Messaging is typically considered one of, if not the, most
important technology application in use at a law firm. Most law firm clients conduct a large portion
of their correspondence with their attorneys via email, such that any issues – especially
outages – of a firm’s messaging platform are potentially highly visible and
damaging. Microsoft Exchange has been
the de facto standard messaging platform for many years and, as such, law firms
are continually updating their Exchange messaging platforms to provide new
features, higher reliability, or simply to remain current and maintain support.
Exchange 2016 was released by Microsoft on October 1, 2015,
almost three years after the release of Exchange 2013. While there are a variety of reasons why a
law firm may consider an upgrade to Exchange 2016, the following represent the
most compelling ones.
Higher initial and ongoing quality:
Although quality is a largely subjective assessment of product
maturity and readiness, Exchange 2016 marks new ground as Microsoft begins
their model of developing, releasing, and testing Exchange platform updates
within Office 365, and upon their millions of hosted mailboxes before packaging
those updates for release on-premises.
Exchange 2013 shared a common code base with Office 365, but it is
Exchange 2016 that was truly “born” in the cloud and tested entirely at that
scale. Exchange 2010 and early
Cumulative Updates for Exchange 2013 suffered from some stretches of
frustrating product and update quality issues, where updates were re-released
and sometimes introduced new issues while fixing old ones. Later Cumulative Updates for Exchange 2013
have been relatively stable, and the expectation is that Microsoft’s new update
model and release cadence will continue to foster stability and meet
expectations in this area. All this
being said, there is no substitute for proper planning, testing, and piloting
within each individual environment, since no two on-premises environments will
be exactly the same and could, therefore, present new and interesting
A primary focus of Exchange 2016’s development was collaboration. Employees of any company type are
increasingly collaborative and want to achieve this increased cooperation at
any time, from anywhere, and on any device.
This is particularly relevant in the legal industry, as many
secretaries, paralegals, and attorneys may need to work together on documents
for client and trial matters. While not
particularly able to replace document management systems, Exchange 2016 tries
to make traditional attachments easier to share and edit, and encourage shared
document storage by making it easier to manage.
To that end, Outlook Web App (OWA) in Exchange 2016 now allows for attachment
viewing and editing inline within a message, via integration with the new
Office Online Server (formerly Office Web Apps Server) and attachment
preview. Both OWA and Outlook 2016
provide tight integration with OneDrive for Business and, via extensibility,
other cloud storage repositories for the purpose of linking to attachments for
shared viewing/editing and seamless attachment uploading to cloud storage
Search enhancements: Searching
is one of the most important actions within a law firm’s suite of productivity
applications. As different attorneys,
secretaries, and other legal professionals have different habits for content
filing or piling, searching is crucial to finding relevant items when
necessary. Search functionality was
dramatically improved between Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2013 with the move to
Search Foundation as the back-end processing technology, and Microsoft has
continued to emphasize the importance of search in Exchange 2016. Search in Exchange 2016 is not only faster
and more accurate, but is also more feature-rich. Search suggestions are available to provide
contextual advice about additional search terms, including “fuzzy” matching to
catch misspellings and other errors.
Additionally, these suggestions are tailored to each user, leveraging
content within particular user mailboxes to suggest terms (e.g. “fuzzy”
matching on the last name of a particular contact in a user’s contact
list). Search refiners are also
available to assist users with constructing advanced queries that hone in on
the exact content that is desired, without the user needing to understand the
syntax of those advanced queries.
Additional significant improvements were targeted for the initial
release of Exchange 2016 but, instead, will possibly arrive with a future
New eDiscovery capabilities:
Exchange 2013 introduced newer and tighter integration with SharePoint
2013, for providing discovery search and litigation hold capabilities across
different Microsoft server platforms.
Exchange 2016 continues this investment by extending such features to
modern public folders, as well as by improving search performance and
reliability. Additionally, with
Microsoft’s acquisition of Equivio in January 2015, Exchange 2016 (and
eventually SharePoint 2016) environments can send data to Equivio Zoom for
advanced eDiscovery analytics and reporting.
You may be “forced” to upgrade: While Microsoft certainly
isn’t going to require an upgrade and Exchange 2010 will remain a supported
messaging platform until January 14, 2020 via extended support (it ended
mainstream support on January 13, 2015), Microsoft’s history provides good
reason for all firms currently running Exchange 2010 to pursue an upgrade to
Exchange 2016. Microsoft has
historically only supported direct migration from two versions prior – not just
for Exchange but for many application platforms. If this continues to hold true (which it
almost certainly will), law firms running Exchange 2010 will not be able to
directly migrate to the next version of Exchange, and would instead have to
pursue a more involved and costly double-hop migration to Exchange 2013 or
Exchange 2016 first before continuing on to the most recent version of
Exchange. To avoid this, law firms
should strive to remain within the historical direct migration window.
My next post will be for the firm who will look to pursue an upgrade to Exchange 2016 in the near future and will discuss the key changes and requirements to consider in order to be successful.
Please note that the updated Office Online Server to support Exchange 2016 will
not be available until early calendar year 2016.