OneDrive for Law Firms

October 27, 2021In Cloud StorageBy Uptime Legal Systems
OneDrive for Law Firms

Your Guide to OneDrive for Law Firms

Modern law offices store their legal files in the cloud. One of the most popular choices for cloud-based storage for law firms is Microsoft OneDrive. It integrates seamlessly with Office 365 and features a streamlined interface that’s great for small firms that need simple and quick file storage.

Are you considering OneDrive for your law firm? If so, there are some things you need to know before you choose a file storage tool.

Introduction to Law Firm Cloud Storage

There’s a push in the legal industry to move away from on-premise file servers. After all, servers are not only expensive to house and use, but they also lack storage flexibility. The more data you need to store away, the more costly server space you’ll need.

Cloud-based storage is different and enables attorneys and law firms to:

  • Access critical client matters and files from anywhere they choose to work
  • Access documents without cumbersome virtual private network (VPN) connections
  • Improve the security of all legal and client files, which ensures the firm remains compliant

Plus, cloud-based file storage is easy to use, making it a great choice for larger firms that want something they can adopt fast.

How Does Cloud Storage Work?

With cloud services, such as OneDrive for law firms, Instead of being saved to a computer’s hard drive or another local storage device, files are saved to a remote database. To access your files, you’ll use an internet connection and an app or software on your desktop computer or mobile device.

If you run a modern, paperless law firm and you want the flexibility of cloud storage for your practice, there’s only one challenge standing in your way: Finding the right cloud storage system for you.

The Right Cloud Storage System Fits Your Needs

There are many different options for cloud-based systems on the market today, each with its own pros and cons. So, how do you choose? You should select the cloud storage solution that fits your firm’s specific needs.

For example, you should choose a tool that offers the functionality your legal team needs now and in the future. Plus, it should offer the benefits that your team deems important such as ease of use, mobility, and scalability.

Before you dig deeper into your options, meet with your team to discuss what they feel are must-haves in a cloud storage system. That way, you select an efficient and supportive tool your team will be thrilled to use.

Types of Law Firm Cloud Storage

Just like any tech niche, there’s always a ton of jargon involved when talking about software platforms. We like to keep things simple around here. So, for law firms, we categorize the whole lot of cloud storage systems into two classes: basic cloud storage and document management systems.

Basic Cloud Storage

Basic cloud storage does one thing well: provide simple storage for your firm’s documents and data. These tools don’t have a lot of features and instead focus on being the equivalent of an in-office filing cabinet (only much more organized).

Some attorneys choose to create a set of top-level folders they use across the firm. For example, they’ll create a new folder for each client or each matter. Then, all documents about those clients or matters will go in their respective folders.

Basic cloud storage is similar to finding a document on your computer. Yet, instead of pulling up File Explorer (Windows) or Finder (macOS), you’ll access your files inside a browser or desktop app.

Some examples of basic cloud storage apps include Microsoft OneDrive, DropBox, and Google Drive. These apps offer several benefits, including:

  • Fast and simple setup
  • Ease of use
  • Free or low-cost options

Although these benefits are great for smaller firms, larger firms may find them lacking the document management system (DMS) features they need to truly manage their files. They are also limited in search capabilities, offer no email management tools, and are notorious for sync issues when multiple users are involved.

Related:

See our roundup of the best cloud storage for law firms.

Document Management Systems

On the other side of the spectrum is the document management system or DMS. Instead of being a fancy online box, a DMS is a robust system that enables you to both store and manage documents in a cloud environment.

In the past, these systems were installed directly into the on-premise server or your computer. Now, they’re available for you to use inside the cloud without sacrificing the feature-rich benefits of on-premise software.

Document management systems offer many advantages over basic cloud storage such as full-text search capabilities, integration with Office 365, document version management, and more.

Related:

Compare side-by-side:  Learn about the differences between Basic Cloud Storage and true Document Management Software.

