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Why (and When) Law Firms Should Consider Microsoft’s Matter Center for Office 365

Brian PodolskyAt the 2014 International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) conference, Microsoft made what could be a major splash for the legal vertical. Adding to their push for Office 365, Microsoft announced Matter Center. Although it is being marketed as “for Office 365″, Microsoft says it could also work in either hybrid or on-premises SharePoint environments. That said, the fact that the focus is on Office 365 tells you all you really need to know: This is it. This is the tipping point that Microsoft is betting on. The tipping point to grab a market share of legal Enterprise Content Management with an application that is geared to be delivered from the Cloud.

Microsoft has been laying the groundwork for this, and making it more costly for law firms to continue as they have and use traditional DMS products. Consider the past few years and Microsoft’s accelerated release schedule. With each new version since 2010, most legal DMS vendors seem to be up to 12 months behind. This prevents firms from deploying new versions of their main productivity suite. If the firm were to purchase Office 365, they would be forced to deploy the current version of Office. If their DMS isn’t compatible yet, then that makes Office 365 a non-starter.

But Office 365 should definitely be considered. Over time, the subscription cost of Office 365 could be less than purchasing Office 2013 with Software Assurance. For as little as about $12/user/month, a small to medium size firm can not only get full versions of Office, but also hosted SharePoint, Exchange and Lync. For a little more, they can get advanced features such as the eDiscovery Center and legal hold capabilities of SharePoint 2013. Firms can also host these services at a lower cost through plans that do not include the Office licenses. The eDiscovery features of SharePoint 2013, while not perfect, are vastly superior to those of SharePoint 2010. It is encouraging to see improvements to tools like this. This is why I believe Microsoft when they say they are committed to the legal vertical. There is a market there.

However, it is a long-term strategic play with several incentives for Microsoft. Legal is a relatively small market. Legal’s adoption of the Cloud (or even hybrids of the Cloud and on-premises) should reduce Office 365 blockers in the larger markets their attorneys serve and influence, such as Finance. Matter Center is a project of Microsoft’s legal department, which believes they can make their outside counsel more efficient, including a single surface for document management, external collaboration, mobility (including iPads), simultaneous authoring, analytics, workflow, CRM, knowledge management, etc. For example, a transactional Clause Bank document assembly application that will be available in the App Store in the next few weeks, which demonstrates how concepts of documents that have not changed since the Magna Carta may find a new paradigm. Many of the historical blockers for specific aspects of this vision still stand, but even the detractors in the crowd found the vision compelling.

”Legal

Kraft Kennedy has seen increased interest in moving data to the cloud. The Office 365 model makes a lot of sense. The one thing holding law firms back is their DMS. Whenever you add third-party applications to the Microsoft stack, you have to consider (and worry about) compatibility issues. But if Microsoft can deliver a legal-focused DMS that integrates and would always be compatible with the latest version of Office, then law firms may have one less thing to worry about — and one less hefty maintenance contract to renew with a third-party vendor. Law firms could finally get some use out of SharePoint other than an intranet or extranet.

But wait, there are other SharePoint add-ons that provide DMS functionality for legal. Handshake, Traen, MacroView, and Epona are just a few. We have seen some interest, but not the SharePoint DMS market growth that these vendors were anticipating. Why not? The general blockers for these tools have been either the high cost of licenses or implementation, the lack of in-house institutional SharePoint knowledge to run the platform underneath these add-ons, or the lack of support for the Office 365 flavors of SharePoint. Recently, Epona released a version of their DMSforLegal product which is compatible with Office 365. This does provide an option for law firms who are taking advantage of the Office 365 subscription model. However, it is again a third-party product that may have to content with compatibility issues and upgrade timelines with Office 365. We will have to see how Matter Center develops and if it can be viable.

Will Matter Center invade the AM Law 100? No, probably not any time soon. Could it be used in certain collaborative situations in large firms in 2015? Most likely. There are thousands of firms beyond that who could benefit from this as well. The key things to find out next are:

  • How easy will it be for lawyers to use daily?
  • How quickly can vendors provide the specialized integration in which Microsoft’s experience is limited?
  • How easy will it be to implement and administer for in-house IT and solutions providers?
  • What is the roadmap for the next phases of development?

Kraft Kennedy is excited to be working closely with Microsoft this fall to find out the answers to these questions, and see Matter Center grow and mature.

Brian Podolsky is a Practice Manager in the New York office of Kraft & Kennedy, Inc. He leads Kraft Kennedy's Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Practice Group, where he drives Kraft Kennedy's research on the latest technologies and provides guidance and best practice standards to clients implementing ECM solutions. He has extensive experience implementing and supporting HP/Autonomy iManage, OpenText eDOCS, and Worldox document management systems, as well as third-party integrated add-ons to these systems. Follow Brian on Twitter.
 

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