collaboration software that is part of the Microsoft 365 suite of applications. It is Microsoft’s core cloud-based unified communications offering, and it competes with similar products such as Slack, Cisco WebEx Teams and Google Hangouts. As a business communications app, Teams enables local and remote workers to collaborate on content in real time and near-real time across different devices, including laptops and mobile devices. Microsoft Teams also offers a single point of integration with other Microsoft 365 applications, including Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint and Planner, pulling functionality and sharing content across these and other applications

Rapid adoption

Many firms implemented Skype for Business as a basic collaboration platform, enjoying features such as instant messaging, voice and video calling and presence. Microsoft has announced the end of service date for Skype for Business Online is July 21, 2021, driving firms to make business decisions regarding their future collaboration platform of choice. The Microsoft 365 licensing that many firms have in place makes Teams a logical choice for their future business collaboration platform.

Generational changes are also playing a role in why law firms are considering Teams. As younger, tech-savvy individuals enter the business, they crave more modern collaboration tools to be used to communicate internally as well as with clients. For these individuals, telephone and email are no longer the preferred means of business communication.

Client adoption is also driving change. As businesses continue to adopt Teams, expect their law firms to also embrace Teams for ease of collaboration. Teams can extend the ability for clients they expect to communicate with a firm via external access using chats and meetings, further cementing client expectations that their lawyer is “always available”. Firms are finding that without their own instance of Teams, or an alternative collaborative platform, their attorneys work within the client’s Teams environment. The result: the attorney’s work product is now stored and managed outside of the firm’s control.

Last, and certainly not least, the global pandemic of 2020/2021 has played a significant role in expanding the use of Teams. Firms that had not yet decided about their future collaboration platform were suddenly put in a position of needing to implement Teams quickly to support their new “work from home” workforce. Microsoft has responded by adding capacity to support more simultaneous audio and video calls at once, and an array of new features to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Adoption considerations

Even with all the drivers for adoption, a firm should understand the risks and give due consideration before a full-scale embracing of Teams. Teams is very different than other desktop applications. It requires a substantial commitment for licensing along with dedicated staff to keep up with the ever-changing Microsoft 365 ecosystem. Firms must also recognize that it forces decisions about the use of Exchange Online, OneDrive and SharePoint.

For firms that may have restrictions in place regarding placing client data in a cloud environment, there are considerations regarding how certain should be implemented. In some cases, internal configuration settings teams features can and should be applied. In other cases, there may be usage restrictions that are controlled by good policies, but not enforceable using the technology. On the positive side, firms have reported some unexpected gains in efficiency and capability with their remote lawyers and staff quickly learning to be more self-sufficient.