Introduction to OneDrive for Law Firms

Microsoft OneDrive falls into the basic cloud storage class. OneDrive is an internet-based storage platform available to anyone with a Microsoft account. This includes users who pay for a Microsoft 365 subscription (OneDrive Business) and those who simply choose to use the free version of OneDrive (basic consumer account).

OneDrive works on a variety of operating systems, including Windows 8, Windows 10, and macOS. You can choose to have various files and folders sync to OneDrive automatically (such as Desktop, Documents, and Pictures) or you can manually add files as you create them.

To access files saved in OneDrive, you can visit onedrive.live.com via any browser or use the OneDrive mobile app on your phone or tablet. This includes access to all of the shared files created within your firm.

OneDrive Features

OneDrive offers many features for simple file storage and sharing. Some of these features include:

  • Easy folder structure creation: You can easily create folders for each client or each case with a couple of clicks in your browser or taps from your mobile device. Everyone within your firm can use the same folder structure for easy file sharing and locating.
  • Access from the web or local app: No matter where you are, you have access to OneDrive. You can use your mobile device or your browser to access your firm’s files.
  • Groups and permissions management: It’s easy to choose who has access to your files by setting specific permissions. Just navigate to your Shared settings inside OneDrive.
  • Integration with Windows & Office 365: OneDrive is already built into Windows 10, so you can access your files directly from File Explorer. OneDrive can also integrate with Office 365, so you can save files from apps such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. And if the OneDrive app is installed on your computer, it will work with Office 365 to sync your documents automatically. This allows you and your team to work on shared documents simultaneously.
  • Integration with Microsoft Teams: If you use Microsoft Teams for chatting and collaborating with others in your firm, you can also integrate OneDrive for file access inside the app. You and your team can edit and review documents simultaneously while video chatting or during client meetings.

OneDrive Investment

OneDrive offers a free version for storing up to 5GB geared towards personal use. Yet, most law firms would burn through that amount of storage in no time. OneDrive for Business offers multiple types of subscriptions such as OneDrive only plans, including 1TB of data per user for $5.00/month and unlimited data storage per user for $10.00/month.

Additional plans include those that feature other Microsoft services such as Exchange and Teams as well as apps, including Outlook, Word, and OneNote. The plan you choose depends on the apps you currently use (or plan to use) within your firm.

Pros & Cons of OneDrive for Law Firms

To get down to the nuts and bolts of OneDrive, here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of the popular cloud storage tool.

Pros

  • Quick to set up and implement within your firm
  • Easy to use with a modest learning curve
  • Low-cost subscription options and is included within Office 365

Cons

  • Limited document management features and capabilities
  • Limited search capabilities for finding files
  • Common sync problems

A Note About Sync Issues

One of the most common issues with basic cloud storage platforms is their attempt to sync to each user’s device. Although this might work for a few users, larger law firms find the sync issues to be inefficient and confusing. For instance, sync issues often lead to document version conflicts and time lost trying to find client documents.

When Is OneDrive a Good Fit for Your Law Firm?

OneDrive is a useful cloud storage tool for many solo or small law firms that have simple file storage needs such as basic file and folder structures. It’s also a good choice if you don’t need full-text search or the features included inside a more robust DMS such as tagging and versioning.

Sample OneDrive Configuration for Law Firms

Are you using OneDrive for the first time? Looking to improve the way you and your legal team use OneDrive? We’ve seen our fair share of OneDrive setups over the years, from the simple to the complex. And we’ll be the first to tell you that keeping things simple is the best plan of action.

Here’s an example of an ideal setup:

  • Top-level folders for each client: Create a main “Clients” folder to hold all of the individual client matters.
  • Sub-folder for each matter: Inside of the “Clients” folder, create a sub-folder for each matter. You can name these folders by client name or matter name, whatever makes the most sense for you.
  • Top-level folders for law firm documents: Create a top-level “Firm Docs” folder that includes all of your general information such as financial documents, templates, marketing materials, and more.

