The field of companies offering practice management platforms for lawyers is already crowded and competitive. Today, it got a lot more crowded with the arrival of an 800-pound gorilla, Microsoft. Earlier today, it formally launched Matter Center for Office 365, its long-rumored practice management product built as an Office 365 add-in.
Last January, I wrote that Microsoft was quietly preparing to launch such a platform. Initially, I predicted the launch would come earlier this year at Techshow, but I later revised that prediction to say it would come at the 2015 ILTA conference that opened yesterday in Las Vegas.
Matter Center was originally designed by Microsoft’s legal department for its own internal use and it is the tool the legal department uses today. In my earlier conversations with Microsoft executives, they denied that they would make the product available commercially directly to law firms and legal departments.
Today’s announcement said that it has already shipped Matter Center to IT providers who specialize in serving the legal community, who are already offering it to their clients. These partners include Epona, Handshake Software, LawPoint365, Perficient, Ubiquity Wave, Project Leadership Associates and the PayneGroup. Microsoft Services will also offer for-fee consulting and support services for Matter Center beginning in September. Later this year, Microsoft will make Matter Center available broadly through GitHub.
Matter Center will allow users 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, according to the announcement. Among its features:
- Access anytime, anywhere. Just like Office 365, Matter Center is available across PCs, tablets and phones, and across Windows, Apple and Android devices. You can access matters and documents either online or offline using OneDrive for Business.
- Real-time collaboration. Using the automatic version control feature of Office 365, you can simultaneously edit documents with multiple people inside or outside your organization.
- Easy search and data visualization. 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.
- Pinning and tagging. Track or pin frequently used matters and documents and connect to Delve to provide personalized experiences about who on your team is working on them.
- Security compliance. Control who can access, review or edit a document. Get the same enterprise-grade security, management and administrative controls as Office 365.
- Flexibility and control. By offering Matter Center through an open GitHub repository, customers and partners can build or extend the technology to meet specific customer needs faster.
Running Matter Center in the cloud will require Office 365 and Azure subscriptions. It will support multiple deployment configurations, whether on-premises or hybrid cloud, according to the announcement.