Redmond has a new strategy with its Office 365 efforts: serving the unique needs of attorneys and other legal professionals. Microsoft's Matter Center for Office 365 aims to provide a host of new tools for law teams that need reliable collaboration features and precision document management.

The solution, announced at the International Legal Technology Association conference in Nashville on Monday, promises to give legal professionals a way to find, organize and collaborate on files using familiar Microsoft productivity tools. The idea started as a way to help its own attorneys work more efficiently.

"Microsoft has built a security-enhanced, cloud-based document management application that allows our professionals to quickly locate and collaborate on documents with our counsel from virtually anywhere," said John Frank, vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft. "We've decided to make this solution more broadly available at the request of our outside counsel, who want to utilize it in their own environments."

Attorney-IT Privileges

Matter Center works with OneDrive for Business, offering 1 TB of storage in a “personal briefcase” that synchs documents automatically so attorneys can access them online or offline. The solution lets attorneys work simultaneously on documents with other legal professionals, tracking changes with automatic version control to avoid confusion.

Better than its predecessor, OneDrive offers new features, like improved video sharing and newly updated apps for Windows Phone, iOS, Android and Xbox. The new monthly prices will be $1.99 for 100 GB (previously $7.49) and $3.99 for 200 GB (previously $11.49).

Beyond search features, Matter Center also lets users track or pin matters and documents they need to access frequently. Tagging and sharing documents separately is a thing of the past because matter documents are automatically saved with metadata, permissions and version control.

On the security front, you can grant or restrict user access to a matter. Any documents you create for a matter will automatically carry the same permissions to avoid ethical wall breaking and data leakage. The overarching idea is to slash document administrative time.

Microsoft also cites IT benefits. You can deploy Matter Center in the cloud, in a hybrid scenario or on existing infrastructure. Law firms that add Matter Center to on-premise systems can leverage SharePoint and Exchange.

More Traction for Office 365

We turned to Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, to get his thoughts on Matter Center. He told us the effort could help Office 365 gain more traction in law firms. As he sees it, if this solution works for Microsoft’s own outside counsel it could serve as a starting point for other attorneys.

“Using Matter Center with Office 365 is not as flexible as it would be if you use it on-premise in terms of using it with SharePoint,” he said. “But any kind of solution Microsoft can build that helps a specific vertical could help Office 365 succeed in that vertical.”