Microsoft last week announced that it is offering a six-month free trial of its collaboration platform Teams, which many law firms have been trialing but is an area where the legal sector lags behind others in the adoption curve. Similarly, Google said at the start of March that it will begin rolling out free access to its advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally. Could COVID-19 and the en masse move towards home working be the catalyst that drives the legal sector to finally get on board?

Microsoft said last week that if you work for a business that isn’t currently licensed for Teams, it will provide a free Office 365 E1 offer for six months. Teams is part of O365, so if you are licensed for that you already have it. It’s worth noting for small businesses that Microsoft already has a good freemium version and you can find details here.

While there is clearly a huge element of self-interest here, Microsoft has received widespread praise for the move. Since January 31, Microsoft says it has seen a 500 percent increase in Teams meetings, calling, and conferences there, and a 200 percent increase in Teams usage on mobile devices.

Similarly, Google’s general manager and VP of G-Suite Javier Soltero said at the start of March that Google will begin rolling out free access to its advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally.

Google Hangouts Meet is a cloud-based collaboration tool that is part of its business productivity bundle. G-Suite. Hangouts Meet is Google’s latest video conferencing app while Hangouts Chat is Google’s Slack alternative, allowing G Suite organizations to create group chats and channels for internal discussions.

The new free access will include: 

  • Larger meetings, for up to 250 participants per call
  • Live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain 
  • The ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive

From speaking to a number of CIOs at larger firms with well-prepared business continuity plans and lots of leverage, they are executing business continuity plans, including buying more hardware and bandwidth. In a COVID-19 best practice feature we are about to publish, Nathan Hayes, IT director at Osborne Clarke says the crisis isn’t likely to be about a particular technology but a cultural shift.

But that comes from a firm where 80% of its staff already had laptops and is much further along the remote working curve than many. To date, OC could accommodate 1000 people working remotely and has increased that to 2,000 in the last few weeks.

Smaller firms without the ability to quickly scale up their hardware and their bandwidth are in practice likely to need to look for different solutions, particularly if home working continues for extended periods. Firms need to be prepared for the strain that this fairly unprecedented shift will put on the home broadband network.

There are several areas of the globe that are already in lock down, either by choice or government mandate. Over the weekend much of Italy was put into quarantine, including the capital Milan, the second most populous city in Italy.

In the US Washington is referred to as ground zero and California has declared a state of emergency. In an ILTA virtual roundtable convened to discuss the virus, legal tech veteran Donna Payne, speaking from Kirkland, Washington, said, in a taste of what is to come for many: “We have been in isolation and are being referred to as ground zero. Genome testing shows Coronavirus been here for six weeks and we’ve had 10 deaths in Washington State. They are referring to us as a ghost town. Google has said no visitors to its campus and has asked their 4,500 people to work from home. Microsoft has instituted a work from home policy. Boeing has had a member of staff test positive and they are reviewing their policy. Grocery deliveries take three days. My children’s school closed on Monday and they have instituted a distance learning plan.”

Participants of the roundtable were sharing the link to Microsoft’s free Teams announcement during the discussion. It’s here if you want to take a look: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/support-remote-work-with-teams

What is for sure is that in the coming weeks you can expect normal risk/benefit analysis to be turned their head as the need to protect the health of staff becomes the number one priority.

It’s important not to make knee jerk decisions and the first step is to make sure that your business continuity plan takes into account the impact of an extended pandemic.

We will be providing best practice guidance and helping law firms and organisations to fill the gaps in their DR plans. Contact caroline.hill@legalitlabs.com for more details.