Why Matter Center Matters

innovation in law

innovation in law
Microsoft released Matter Center to Git Hub today (Dec 17, 2015). Matter Center is a great opportunity for legal IT and could be a defining innovation for law practices.

So, what is Matter Center and why it matters to Law Firms and corporate councel?

Matter Center, according to Microsoft:

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.

Developed by Microsoft’s legal department to manage their own internal processes, Matter Center has many advantage:

  • Access anytime, anywhere—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.
  • 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.
  • Intuitive search and data visualization—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.
  • Pinning and tagging—You can 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.
  • Compliance with security standards—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.
  • Better flexibility and control—By offering Matter Center through an open GitHub repository, customers and partners can build or extend the solution to meet specific customer needs faster.

Through partnerships with IT experts to help you get up and running, like Ubiquity Wave, and add-ins from 3rd party providers, like LawToolBox’s court deadline tool, Matter Center seems like a natural for adoption because of the efficiency this SharePoint tool offers. Yet, seasoned managing partners might remember similar efficiency promises from Microsoft when they adopted Word Processing only to find promised efficiencies elusive since they’re now typing rather than dictating to a secretary.

The problem with law technology like Matter Center

While Matter Center holds much promise for the future of law practices, getting there isn’t so simple. First, you must consider:

  1. Lawyers like making decisions autonomously. Pushing a central system is thus contrary to the culture and decision-making processes in most law firms.
  2. IT experts lack the power to implement Matter Center unilaterally. IT experts are often at the bottom of the decisions-making pyramid in law firms. Implementing Matter Center requires high level support for your IT expert in your day-to-day law practice — a champion to push implementation forward.
  3. With Matter Center’s unprecedented analytical capabilities, personal knowledge becomes collective knowledge and reduces perceptions of power and influence held by those within the firm. Associates and Partners may therefore not be too enthausiastic about sharing information about clients, firm history, and other information across the entire organization.

So is Matter Center doomed to fail?

No, not necessarily. And absolutely not if you have the proper development and diffusion tactics to make it work in your law firm.

What is needed?

  • Senior leaders, who recognize that the future of law will not be the same as what they are familiar with.
  • A couple of young innovative lawyers, whose career is still ahead of them and who see Matter Center as the opportunity it is, and want to champion such technology to advance their careers.
  • An exploratory team of attorneys comfortable with innovation and uncertainty, who work in collaboration and on equal footing with the IT folks, to implement Matter Center for clients and cases they are working on (focus on a niche group of clients at first, for instance high tech clients and for a particular matter (IP, for instance)).

This team can then take the lead and:

  • Work out the kinks and get the program up and running for this particular subset of clients.
  • Upon success, create an event to demonstrate the benefits of the extensive analytics for this subset of clients to other interested in adopting Matter Center in the firm.
  • Share, with others who are interested, the experiences of the first team, providing others the opportunity to form their own team with the IT folks to make adjustments so Matter Center works for them and their clients.
  • Diffuse, slowly, but surely, using a ripple effect. Those interested and capable will use and benefit from the system, and soon outperform those that don’t. After sufficient adoption with positive results, adoption reaches an inflection point where Matter Center becomes mainstream in the firm.

In sum, if you expect Matter Center to be adopted by your IT department and installed overnight, prepare yourself for an (expensive) failure. If you are truly interested in the power of analytics, and the future of the law, than give your talented employees the chance to prove themselves and give them the freedom and ability to collaborate with IT on an equal footing to make Matter Center and integrated part of the legal practice of the future.

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