Interview: Microsoft, Peppermint Technology, and why you need to pay attention to SharePoint Embedded

Legal IT Insider spoke with Microsoft’s director of product marketing, Chris McNulty; Microsoft’s principal product manager, Reid Carlberg; and Peppermint Technology’s chief technology officer Mike Walker to understand more about what SharePoint Embedded means in practice for law firms. 

In November last year at its European tech conference ESPC23, Microsoft announced that SharePoint Embedded was available for public preview, causing excitement amongst ISVs such as Microsoft partner Peppermint Technology. Why? SharePoint Embedded is a ‘headless’ API-only solution that enables ISVs (among others) to integrate SharePoint’s document management features into their applications. So think a completely customised front end, with Microsoft Graph in the background. Microsoft consultants are calling it a paradigm shift in the SharePoint debate.  

SharePoint Embedded introduces file storage containers, which are document libraries created and stored in Microsoft 365, accessible only via API. This means that documents are isolated and secure within that tenant boundary, ensuring data security and compliance. A SharePoint Embedded application can create many file storage containers for storing content. 

At ESPC23 just two examples of SharePoint Embedded were announced, and one of those was the work that Peppermint Technology is doing with UK top 50 law firm Pinsent Masons. Pinsent’s director of knowledge, Tim Dales, was quoted by Microsoft saying: “Peppermint Technology together with SharePoint Embedded goes beyond traditional document management. This modern approach uses AI-infused discovery and robust security measures to give an enhanced user experience within Outlook and Teams, turning a vast corpus of data into actionable insights.”

Speaking recently to Legal IT Insider over a Teams call organised by Peppermint to help us dig deeper into some of the changes, Microsoft’s director of product marketing, Chris McNulty, who is responsible for content services at the tech giant, said: “Across M365 there has been a rising tide over the years of both customers as well as partners who build applications that plug into systems of applications. So, you can build an app for SharePoint. You can build an app for Teams. You can build an app that shows up in Word, and the common thread across a lot of that is content.  

“One of the things that we’ve been working on for a while that we’re bringing out with SharePoint Embedded is if you have a content-based application – and this is a pattern that we think is durable across multiple industries, not just legal and compliance – you can take the content that the application is working with (so if people are submitting proposals or invoices or pleadings or so on and so forth) and you can just treat those as raw files and build all of the management and handling on your own inside the application. 

“SharePoint is this high scale storage fabric that provides fundamental capabilities that include things like versioning and security management, access management and co-authoring and search and share ability. All of those things come along for the ride when your content is on a SharePoint back end. The idea of SharePoint Embedded is how do we construct and use that back-end capability and bring it directly to application creators without going through a front end of Outlook or a front end of SharePoint or a front end of Teams.” 

What is also means is scalability. Significantly, Peppermint’s chief technology officer Mike Walker says: “When you talk about some of the challenges that law firms have had in scale and operation, SharePoint can scale infinitely in a lot of areas that were constrained by design. Because SharePoint Embedded is untapping that complexity for the user experience instead of SharePoint Online, we’re able to say, ‘we’ve got a container that correlates to a matter; it scales within that; it’s secure and controlled within that.’ All of that is obfuscated from the user, so the driver for us is that SharePoint Embedded is really giving us access to the enterprise class storage platform in the way we feel it’s appropriate to work for a lawyer. SharePoint Online doesn’t correlate to how a lawyer wants to work and that’s the great thing about how SharePoint Embedded is working.” 

In a demo, Walker showed Legal IT Insider the workflow around a lawyer receiving an email. “Peppermint Connect is a web add-in solution so in effect it works on mobile, it works on new Outlook, on desktop Outlook and it works inside of Teams but the driver is that it is linked to a matter,” he said. “It’s being stored inside of a repository and actually this is a SharePoint Embedded repository, but the lawyer doesn’t need to worry about that. They’re just looking at the information they’ve got in an email. They can look at their dashboard, so information related to the transaction, and they’ve got very light touch matter management. I can look at my connections on the email and I can say I want to start a chat, or I want to do a scheduled event. So from the lawyer journey, this is really clean interface that’s contextually aware, and this is really the secret sauce about how we bring that value across multiple DMS systems. 

