A lawyer’s holy grail—an intuitive case management platform that is affordable, organized, reliable, and minimizes risk. All attorneys want it. Many have figuratively perished in the pursuit—consider the TrialWorks ransomeware outage that crippled many law firms in 2019.
So what’s a lawyer to do?
The Current Lay of the Land
There are the tried-and-true platforms—like Clio—that are very user friendly but don’t necessarily lend themselves to certain practice areas. Many of the customization features that do exist can hit the pocketbook hard.
Some smaller firms opt for a patchwork of different programs—say, storing documents in Dropbox or Box Accounts, chatting on Slack, and using an Excel Sheet to track case progress. Very affordable, very intuitive—but not centralized in any way, shape, or form.
Two Giants Emerge
Two big CMR players—(1) Microsoft and (2) Salesforce—are in a war for the case management market—including the legal case management market. For example, Salesforce recently acquired Slack, which will bring Slack’s chat function into the Salesforce, case-management fold. Both of them—as is so important in this Covid era—are cloud-based.
My quest led me to Microsoft. It may not be perfect, but it comes pretty darn close. The great thing about it is that so many of the useful features are already accessible with your Microsoft Office account anyway, which makes it a natural choice. Here is a brief outline of how Microsoft Office can be used in a law firm.
First, Microsoft’s Teams gives you a platform for chats, file storage, calendaring, and so much more. Using Teams you can create a case “team” for each case. Each team is composed of one or more “channels” and members of one channel don’t have access to the other channels unless they are also members, even if they are all within the same “team.” If you have a case with multiple clients associated with a single case, each client can have a subchannel to connect the teams.
Each channel can have multiple tabs along the top: posts, files, etc.:
Posts can be used for interfirm, case-specific chats. For example, if Paralegal Deaux wanted to tell all the firm's attorneys that a settlement check had come in, he could make a post in “posts” saying “Client X’s settlement check came in today” and the interfirm chat would be linked to the client file itself.
The Files tab is where the case files are stored in Microsoft’s cloud storage, which is called SharePoint (which is similar to Dropbox). You can view pdfs stored in files within Teams, and even mark up documents viewable to all members with comments on the side. Unlike in Track Changes—where the changes are in the document itself—this comment function creates a sidebar for document discussion visible with, but separate from, the document.
The Wiki tab is a blank text space for us Team members to jot notes, info on the case, etc. Personally, I like to use Wiki to store client contact information and other things you’ll need at-a-glance.
The Tasks tab is a planner app that keeps track of what needs to be done for a case. You can assign deadlines and assign a task to a person to make sure Team members aren’t duplicating work. Tasks have the added bonus of increasing accountability.
The OneNote tab allows quick access to a OneNote notebook for the case. I personally use this for things like document markups to prepare for depositions. For example, if I am reading through a transcript and want to mark it up to prepare for a deposition, I will do it in OneNote.
Another great function is LawToolBox. Be warned—this does cost extra money as an add-in—but it’s well worth it. It comes with automatic deadline calendaring and a few other nifty features for managing a client’s case, such as meeting scheduling and contact management. For example, you can either select the court for the default deadlines (Eastern District of Louisiana selection will calendar those deadlines) or you can manually calendar each type of deadline and auto select reminders for them. That way, if a case date gets moved, all the reminders get moved too. Pretty great, right?
For interfirm chat that is not case-specific, Teams has a chat function (which I recommend for smaller group chats) or create a general firm team to chat and store firm documents, such as an employee handbook. This is very similar to Slack, so if your team is used to Slack then this will be an almost seamless transition.
Honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much functionality just waiting to be used that I could probably write a whole book about it. There are some downsides—for example if you are addressing multiple cases in a single conversation/post and you don’t want that post linked to each file (because it involves confidential information regarding different clients), then there’s no clean way to do that. Overall, though, I think Microsoft Office’s platform is as close as you’re going to come to the Holy Grail of Legal Case Management.
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