Microsoft Launches New Legal Tool; The Cravath System Run Amok?

From The Practice September/October 2015
Highlighting key stories about the profession you may have missed

Microsoft launches new legal tool

In August Microsoft announced the launching of an innovative new collaboration tool for lawyers, dubbed Matter Center for Office 365. Begun more than two years ago, Matter Center is the culmination of efforts by Microsoft’s Legal and Corporate Affairs division to produce a tool for lawyers specifically designed to foster greater teamwork and collaboration. Outlining the features of the tool, Nishan DeSilva, senior director for Business and Technology Strategy at Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs, says, “Once installed, Matter Center 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 professions inside or outside their organizations.” According to Microsoft, the tool’s core benefits include the ability to have real-time collaboration, such that users can simultaneously edit documents with multiple people from inside or outside of one’s home organization, as well as a pinning and tagging feature that allows users to track frequently used matters and documents to provide personalized experiences about who on the team is working on them.

The new tool also links with Microsoft’s cloud-based analytic technologies, as well as search tools, thereby allowing lawyers to easily search, preview and find matters and related documents across all cases directly within Outlook and Word. Addressing the security concerns that are often associated with legal documents, DeSilva notes, “Matter Center allows you to control who can access, review or edit a document and provides all the same enterprise-grade security, management and administrate controls as Office 365.” Once fully rolled out, Matter Center will be available for personal computers, tablets and phones and will be accessible across Windows, Apple and Android operating systems. Pilot customers include Olswang; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Ragen Swan; and Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

The Cravath system run amok?

The brutal workplace competition that the Cravath model represents is increasingly prevalent across all industries and segments of white-collar work.

A recent New York Times exposé about Amazon and its supposedly cutthroat workplace culture has generated renewed interest about the incredible intensity of workplace competition that has increasingly become widespread across any number of industries. In a follow-up piece, the Times uses the legal profession and its traditional Cravath model—famously dubbed a “tournament system” by Marc Galanter and Thomas Palay in their eponymous book Tournament of Lawyers: The Transformation of the Big Law Firm (University of Chicago Press, 1991)—as the exemplar of the intense competition that is the “defining feature of the upper echelon in today’s white-collar workplace.” While the Cravath model, in which an initial cohort is continually thinned until only a small, highly successful and prestigious fraction are left, has been the mainstay of the legal profession and other white-color professions such as investment banking and consulting firms for many years, the reality may not be that different for other industries and professions—even ones, like high tech, that are often held up for their employee-centric and family-friendly policies. For example, although Microsoft recently abandoned its “stack ranking” systems, in which managers produced details rankings of their team members, they have not done away with comparing employees with one another. Even policies thought to create a more collaborative and collegial workplace, such as the implementation of a workplace messaging system that encourages casual, friendly interactions among co-workers, often have the perverse incentive of keeping employees on their computers at all hours, lest they be seen as less committed than their colleagues. The irony is that while the legal profession is in some ways attempting to move beyond the model so closely associated with it (such as by instituting alternative work arrangements), the brutal workplace competition that the Cravath model represents is increasingly prevalent across all industries and segments of white-collar work.


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