Guest post: Has Microsoft Teams started an unexpected flight to SharePoint as a DMS?

By Roger Pickett, director of UK operations, Transform Data International

Do law firms finally see the opportunity of adopting the Microsoft 365 platform for their DMS and Collaboration platform? Cast your mind back many years and the legal IT community’s last brush with using Microsoft SharePoint as a DMS platform. It was bold move, but I think it is fair to say it fell short. I think it is also fair to say that it left a tone of SharePoint not being suitable for the demands of a content management solution for law firms.

Fast forward to March 2017, and Microsoft released MS Teams as part of Microsoft 365. Fast forward again to March 2020 and the world changed. The pandemic forced every law firm to scramble to mobilise MS Teams as the way forward for communication and collaborating in a world where remote working full time was a reality overnight.

I guess the direct answer to the question above is no, but indirectly I believe it is a resounding silent yes. The majority of law firms that I speak to now have MS Teams entrenched as their core communication layer. It has certainly fast forwarded the desire of law firms to explore how best they can adopt the Microsoft 365 platform even further. It is a platform that has matured, eliminates a lot of integration issues within the MS Office suite and most crucially, now demotes SharePoint to a backend.

There are now serious collaboration and content management solutions available for the legal market that surface the workspace and channels in Outlook without the need for a plugin, or via MS Teams where a firm can deliver a whole host of information about a client/matter alongside the content. This is all on a platform a firm has already invested in, and we have not even spoken about the ability to have task management and powerful reporting/analysis available in the same offering.

So, on the surface I guess the majority would all probably agree it would be the ideal platform to place our content and collaborate, but what about the question of whether it can handle the volume and demands of a law firm?

My thoughts on this are based on working in law firm document management since the early 1990s with three key DMS authors. Whatever product has reigned at any given time was always backed up by a common factor. They always had a very experienced and focused partner network, a small network of partners with very experienced consultants. These partners always had deep knowledge of the products in question and of the needs and demands of a law firm. No law firm DMS product would ever have been successful without their knowledge on planning and setting up a workable structure, migration expertise, integrations and implementation.

The same applies to the Microsoft world, up until a few years ago this component was nearly non-existent. That has changed and there is a growing number of partners that know this space intimately.

So, moving on, I guess we must ask where are all the firms that have adopted content on the Microsoft platform? There is no doubting that the mentioned sequence of events are very recent so we would not expect there to be a sea change overnight. However, In Europe, where I believe the Microsoft platform has been adopted and used in depth more rapidly than within the UK, there are many law firms that have done this. There are also a host of large in-house legal departments using such solutions very successfully. Add to this that there have already been some large-scale migrations from traditional DMS solutions to the Microsoft 365 platform in other UK professional service sectors,. giving credence to the ability to migrate millions of documents.

In addition, interviews I have had with CIOs of the firms that have shifted their content to M365 have been nothing but complimentary about the process and the solution they now have. Especially as future projects around Collaboration, Task Management and Reporting now become so much more simplified. I am also certain that there are already a few UK based law firms about to embark on this journey. The take up is about where I would expect it to be given the recent sequence of events.

Lastly, when I speak to CIOs and IT Directors the two key strategies that keep coming up are:

  • It’s inevitable we will be marching to the cloud;
  • We must reduce the number of suppliers in our application stack.

Azure and Microsoft 365 would be an ideal answer. For sure it is early days, and these are only my thoughts. Whether this small wave becomes a tidal wave is to be seen, but there are very favourable conditions. It would be wrong not to mention global reach. I think it is fair to say that even that hurdle was knocked down in 2021, and the acquisition by Intapp of Repstor could be the final piece of the puzzle.

I would at the very least expect the old age question of “Why would I consider Microsoft for DMS strategy? “ to have been turned on its head. The question is now “Why would I not consider it as a strategy?!”

Roger Pickett co-founded Phoenix Business Solutions and Tower Law Services. At TDI he is charged with spearheading growth in the UK, following the launch of TDI’s London office in the summer of 2021.