Why Microsoft Office Alone Isn't Enough For Your Law Firm

25 July 2022 by UV eDiscovery Microsoft-Office

Takeaway: Microsoft Office is great for informal document reviews, but law firms will also need eDiscovery-specific tools like metadata protection, advanced searches, litigation-level redaction, and more. So, it’s worth trying out easy-to-use eDiscovery applications to complement your Microsoft Office setup.

Microsoft Office is a skillfully-marketed turnkey system for document creation, review, and management.

Microsoft Office has been an indispensable suite of document review and productivity applications for a few decades. And part of its appeal is how easy-to-use the component applications are, and how seamlessly they interlink. Plus, Office has stuck with a similar overall theme, graphics, and workflow through all its iterations – even with its latest cloud-based Office 365.

So, the Microsoft universe has everything a non-attorney might need to handle and review data.

Microsoft’s integrated collection of applications tackles each aspect of a business’s day-to-day functioning. For instance.

  • Word lets you create documents, and has been an industry standard for decades. You get to start documents from scratch or use templates and other automation tools. And even if you use Google Docs or Apple Pages, you’ll likely convert those files into Word documents at some point.
  • Outlook handles your email and other productivity needs like calendaring, task tracking, and contact management. And it keeps everything secure by using an encrypt feature when transmitting information over the internet.
  • OneDrive and Sharepoint handle file storage and management. OneDrive helps you move files out of physical cabinets and into the public Cloud, while Sharepoint lets you store those files on a private network, like having your own local computer server.
  • Planner handles project management in the same way as apps like Trello and Asana. It’s a shared workspace for your team to assign and track various assigned tasks.
  • Teams handles project-based communication and is a powerful collaboration tool, similar to Slack. Plus, you can use it for phone calls and video conferencing.

Unfortunately, Office is limited when tackling litigation-focused tasks, especially with files from outside the Microsoft universe.

Microsoft does an amazing job integrating its various products and tools. But it will purposefully complicate all your efforts to use files from outside its universe. For instance, Microsoft Outlook uses the once-revolutionary PST email format. But what if you want to use MBOX files instead? (MBOXes are a much more versatile email format because they’re simple text files you can open with any basic text editor. So, you can use them across platforms like Gmail, Apple Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird, and more.) Sure, you can find workarounds for integrating MBOXes with Outlook, but they’re all quite clunky and time-consuming.

Similarly, Office is limited in protecting file metadata.

Each document you create is tagged with a bunch of tracking information like when it was created, who created it, and more. This information is called metadata and it’s the equivalent of a digital footprint. For most non-attorneys, this metadata is useful but not essential. However, law firms regularly use metadata to win cases, making it something you’ll want to protect. Unfortunately, though, metadata is easily destroyed (e.g., you can change a file’s ‘last viewed’ metadata field just by opening the file), and Microsoft products aren’t designed to prevent this. So your documents, emails, social media evidence, photographs, stored web pages, and more are all at risk if you were to only use applications from the Microsoft universe. (Learn more about metadata.)

Then there’s the problem of searching your files, because you’ll likely need more than a regular search engine.

To build a defensible case, you’ll need to find responsive files and isolate crucial evidence buried in them. And this brings up two key problems with Microsoft. First, Office is marketed as a suite of interlinked tools, but its tools are often siloed from each other. For instance, if you’re searching for responsive files/keywords, you’d need to run the same search separately in Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, and more. Remember, Office-for-desktops doesn’t have an overarching search engine to search across its applications simultaneously. And though Office 365 now offers this universal search option, it doesn’t tackle the challenge of a truly ‘advanced’ search – which brings us to the second problem. I.e., Office’s search engine limits our keyword search capability. Sure, it lets you combine keyword phrases, but it’s much harder to set up a targeted (and saveable) search command like, “Find all the emails that Ellen Ripley sent A. Bishop, which mention the Weyland meeting. And which were sent before 2015.” (Learn more about how eDiscovery search engines work.)

Also, Microsoft doesn’t offer a litigation-level redaction tool.

Your law firm will regularly need to redact privileged information like credit card numbers, social security numbers, email addresses, employee ID numbers, and more. It used to be that we’d only need a permanent marker to cross out sensitive words/lines on a paper document. But the same process doesn’t transfer to electronically stored information, although Word might tempt us into trying. Attorneys regularly make the mistake of using Word’s black ‘highlighter’ tool or its ‘back box’ tool to cover up sensitive information. But these are only surface-level redactions and can be removed quite easily. Instead, your redaction boxes will need to be ‘burned in’ to become permanent. (Learn more about the right way to redact data.)

Finally, Microsoft isn’t ideal for preparing documents for court.

Specialized attorney-focused applications give you a host of ‘production’ options that Microsoft applications don’t. For instance, they’ll let you choose a production format (native format or PDF/TIFF) and add Bates numbers or tags/stamps. (Learn more about creating productions.)

The lesson here is simple: Microsoft Office might be great for informal document reviews, but for litigation, you’ll need specialized eDiscovery software.

The eDiscovery market has expanded to include applications that complement Office in all the right ways. For instance, cloud-based eDiscovery services offer essential eDiscovery review tools to find responsive keywords/files, protect metadata, redact sensitive information, prepare your documents for court, and work with non-Microsoft files. Moreover, you’ll be using the software online (via a Software as a Service business model), so you won’t have to download or install anything. And this means you’re outsourcing the annoying chores of updating your software, protecting it from viruses, and troubleshooting errors.

Next-generation eDiscovery applications have other things going for them, too.

The best next-generation applications are designed to radically simplify eDiscovery for small and midsize law firms. Take eDiscovery software GoldFynch, for example, which has the following key features.

  • It costs just $27 a month for a 3 GB case: That’s significantly less than most comparable software. With GoldFynch, you know what you’re paying for exactly – its pricing is simple and readily available on the website.
  • It’s easy to budget for. GoldFynch charges only for storage (processing files is free). So, choose from a range of plans (3 GB to 150+ GB) and know up-front how much you’ll be paying. You can upload and cull as much data as you want, as long as you stay below your storage limit. And even if you do cross the limit, you can upgrade your plan with just a few clicks. Also, billing is prorated – so you’ll pay only for the time you spend on any given plan. With legacy software, pricing is much less predictable.
  • It takes just minutes to get going. GoldFynch runs in the cloud, so you use it through your web browser (Google Chrome recommended). No installation. No sales calls or emails. Plus, you get a free trial case (0.5 GB of data and a processing cap of 1 GB) without adding a credit card.
  • It’s simple to use. Many eDiscovery applications take hours to master. GoldFynch takes minutes. It handles a lot of complex processing in the background, but what you see is minimal and intuitive. Just drag-and-drop your files into GoldFynch, and you’re good to go. Plus, you get prompt and reliable tech support.
  • Access it from anywhere, and 24/7. All your files are backed up and secure in the cloud.

Want to find out more about GoldFynch?