Double vision for the future of legal work

A new world of hybrid working needs a bold vision for how legal professionals work together – so, it seems apt that the answer is a collaborative one. Neil Araujo, CEO, iManage and Alan Gibson, director, legal and compliance innovation, Microsoft, explain the goals and focus of the two vendors’ new strategic partnership and what the world of Modern Work in legal looks like to them

Sponsored editorial

With the last two years being volatile and unpredictable in just about every area of life, the world of business has been, in many ways, on the defensive, reacting to emerging issues and cautiously waiting for signs of stability. Beneath that ebb and flow of change, however, the legal sector has started seeing signs of a more solid status quo crystallise, with new challenges and opportunities prompting a renewed approach to how legal work is done.

That’s certainly the view taken by Neil Araujo, CEO at iManage, which has its future focus on the reality of what “Modern working” – also the name of the supplier’s new, business-wide initiative – will look like. “Remote working is a red herring. We think hybrid working will prove to be the standard model of work, and it’s not going away any time soon. It’s imperative vendors define what the working practices are in that environment, and one of the most pressing issues is how you share knowledge.”

“The genie has truly been let out of the bottle,” adds Alan Gibson, director, legal and compliance innovation at Microsoft, with whom iManage has also recently launched its new “better together” strategic partnership. With the world of work so permanently changed, he believes the reality of work needs a new settlement. “The question now is: how do you create the same quality of employee and client experience in that hybrid world?”

“The underlying driver behind this initiative is to find ways of using technology to improve the quality of life and productivity of lawyers and support staff. Yet, at the same time, your documents never have to leave the safe repository which is iManage.”

Neil Araujo, CEO, iManage

Having both recognised that, for many law firms, iManage and Microsoft’s products are the two largest technology investments they routinely make, Araujo explains that the ‘better together’ partnership debuted in June 2021 as a way to rapidly accelerate the existing links between the two tech providers, and to meet the modern working needs of law firms. “Microsoft and iManage are the two places end users spend the majority of their time, from a technology perspective. Working together more, we can double the value to the law firm, as well as to the end user – not just in terms of the tech itself but also the user experience and adoption of tech.”

United front-end

Firstly, Araujo explains that the new partnership includes iManage’s full embrace of Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure – namely, Azure. This, he says, is fundamental to many of the other benefits that iManage will now be able to bring to the process of knowledge sharing and document management: “The platform enables us to bring the value of the billions of dollars Microsoft is spending in cloud infrastructure to the legal market. And it offers us much better access to engineering resources that ultimately help us deliver that experience in a more effective manner.”

Both vendors are keen to focus on the needs of end users, with Gibson adding that the partnership will make the process of innovating and developing new, integrated products and services far easier. “We’re sharing research and development goals and coordinating on products by really focusing on our joint customers, using our Microsoft Technology Centres, for instance, to create better experiences for legal businesses.”

And, in a hybrid-working world that expects collaboration to happen digitally as easily as in-person (while also capitalising on the benefits of digital collaboration), Araujo says staying on top of those user experience needs will be increasingly important.

Of course, the world was not totally unprepared for bouts of digitally collaborating on matters: “One of the great innovations of the last 10 years has been Office 365,” he adds. “It’s allowed law firms to have two different teams working on two sections of a document at the same time. In the past, lawyers would have tried to split the document up and bring it together at the last minute, or time-slice the document, so different teams get access to it at different times. It was a coordination mess.”

Gibson adds that one of the big challenges Microsoft and iManage jointly want to tackle is the need for even more friction-less editing and co-authoring, crucially focusing on making that happen within existing applications, in order that legal professionals are encouraged to use all the tools available to them. “We want to create seamless experiences for lawyers in the solutions they’re used to working in – plus we’re trying to enhance that with additional collaboration – and do it in a secure manner. On top of that, we want to factor in the ability to do it from anywhere, now and in the future.”

Putting iManage into Azure is a further development of that underlying design philosophy, Araujo adds, saying that the goal has been to allow lawyers to access iManage through a web browser – whether on desktop or a mobile device – and allow everyone to have a similar experience in terms of working on documents and matters. “This isn’t something that Alan [Gibson] and I dreamed up – it’s something our clients have been asking for over a significant period of time.

