Should you use Microsoft Teams with your outside counsel?

Keep these things in mind

In the new era of remote work, your legal department is probably using Microsoft Teams more than ever with colleagues in your company.

Should you also use Teams for conversations with your outside law firms? After all, studies show cloud-based collaboration saves time, which saves fees. Maybe it’s worth trying for a matter or two?

Our take: Using Teams with your law firms could be an upgrade over email, but there are some important caveats to consider before you take the plunge.

My workspace or yours?

When you move your law firm communications from email to Teams, you no longer have a history of those communications on your own email server. Instead, that data will live in the cloud, either in your workspace or your firm’s workspace. The bottom line is: Either they’re the guest, or you’re the guest.

When it’s your workspace, you don’t depend on their continuing subscription for access. As owner, you control all of the policy choices and information available to the administrator, including the log of activity. From a billing perspective, when they’re your guest, you have more control over which timekeepers may be invited to the workspace.

For some companies and in some practice areas, it may still be best to give your law firm control of your legal records, even at the cost of some control. But in that case, make sure you have a clear understanding about your access to the information after the engagement ends. You should also confirm your ability to obtain an export of all channel data, documents and chat conversations.

Create and control channels

When you set up Teams for a new matter, you’ll need to create a team for each case, with channels in that team for collaboration on particular deadlines or deliverables. Because Teams is organized around group discussions, rather than around the underlying work to be done, at times it may feel like a free-for-all.

Remember, if someone’s on a team, they can see everything in all channels within that team. This means if a smaller group needs to interact privately, that requires a new channel which you can designate as “private” (invitation only) when you create it.

Mark it as privileged

When attorney-client communications move to a cloud environment like Teams, there’s no email footer that marks the communication as privileged. Instead, you should include a privilege notice in the channel description. You might even include it in the channel name, too, so colleagues in the business are always aware that they are in a privileged space.

Integrate documents and task management

Sharing drafts back and forth in Teams is no worse than email, and documents handily accumulate in a OneDrive folder you can access from Teams. But if you want things organized, you’ll need to create a folder structure in OneDrive into which you can manually move files or control that process with an integration. For legal projects, you may want one with versioning and granular permissions, which may take some time to set up.

If you want to share tasks with your outside counsel, you can use Microsoft’s Planner or other task management platforms with integrations for Teams. You’ll be able to share tasks at a basic level, although there’s no easy way to get an overview across all of your counsel’s activity across matters, and conversation will happen in channels rather than in the task manager.

The task application in Teams does allow you to track dates, but getting those dates onto your own calendar can be a challenge.

Alternative: A dedicated legal workspace

Despite these caveats, it’s worth considering if a Microsoft Teams workspace can be an upgrade over email in communicating with your law firms.

That said, a more ideal platform for law firm collaboration integrates tightly with documents and records and puts shared deadlines and tasks at the center in a privileged workspace. If you’re interested in that next level, take a look at Joinder.

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