Word 2010 – Legal Document co authoring… Close but not quite yet.

It’s on many firms horizon and a Win7 desktop with Office 2010 is a great project to get your teeth into. Especially considering all of the good stuff Microsoft have put into both. Considering how poorly Vista was received in the business world there seems to have been a great deal of effort on the part of Microsoft to re-engage with the corporate world.

From a legal perspective we are generally not too fussy about the bells and whistles (so we say) and our business output is traditionally a ‘document’. Our internal document collaboration is normally hindered by parallel accessibility, so I was really interested to read more about co-authoring of documents. This ultimately prompted me to write this very high level take on the functionality.

In summary the approach, set up and the mechanics of the functionality looks like a really good feature set, and I believe that there could be a place for it in legal, in the future. Microsoft talk about 4 main areas of document co-authoring of which all ‘could’ be applied to the legal world. These are;

1 – Semi-formal in which multiple authors edit simultaneously anywhere in the document
2 – Formal is where multiple authors are editing a document in controlled areas
3 – Comment and review is where the author solicits edits and comments by routing the documents through a workflow
4 – Documents sets is where assigned authors are given separate documents to author which are then combined to create the final master document

The functionality could be applied to sceanrios such as pitch creation, IT project documentation and standard/precedent creation now, given the right infrastructure. However there are main 2 reasons why at this time it is impossible to adopt this functionality within the practice areas for transactional document creation. The two reasons for this are;

  • Technical – Current document management systems functionality
  • Legal – The importance of being compliant

A full audit history of a document is vitally important to the firm, lawyer and client. Unless I’m mistaken the vast majority of DMS vendors don’t have the ability to track multiple edits to the same document by multiple people. The history file wouldn’t cope. This is even before we start talking about version control… At the moment I can’t see how law firms can make the most of this functionality. A prime case of advances in technology hindered by dependencies on technology that is traditionally resistant to change.

So is it ready for the practice areas yet? The answer is no. How long will it be? For the majority of us, the answer lies with our DMS providers.

P.S – Perhaps CC have got it right and a Sharepoint backend will strategically offer greater opportunities to improve efficiencies by improving the document creation process not just the document storage mechanism?

2 thoughts on “Word 2010 – Legal Document co authoring… Close but not quite yet.

  1. Good post and “nail on the head” regarding the difficulties. The article could be a perfect response to a post I make regarding Google Cloud Connect (http://www.jasonplant.co.uk/2011/02/google-cloud-connect-for-microsoft-office/), there is clearly a want to do this kind of collaboration internally or externally. But the Legal tech is lagging behind.

    A question though, who will come first OpenText and Autonomy facilitating this or CC delivering their SharePoint DMS? My moneys on the former ;-)

    • Apologies for the delayed response. A good question and time will only tell. I think that the vendors really do need to pull their socks up, and make their release cycles more solid with a clear strategy. We were talking about unicode compliancy 5 years ago and they still haven’t got that right 100% yet, there talk of cloud accessibility and all sorts but no clear vision. The large vendors can’t turn on a six pence and react to this changing environment as quickly as our internal staff and clients are demanding. Things just need to improve but it’s going to take time and some radical decisions in the market place (like CC’s) who didn’t want to wait for their supplier to catch up.

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