“The underlying driver behind this initiative is to find ways of using technology to improve the quality of life and productivity of lawyers and support staff. Yet, at the same time, your documents never have to leave the safe repository which is iManage.”

Control and context for comms

And, speaking of security, one point Gibson and Araujo are both keen to speak to is the issue of governance around knowledge-sharing – something that has become increasingly difficult with the proliferation of collaboration platforms, such as Teams. Araujo explains that another aspect of the partnership with Microsoft has been full integration of iManage’s policy-based security features with Office 365, which includes the cascading of governance rules and safeguards set up in iManage across Microsoft solutions, such as SharePoint and Teams.

Speaking of which, as one of the most prevalent collaboration and communication tools turned to during the first stages of the pandemic, Microsoft Teams has great potential to change how legal professionals work (as Briefing outlined in our spotlight issue in June 2021) and to become a go-to platform for legal professionals to conduct their work from.

That’s an aspiration that both Araujo and Gibson endorse – the legacy approach, Gibson says, of using outlook and email as a hub for managing matters and collaboration, created data silos that can now be broken down with Teams. As long as the proper structures are put in place, he says Teams can have huge benefits for end users: “We see Teams being used as a provider of context – so using iManage in that environment, with the correct governance setup, allows people to edit and collaborate, which becomes your hub for managing your matters.

“But, when people are setting up matters, they need to be mapped to Teams content so you can rely on Teams and iManage for searching capabilities and metadata analysis – that’s one of the big potential advantages of having that contextual information,” he adds.

Araujo picks up: “The big revolution legal went through 15–20 years ago was bringing content and communications together. Now that the communication mechanism has changed – morphing into Teams over the last couple of years – the question has instead become how you bring that communication back under governance,” says Araujo.

“What iManage fundamentally provides you with is context – what matter or client does a piece of content, or a piece of communication belong to? Then that context allows you to apply rules in an automated fashion.”

Plus, he adds, iManage has been developing the ability to tap into insight efficiently and effectively through search and AI tools – another area he sees accelerating as a result of the infrastructure and platform expanding to include Azure, which will, in turn, help firms access their two biggest assets: their people and their content.

Cloud control

Of course, governance is one thing, but ensuring security around data and information – both that belonging to clients and to a law firm’s own proprietary knowledge and knowhow – matters more than ever in a remote-working world.

One of the biggest benefits of pulling iManage and Microsoft’s collaborative efforts closer together, Araujo says, is Microsoft’s significant investments in security measures, building on existing safeguards with innovations such as Azure conditional access, Azure Key Vault and Microsoft Information Protection. “These are big, horizontal investments Microsoft has made that we’ve worked on, or are working on bringing into legal.” Both Microsoft and iManage have independently done a tremendous amount of work on encryption, he says, adding that iManage has also implemented a zero-trust data safeguards model.

The philosophy behind these developments, Gibson continues, has been meeting the twofold expectations of law firm clients: “They want to enable collaboration while also ensuring that they’re doing it in a secure way – that’s one challenge we’re addressing right now.”

“What iManage fundamentally provides you with is context – what matter or client does a piece of content, or a piece of communication belong to? Then that context allows you to apply rules in an automated fashion.”

Neil Araujo, CEO, iManage

Control over data and information, blended with a need for flexibility, is also going to be increasingly important for firms, both vendors feel. Fortunate then, that investing in Azure also gives iManage the ability to help law firms meet jurisdictional requirements, Araujo explains – if firms need their data to be in continental Europe, for instance, Azure makes that possible. “It’s very easy now with Microsoft to spin up the service so you can have your data locally but still have the best experience when it comes to managing your content.”

And, as an example of an integration that has helped iManage enhance the user experience while also offering more control, he cites modules such as Azure’s Conditional Access, which allows firms to control which devices and networks users can access documents across the iManage platform – enabling remote working while also preventing unauthorised access.

Though the world is still getting to grips with the reality of a hybrid-working world and what that means for effective collaboration, document management and security measures, one thing both Araujo and Gibson are certain about is the irreversibility of the ‘new normal’ the working world now finds itself in. If the hybrid-working genie really is out of the bottle, then it’s time to make the most of those three wishes – and having two partners help shape them is surely better than one.

To find out more, visit: