Microsoft Exchange, Now For Solos and Small Firms

Excerpted from: Deploying Office 365 in Your Law Practice

By Ben Schorr, ABA TECHSHOW Faculty 2015

So What the Heck is Office 365? 

Well, that seems to be the magic question and, unfortunately, the answer will take more than a paragraph. At a very basic level Office 365 is a subscription-based service from Microsoft which offers access to a variety of software and services. Office 365 evolved out of an older, and far less well-received product called Business Productivity Online Suite, which was rather tragically abbreviated to “BPOS”. 

There are both Professional and Home versions of Office 365. Since this article is for attorneys and law firms I’m going to primarily focus on the Professional versions. The software ranges from tools you’re very familiar with such as Microsoft Office, which includes Word, Outlook and OneNote, to things you may not be as familiar with like Microsoft Visio. The services include industry powerhouses like Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint alongside lesser-known offerings like Microsoft CRM and Yammer.

The software is typically installed as a “Click-to-Run” installation which means that rather than installing from a DVD or even a traditional download in most cases the software is installed by streaming it from the Internet. One common misunderstanding about this is that people think that means the software is web-based (like Google Docs) or that you have to be always connected to the Internet in order to use it. Office 2013 via Office 365 (yes, I know it gets confusing) is installed on your local hard drive just like your current version of Microsoft Office probably is. The differences are that Office software installed through Office 365 will periodically check in with Microsoft to make sure your subscription is still active and Microsoft will frequently push updates and even new features to you. This also means that you don’t have to worry about keeping track of installation DVDs in case you ever need to reinstall the software. As long as the Internet is available, your installation files are available. The services are hosted in “The Cloud” at Microsoft’s data centers. 

Exchange Server 

This is Microsoft’s enterprise-class groupware server for email, calendar, contacts, tasks and more. In addition to syncing to Microsoft Outlook for PC or Mac it also syncs to virtually every mobile device (smartphones or tablets) and has a very good webmail client too. Most of the Fortune 500 and virtually all of the AmLaw 100 use Microsoft Exchange server Office 365 users get 50GB exchange mailboxes that also feature very good spam and malware filters. The mailbox is a very important concept in Office 365 because most of the Office 365 plans actually bill by the mailbox, rather than by the user. It’s true that the number of users is usually equal to the number of mailboxes, but it isn’t always. Another important concept to understand in Office 365 is that of the “alias”. In an email address the “alias” is the part before the @ sign. A single user can have multiple aliases (i.e. multiple email addresses) on a single mailbox but Office 365 only bills by the mailbox. So even if you have and and those could all be a single mailbox and thus you aren’t paying extra for the additional aliases. Some of my clients who have difficult to spell names will often add additional aliases to their mailbox that cover the common misspellings. “” and “ for example. Hand in hand with the alias is the concept of the “Distribution Group”. The distribution group is a way that you can create an email address for your firm that actually goes to a group of separate mailboxes. For example you could create a distribution group called that goes to all of the paralegals in your firm (each of whom has their own aliases already alice@, bob@, carole@, david@). You can restrict that distribution group to only internal senders if you don’t want people outside your firm to be able to send to it. Some of my clients will create distribution groups relating to big cases they’re currently working on. goes to all of the attorneys, paralegals and staff that are working on the ACME v. Coyote case. Shared mailboxes let you create group calendars, contact lists or even message stores without having to pay for a separate mailbox. Be forewarned though, as of this writing, shared mailboxes don’t sync to mobile devices. So if that’s important to you you’ll want to find a different solution.

Thanks to Office 365 Exchange Server is no longer out of reach for even solo firms and it’s one of the best reasons to choose Office 365.

This article is but a taste of what awaits you at the ABA TECHSHOW 2016, March 16-19 at the Hilton Chicago. As a member of Minnesota State Bar Association, we want you to know that you can get a discount on the ABA TECHSHOW 2016. This discount only applies to registrants that qualify for the Standard registration. You can register online and include this unique discount code: EP1601 to receive a discount. 

Reprinted with Permission. 2015© by the American Bar Association.  All rights reserved.  This information or any or portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.