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Moving to Office 2010: Is There a Good Reason?

Kraft Kennedy

5 min read

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Click here to download the PDF version of this article from the January/February 2012 ALA New York City Newsletter!

While many large firms have already made the move to Office 2007 or are in the midst of a conversion to Office 2010, there are a lot of smaller firms that have not yet made that investment. Whether it is an issue of cost, reluctance to experience the attendant business interruption, lack of perceived benefits, or internal resources that are stretched too thin, some firms are still sitting on the fence and trying to make the right decision.

There are lots of good reasons to make the change, and just as many not to. When all is said and done, it comes down to two questions: will it improve lawyer productivity? Will it improve client service? Unless you can answer a fairly strong, “Yes,” to at least one, if not both of these questions, there are serious reasons to pause before jumping in.

That said, there are also some very pragmatic points to consider. Microsoft ended “mainstream support” for Office 2003 in April 2009. While this is not a major issue for most firms, it is important to note that all support, whether mainstream or extended (paid) will be discontinued in April 2014. Only critical fixes are being made to the product, and third-party vendors generally do not develop for it or maintain backward compatibility with their newer releases.

(Many firms that are still using Office 2003 are also using Windows XP. While the benefits of Windows 7 or 8 over XP are not within the scope of this article, it is important to note that XP is subject to the same dates for support availability as Office 2003.)

So the question now becomes not “if” but “when.” Moving to a later release of Office is inevitable. It is simply a matter of timing. The good news is that by waiting until now, you can take advantage of the experiences of those who have gone before you, since many law firms are willing to share what worked and what didn’t. But it is time to at least start the planning, if not the actual conversion.

Let’s start by looking at lawyer productivity. Once the training hump has been overcome (no mean feat), are lawyers more productive with Office 2010 than with Office 2003? The answer is that they are, but not by significantly. There are some nice features in Office 2010 including the initially-hated ribbon. Yes, it takes some getting used to, but once you are comfortable, it provides a consistent interface across all of the Office programs. This was not the case in Office 2007, where Outlook in particular had not been ribbon-ized. Furthermore, for those of us who spent the first few minutes staring at Office 2007 trying to figure out how to print (you mean that funky icon in the upper left-hand corner is more than a pretty logo?), the File menu is back as its own ribbon. This does help make the transition from Office 2003 much easier.

Of all the Office components, Outlook 2010 has the most significant upgrades and improved performance. It also includes some truly nice features including very easy and comprehensive searching capabilities. For those firms contemplating moving to native Exchange archiving of emails, it also allows the user easily to search across both active and archived messages, something you cannot do in earlier versions. In general, Outlook 2010 is a significant upgrade and has improved performance.

Many lawyers have also purchased Office for home use in the past couple of years, and are generally using at least at Office 2007 if not 2010. It would be far easier for them, and make them more productive, if they were working in a single environment.

What about client service? Do clients really care what version of software their law firm uses? The answer is that so long as the lawyers are productive, and files can be easily exchanged, they really don’t.  And for the most part, provided that you have installed the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack, they shouldn’t notice. However, many firms are now starting to see their clients sending spreadsheets and documents in XML format, which Office 2003 does not handle nearly as well.

Then there is the question of third-party applications. Many of the vendors are no longer providing enhancements for Office 2003, assuming that they are supporting it at all. Given that the product is now almost 10-years-old, there are probably not too many enhancements that are needed. But you may also find that the latest upgrade to your favorite docketing, forms, or workflow system is not compatible with your aging Office applications.  At some point you will want or need those enhancements.

Let’s be clear. There is a heavy cost associated with this upgrade in terms of training, support, equipment or operating system upgrades, and everything else that goes with such a significant project. It is not one to be undertaken lightly. But it is one that you are going to undertake eventually.

The question is no longer whether to move from Office 2003 to 2010, but when. (If you are already using Office 2007 you have a different set of questions and issues to consider.)  It is going to happen within the next year or two if not sooner.  It’s inevitable, so start to plan

You need to start by taking a complete inventory of every piece of software – utilities, enhancements, third-party tools – that touches or is touched by Office in your firm. Which ones will you still need going forward, given both where your firm is today and the capabilities now built into the Office suite? Which of these are ready with a stable release that supports Office 2010? This is an opportunity for you to review each and every tool with an eye towards simplifying your environment as much as possible. Office 2010 is very, very feature rich. You simply may not need as many add-ons as you did nine years ago.

You then need to consider your hardware and operating system platforms. Will these provide adequate support for Office 2010? It is a big product with big requirements in order to perform to expectations. Do not make the mistake of trying to save a few dollars by under-configuring the rest of your environment.

No matter how you look at it, this is a big upgrade. So look at what else could or should be done at the same time. Is now when you should also upgrade your desktop operating system? What about Exchange? The document management system? Hardware? What about something more drastic like a thin-client solution? Since you will already be introducing new systems and upsetting the status quo, it may make sense to take advantage of this opportunity to perform a wholesale upgrade of your systems. At the very least, do the analysis required to understand the ramifications of such a change.

As suggested above, this upgrade is inevitable. You will be moving to Office 2010 or, if you wait long enough, its successor. But this means a significant upgrade to the core suite used to produce and exchange information within the firm and with your clients. All of us jumped on the technology merry-go-round many years ago and we can’t just stop its turning. Technology will advance, it will improve, it will become more stable … and we will want to take advantage of what the new technology has to offer. Just make sure that when you do, you are the one in control. You must manage the technology; don’t let it manage you.