SharePoint: A Legal Killer App
Lawyers got along just fine making presentations before the arrival of Microsoft’s PowerPoint. Within only a few years, however, its use became nearly ubiquitous.
Today, it’s beginning to look a lot like Microsoft has another “Point” tool that might change the way lawyers collaborate, much as PowerPoint changed the way lawyers give presentations. That tool is SharePoint, and it offers both a method and a platform for collaboration for law firms of all sizes.
At several legal technology conferences over the past couple of years, sessions on SharePoint drew overflow crowds. One reason is that even a solo lawyer can use SharePoint for less than $50 per month. Microsoft has continued to refine the tool, and it might be time to put SharePoint on your technology to-do list.
Let’s start with a quick definition: SharePoint is a software platform used for hosting customizable websites where multiple users can share documents and work on projects. A SharePoint home page for your product will be accessible through a Web browser with no need for special software. It integrates well with Microsoft Office products.
The key to SharePoint is something called “Web parts,” small software applets or controls that provide a set of functions, like a task list or a discussion board. In SharePoint, you select the Web parts you want for your customized webpage. Users can modify the appearance and behavior of a webpage directly from their browser. The Web parts then act as controls that interact with other programs and pull information from a variety of sources, including law office programs, databases and websites, all without the user needing to know anything about the underlying programming.
The result is a personalized portal page where you and everyone else given access can find, see and manage all of the relevant information for your project in a familiar, easy-to-learn Web format.
Click on a link and you open a document or read an e-mail without moving from program to program. And with a few quick clicks you can move your list of documents around the page or change fonts and colors without affecting anyone else’s experience.
The list of standard tools in SharePoint is impressive:
• Document management, including the ability to search a single page or the entire site quickly.
• Version control, including ways to limit access to a document and to restore previous versions.
• Wikis, where everyone with access can add and correct information.
• Blogs, allowing posting of information so that others may comment.
• RSS feeds, to gather information from throughout the Internet.
• Workflow and project management tools.
I’ve seen SharePoint used to identify experts, handle knowledge management projects, and connect the right people for certain tasks. Dallas lawyer Tom Mighell and I have written a book, The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, in which we devote one whole chapter to SharePoint, showing the importance we place on this platform.
Because they affect our actual day-to-day work so much, I think the two most important areas in emerging technology for lawyers are project management and collaboration. SharePoint addresses both.
And SharePoint could well be another Microsoft “Point” that you will want to get.