“The lawyer just knows that they’ve got rich information relevant to their transaction.  They can go and work on documents. This here is actually coming from SharePoint Embedded, but the navigation is exactly the same as if it was on an iManage case. 

“From a transition perspective for large firms like Pinsent Masons, it allows them to take a more considered approach to taking advantage of the values that they’re looking to build on SharePoint Embedded.” 

Peppermint has built an OpenAI assistant that can summarise and take actions from the content.


It also has drafting capabilities and can help with emails with Walker commenting: “It’s grounded in your business data, so it automatically knows who the person is and what the transaction is.” 

Peppermint’s in-built prompts enable users to select a house style but also to change tone. 

For law firms using or trialling Copilot – such as Pinsent Masons – there appear to be obvious overlaps, but Walker says: “When you look at Teams Premium and you look at Copilot, we see these as servicing tools to a new user experience. It’s a chat-based user interface exchange that is just different to how people have used and interacted today. We’re very excited about the things that we’ve been working on there, but equally the driver for me is to try and make sure that we have the right glue to connect to lawyers to help them leverage that tool set.” 

McNulty adds: “There’s a design principle that is common across a lot of these applications, SharePoint Embedded being just one of them. If you look at Microsoft’s public statements about this, we talk a lot about the Microsoft 365 trust boundary and so the design philosophy is how do we make it easier for our customers to keep all of their content inside of that trust boundary? That’s predominantly for two reasons. First, it makes sure that we’re able to bring the full value of our security compliance and privacy controls to that content. The other reason why we focus on that trust boundary is it keeping that content connected inside of the customer security domains. 

“The security boundary makes it easier for the customer to get more benefit and more value from that content, so that not just the security and compliance capability, but the more content an organization has in M365, the more they are able to address it with things like Copilot or being able to attach workflows for re signature. So it’s really about putting the content in a place to maximize its use and its reuse.” 

Walker says that Pinsent Masons are on a journey to understand how they can apply the trust boundary around their data and tap into the value of the information they hold. In November, they announced that they have deployed Peppermint Case Management for big ticket and mass litigation work, and are looking at further use cases. Walker says: “What we’re providing is a set of functions and we’re rolling out our functionality from a case operative perspective, which is going extremely well.” 

It is hard not to revisit the fact that SharePoint has failed as a legal DMS in the past, however the early work done by firms such as Clifford Chance was with SharePoint 2013 on premises, which Walker points out is “worlds apart” from SharePoint Online. “I do genuinely believe that the scalability and capability in SharePoint is extremely different now and in 2013 days they were trying to make a product work against the flow of how it was designed and should be worked,” says Walker. 

Supporting this point, Microsoft’s principal product manager Reid Carlberg observes: “The really interesting part about this is, Chris started talking about this when we were opening up about this amazing storage fabric that we have globally where more than two billion documents a day land on it. What Peppermint is doing with Connect, is they have a dedicated partition within that storage fabric and they control all access into it. They control all management of it. They create the entire user interface for it. It’s hooked in with their customers M365 capabilities Purview capabilities. And so, when you think about the ability to build these custom apps, it’s very different today than it was ten years ago or 15 years ago.” 

He adds: “What Connect is, is Peppermint building on the exact same platform that Microsoft builds all of our new apps on top of.” 

Microsoft is clearly invested in the legal sector, although the fear among law firms around being so invested in one supplier is real.

Addressing one angle of the ‘all eggs in one basket’ debate, McNulty says: “I think it’s predicated on a misunderstanding of what cloud architectures look like. We’re not running a box in the cloud that has your information in it. There are fabrics that are composed of multiple virtualised servers that are spread across multiple regions, with multiple data centers. People think that putting a document in the cloud is like a bank vault – you give us the file and we store it. But we break that file up into multiple storage pieces, each of which is separately encrypted and those key are then separately encrypted. There is no single point of failure.” 

There is always a vulnerability around using one supplier to underpin a vast swathe of your operations, but fear or not, the law firms we speak to are heavily invested in M365 and all things Microsoft, and that only shows signs of increasing.

Walker says: “The legal industry have felt they are small and actually the fantastic thing about this relationship is it’s really clear that Microsoft wants to listen and they are feeding back and adding value.” As always, time will tell.