In addition to central, firm-wide folders, OneDrive also provides each user within your firm with their own individual folders.  This gives each user in your firm access to firm-wide documents, as well as a workspace for private documents, or documents that are in progress and not ready to be filed (saved) to Firm Documents or Matter Documents.

Again, this is only a sample and should be tailored to fit your firm’s needs. Some attorneys create folders for closed matters as well as those that have been denied. And some go into further detail within each matter folder, adding folders for items such as discovery, pleadings, and retainer agreements.

OneDrive for Law Firms:  Part of a Larger Office 365 Design

When setting up OneDrive for your law firm, we recommend that it not be done in a vacuum.  OneDrive is part of the Office 365 suite, and tightly integrates with the other services within Office 365.

The core framework of Office 365 is the concept of Groups.  In Office 365 for law firms, a group is a logical container of people and functions.  For instance, you may create a group for a particular department, division, office or practice group within your firm.

When you create Groups in Office 365 (which we recommend as the first step to an overarching Office 365 deployment), Office 365 automatically creates shared folders (libraries), Teams groups and other Office 365 elements for that group.

Related:

OneDrive is one piece of the Office 365 suite.  Learn how to tailor Office 365 to work exactly that way law firms do.

Quick Tips for Using OneDrive in Your Practice

If you choose OneDrive for your solo or small law firm, there are few pro tips you should know to make the most of your cloud storage tool:

  • Use two-factor authentication: Legal files often contain critical information that shouldn’t be shared with anyone outside of your practice. To best protect your OneDrive, enable two-factor authentication (or two-step verification) when signing into your Microsoft account. Each time you need to sign in to another device, you’ll be asked for two forms of identification, including your password.
  • Try using Files On-Demand: Files On-Demand can save disk space on your Windows PC or Mac. Using this tool, new files created online are stored online-only instead of being downloaded to your device. This is a great way to store documents that aren’t used often in your practice.
  • Check out Version History: Version History allows you to revert to an original version of your document. This is a useful tool when changes are made by mistake. Simply revert to an earlier version and the mistakes will be gone.
  • Capture documents and more with Scan: Inside the OneDrive mobile app is a Scan option. If you’re out and about and need to scan a business card or client document, you can do so with your mobile device. The file will then be found in your OneDrive, accessible via any other device.
  • Automatically save all email attachments: Power Automate is an automation tool by Microsoft. One of the best ways to automate your OneDrive is to automatically save all email attachments you receive via Office 365. While you’re doing that, check out the other automation templates available to see what simple tasks you can remove from your plate inside OneDrive.

Sidebar: Complete Your Law Office in the Cloud

Implementing a new cloud storage system is a great first step towards becoming a cloud-based law firm. If you’ve chosen OneDrive as your central file storage solution, you’ll likely need to set up tools such as Office 365, Email, and Microsoft Teams. You may also need to implement or integrate an existing Law Practice Management software.

For an easy-button to build your Law Office in the cloud, take a look at Uptime Practice Next.

Practice Next is a suite of essential cloud and practice management tools for law firms, and includes:

  • Industry-Leading Law Practice Management Software
  • Office 365 - Setup and Optimized for Law Firms
  • OneDrive - Setup and Optimized for Law Firms
  • Remote Meeting & Collaboration Tools
  • IT Support
  • Security & Compliance Tools

Learn More about Practice Next

Cloud-Based Document Management

Cloud file storage and document management are not the same, even though some software companies use the terms interchangeably. As we mentioned earlier, a document management system (DMS) is a robust solution that enables both storage and management of documents in a cloud environment.

If while reading about OneDrive you thought, “I think we need more than that,” you’re probably right. While some firms start with simple cloud storage tools, they typically find they need a full DMS later down the road. Choosing a DMS now can save you the headache of switching later on.

