Microsoft Teams is becoming increasingly widely adopted in the legal profession, but those on the road to adoption in many cases have more questions than answers. Governance teams are wondering how Teams can be used for matters, with the concern being that people use it randomly and with a lack of provisioning, leading to chaos.
Legal IT editor in chief Caroline Hill hosted a webinar with Prosperoware CEO and co-founder Keith Lipman, and solutions consultant Yann Gouillou to look at how you can use Microsoft Teams for matters, including a demonstration of how their solution CAM for Microsoft Teams solves provisioning pain points.
CH: How would you describe the level of adoption of Teams within the legal industry and what are the biggest obstacles?
Lipman: “We should describe Teams as the project that no-one was really thinking about very hard before COVID, and the project that everyone is thinking about post-COVID. The challenge is that firms are having to quickly grapple with it and there seems to be two journeys. Those who were on Skype for Business, which is end of life, and were having to deal with it anyway. Then there’s the rest of the firms that use some other VoIP system and who realised they need to allow some collaboration now people are not in the office. Firms are trying to quickly understand ‘how do we enable people to better collaborate with content?’
Lipman adds: “In the US on TV every hour you get a Teams advertisement, so partners are coming in and saying ‘What are we doing about this?’ And then the clients are using it. So it’s creating a an almost perfect storm. Law firms are realising they can get to the stage where they can use it for IT, and then for project groups. But then the governance folks start thinking about Teams for matters, and say: ‘Pull back, we need to understand this,’ and the biggest fear is that people will just use it randomly.”
CH: How are firms typically using Microsoft Teams, and who is driving it?
Lipman: “Most of the people we interact with are coming from IT. It seems to be either information governance or IT teams that are coming to us, or it’s both coming and saying, ‘How do we solve this and enable Teams.’ But then it raises another question that we keep running into, which is: ‘We want to use it for matters but we are not really sure how to use it for matters.’
Lipman adds: “Unlike document management, where we have had a regular process and understanding of how these systems basically work in the last 25 years or more, Teams is new and we don’t yet have a ‘ this is how you do it’ model. This is a big challenge for everybody to get their heads around.”
CH: What are some of the biggest blocks and challenges to adoption?
Lipman: “People are trying to understand the rules: if you create a Team you’ll always get a ‘General’ channel. You can’t do anything about that or rename it.
“Firms are in many cases just trying to understand the basics, which in a quickly updating platform such as Teams, if you understand the rule this month it may be improved next month.”
He expanded: “Some of the adoption challenges are ‘do you know where the data is being stored?’ ‘Do you know what happens in the system, and so do you know enough to actually make decisions on how to give people options?’”
Gouillou carried out an overview of both Teams and CAM for Microsoft Teams, including some of the limitations around information data governance and content synchronisation.
It is worth watching the webinar and demonstration in its entirety but here we pick out a few of the highlights.
To start with Gouillou ran through the basic structure of Teams and Channels. In each channel you have a series of tabs. The first is ‘posts’, where members of the team can post and upload documents and files for collaboration and discussion.
Any document that is uploaded in posts get copied to ‘files’. Posts and files are in Teams by default. Microsoft creates by default a SharePoint site and a ‘General’ channel that, as mentioned above, can’t be renamed or removed.
During the demonstration one viewer asked, “For data governance purposes, can you talk about naming teams and access for creating teams.”
Naming conventions for teams differ but the general recommendation is a team per matter, because otherwise the moment you need to apply a barrier or ethical wall the structure ceases to work. Currently you get 500,000 teams in your tenant, with 200 channels per team, and those are current limitations.
Within CAM you are able to take the metadata from eg the practice management system and source systems to apply to Teams on creation. The end user can do a profile search or search for the different metadata. You can find the matter and link directly to the appropriate Team and channel.
Gouillou said: “We understand the problem of having a large number of matters and navigation around that can be a challenge, which is why the CAM app enables you to do that search and filtration.”
One of the listeners to the demo asked if Prosperoware have any solutions for the fact that when you need to rename a channel the SharePoint site retains the original name, so has one with the old name and one new. Lipman said this is in the Teams roadmap, adding: “That’s an issue we’re all waiting for Microsoft to solve.”
A further listener asked how you convince lawyers that the DMS is the single source of the truth. Lipman said: “Data has been spreading like crazy and there’s a solar system of content systems. The question is you need to work with the lawyers to understand the data flows that optimises the work. The statement that the DMS is the single source of truth hasn’t been true for a while.”
Another listener asked how you archive material from Teams: with CAM you can trigger when the matter is over and take all the chat and files and archive it all back in the DMS.
Gouillou then advised on how to best create teams and channels. “One of the recommendations that we always suggest is to not allow the end user to create their own teams and channels. Every team has an owner, and if a user is an owner of their own team, there is a lot of things they can do that you may not want them to. They can edit the team name, they can delete the team, they can see all the private channels, they can add people to the team and promote others to also be owners. For legal matters this is not ideal, so we say to always have the owner of the team to be the system owner who can control what the end user can and can’t do. When there is times that the end user may want to create a new channel or team, so what we have done with the CAM app, is to create a work flow which the end user can come through to request a new team.”
Synchronisation in CAM for Teams
One of the most essential features of CAM for Teams is the synchronisation and provisioning with the DMS. Gouillou said: “In the iManage workspace for a particular matter, we can drag and drop documents from iManage into Microsoft Teams and then discuss and collaborate from there. Importantly is that here we are not moving the actual document, we are moving pointers and links to the original document which stays in the document management system.” This avoids having two active documents in multiple systems.
For a matter that has been closed, CAM can bring all the content back to the DMS as the source of truth and system of record. Then eventually deprovision the team and eventually destroy the data.
Lipman and Gouillou explained how Teams has setup documents as a continual ‘living’ edit, where previously saved versions are easily accessed. Lipman commented: “One of the things that is really exciting is that Microsoft has finally solved their one biggest problems, which is track changes is now present in the web version, which is really a big deal.”
The discussion concluded with a viewer who pointed out that there are organisations that block guest access to Teams: what can be done to persuade them to change that?
Lipman said: “It’s really about you developing clear policy and governance. Let’s say you have an expert witness who’s working on five matters, how do you track that expert witness to those five matters and then when they are no longer involved, how to you make sure you remove their access because they are no longer associated with those projects?”
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