Microsoft Releases Office 365 Collaboration Tool for Lawyers

The company's internal tool for managing and collaborating on legal documentation is being made more broadly available.

Office for Lawyers

Microsoft wants to make it easier for legal professionals to work together in Office. So the company is releasing to the public its own Office 365-based technology for organizing and collaborating on legal matters, announced Nishan DeSilva, senior director for Technology Solutions and Evangelism at Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs.

Dubbed Matter Center for Office 365, the software is already available "to IT solutions providers who specialize in serving the legal community," DeSilva said in his Aug. 31 announcement. Partner companies include Epona, Handshake Software, LawPoint365, PayneGroup, Perficient, Project Leadership Associates and Ubiquity Wave.

In the coming weeks, those partners will start expanding Matter Center's availability to law firms and in-house legal departments, DeSilva said. Meanwhile, the software giant will begin offering paid consulting and support services via its Microsoft Services practices. Finally, sometime in the 2015 calendar year, "we'll be making Matter Center available broadly through GitHub," he said.

"[Microsoft's Legal and Corporate Affairs division] is committed to continued investments in this modern, world-class collaboration solution," DeSilva said. "And as we make Matter Center available to our customers and partners, we are also rolling out the latest version to more than 1,200 Microsoft legal professionals globally."

Matter Center is the culmination of a two-year effort by Microsoft's Legal and Corporate Affairs division to create a collaboration tool for lawyers using Office 365. Layered atop the popular productivity software, the add-in offers legal professionals a mobile-friendly environment for finding, accessing and editing legal documents. "Like Office 365, Matter Center is available across PCs, tablets and phones, across Windows, Apple and Android devices, and allows you to access matters and documents either online or offline using OneDrive for Business," DeSilva noted.

The software can be deployed on the cloud, on-premises or in a hybrid configuration. Cloud-based deployments require customers to subscribe to Office 365 and Azure cloud computing plans.

"Once installed, Matter Center allows people to create or view legal matters right from Outlook; tie Word, Excel, OneNote and other files to those matters; and securely collaborate with other legal professionals inside or outside their organizations," DeSilva said. Borrowing Office 365's co-authoring capabilities, the software enables multiple users to work on files simultaneously.

The software also brings Microsoft's search and cloud-based analytics technologies to bear, revealed DeSilva. "You can easily search, preview and find matters and related documents across all cases directly within Outlook and Word. Power BI can be configured to visualize your matter data," he said. With support for Delve, along with document tracking and pinning, Matter Center allows users keep track of important legal matters and their respective Office documents.

Microsoft is also banking on the developer community to help popularize the software among legal circles. "By offering Matter Center through an open GitHub repository, customers and partners can build or extend the solution to meet specific customer needs faster," DeSilva said.

Matter Center inherits Office's safeguards against unauthorized access, an important consideration given the confidentiality requirements imposed on legal practitioners. "Matter Center allows you to control who can access, review or edit a document and provides all the same enterprise-grade security, management and administrative controls as Office 365," he said.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...