Document Management System Features

Not only does a DMS provide the storage of your critical documents, but it also provides the tools you need to properly manage them. Most solutions will provide a wide range of features, including:

  • Full-text search capabilities for documents and emails
  • Simple integrations with Office 365
  • Document version management
  • Document tagging
  • Document status and check-in/check-out
  • Robust permissions and access control
  • Prioritization of recent and favorite documents
  • Unique document IDs for tracking

Pros & Cons of a Law Firm DMS

If you’re considering moving forward with a DMS, it’s best to understand what to expect. Some of the pros and cons of using a document management system include:

Pros

  • Many robust features to choose from
  • Full-text search for documents and emails within your system
  • Centralized cloud storage for easy access for everyone on your team
  • No synchronization issues between devices
  • Scalable to meet the needs of your firm as you grow
  • Mobile capabilities for document access anywhere

Cons

  • Often higher investment
  • Data migration or conversion is required

A Note About Your Investment

It only makes sense that you would pay more for a full DMS versus simple file storage. Costs vary depending on the solution you choose. For example, the LexWorkplace document management base package is $395 per month. This includes a usage allowance of up to 5 users with 1TB of storage.

Remember, you shouldn’t choose a file storage solution simply based on price. You should make your choice based on what fits your firm best. If you don’t, you’ll spend more money later migrating away from a tool that doesn’t make sense.

DMS Email Management

In a modern law firm, a lot of business is done in the email inbox. Emails are documents too, and they require management. For example, they must be saved to matter files and shared with others on your team. 

Emails play an important role in managing your practice. Clients send signed documents via email. Contracts may be negotiated via email. And it’s common for invoices to be delivered this way too. Managing these emails is critical in keeping your practice running smoothly.

Unfortunately, simple cloud storage tools like OneDrive do not have full email management as a capability. For seamless email management, you’ll need to turn to a document management system instead.

LexWorkplace:

A Document Management System Built for Law Firms

If you’re ready to take advantage of the cloud with a DMS, LexWorkplace is a great choice. LexWorkplace is a robust document and email management system specifically built for law firms.

LexWorkplace allows you to go beyond basic files and folders, utilizing a client/matter-centric structure for organizing your critical documents.

LexWorkplace Features

LexWorkplace includes all the tools and features you need to store, find, and manage all of your files, from contracts to videos. Some of the key features of LexWorkplace include:

  • Client/matter-centric organization: Your documents and emails can be organized by client or matter, depending on your needs. Plus, they’re accessible to your entire team.
  • Windows and macOS compatibility: LexWorkplace is a cross-platform tool, available from Windows, macOS, or both. Your team can use the platform regardless of their device.
  • Full-text search: You can find your files quickly by searching through every document in your entire system with a couple of clicks.
  • Bank-grade data security: LexWorkplace includes security features such as encryption in transit and at rest, permissions, and two-factor authentication.
  • One-click open, edit, and save: You can view and edit a document in one click and save it back into your system without re-uploading.
  • Office 365 integration: Integrate your system seamlessly with Word, Outlook, Excel, and more.
  • Document version management: LexWorkplace automatically tracks document versions so you can review previous versions and annotate where required.
  • Document profiling and tagging: Organize files by type or status or create tags to filter documents. For example, organize by “open” or “closed” matters.
  • Document check-out and check-in: LexWorkplace helps you keep documents accurate by allowing you to check-out documents while you work. This protects your document from additional changes while you’re editing.
  • Favorite and recent document prioritization: See your recent documents front-and-center or mark important documents to save for later.
  • Unique document IDs: LexWorkplace assigns a unique document ID to every document, so each one is unique.
  • Email management: Save emails to a matter file, organize emails with folders, reply to emails from inside the platform, and more. Plus, LexWorkplace integrates easily with Outlook.

Learn More About LexWorkplace Today

LexWorkplace keeps your legal documents, files, and emails organized and centralized for simplified firm management. To learn more about LexWorkplace and how it can benefit your law firm, reach out to our team today.

Learn More about LexWorkplace