For Efficient Collaboration, the OneDrive to Rule Them All

Lawyers regularly draft documents collaboratively with their clients, co-counsel and even (when negotiating a contract) opposing counsel. For drafting, more than 90% of law firms use Microsoft Word. For collaboration, while a recent survey found that 89% of law firms send privileged documents by e-mail (generally unencrypted), it also showed that an overwhelming majority of firms believe that file-sharing services and other online collaboration tools are more important in 2014 than in 2013. With Microsoft OneDrive, lawyers can increase their efficiency by collaboratively drafting documents in Word.


OneDrive for Business is the One to Beat. Although it’s likely that you’re more familiar with Dropbox, Box, or even Google Docs than you are with OneDrive, the efficiency of collaborating with others (whether inside or outside your firm) on Word Documents stored in a OneDrive for Business account, along with enterprise-class security, make OneDrive for business the front-runner among collaboration tools for lawyers.

What is OneDrive?

OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud-hosted platform for storing, sharing and collaboratively drafting documents. It’s worth noting at this point that there are actually two somewhat different Microsoft products commonly referred to as “OneDrive.”

“OneDrive” (formerly known as “SkyDrive”) is a consumer-oriented product that is free to anybody. It offers 15 GB of space for free and allows the user to purchase up to 1 TB of storage for a modest monthly fee.

Law firms will be better served by using “OneDrive for Business,” an enterprise-class solution based on Microsoft’s SharePoint platform. There are two primary benefits of OneDrive for Business over OneDrive:

  1. OneDrive for Business offers better security than the consumer-grade service.
  2. Each OneDrive for Business user gets 1 TB of storage space right out of the box.

OneDrive for Business is included with many of the Microsoft Office 365 products and can be had for as little as $5/user/month as of this writing.

Collaborating on Word documents using OneDrive works the same whether you’re using OneDrive or OneDrive for Business; for this reason, the rest of this post will refer simply to OneDrive. Additionally, although OneDrive can be used to co-author using Excel and PowerPoint as well as Word, and to share documents that don’t require Office to open, this post focuses on collaborating using Word.

How to Collaboratively Draft Documents Stored in OneDrive

There are two ways to collaborate in Word on documents stored in OneDrive:

  1. Use Word Online, or;
  2. Use the full “desktop” version of Word.

With Word Online, as with Google Docs, the user edits a document in a web browser. However, Word Online lacks many features important to lawyers that are available in Word’s desktop version, including the ability to:

  1. Create and edit tables of contents, tables of authorities and styles; and
  2. Use the “track changes” feature.

Therefore, we strongly recommend working on OneDrive documents in the desktop version of Word.

As with Dropbox and Box, with OneDrive you can share a particular file or an entire folder. A collaborator does not need to have a Microsoft account to collaborate on a document saved on OneDrive: to work on such a document in the desktop version of Word, the collaborator only needs to have Word 2013, Word 2010 or Microsoft Word for Mac 2011.

After you’ve shared a Word document stored on OneDrive with one or more collaborators, each of you can edit the document just as you edit any other Word document. There are only a few things to keep in mind:

  • Your edits are saved to OneDrive, and thus visible to collaborators, only when you save the document by using the save command (under the File tab) or the save keyboard shortcut (CTRL+S); at the same time, the document you’re viewing will be updated with any changes made by your collaborators.
  • If collaborators are editing a document at the same time you are, you’ll see an icon at the bottom of the screen that shows how many other people are currently editing it; you can see their names by clicking the icon. You’ll also see an icon next to any paragraph in which a collaborator is currently working.
  • When you and a collaborator are editing a document at the same time, your collaborator will be “locked out” of the paragraph you are editing, and vice versa. If you and your collaborators regularly save your changes (every five or 10 minutes or so), you can avoid almost all instances of conflicting edits.

Collaboration Using OneDrive v. Dropbox, Box or Google Docs

There are three primary alternatives to collaborating in Word using OneDrive:

  1. Dropbox
  2. Box
  3. Google Docs

The primary benefit of using OneDrive to collaborate on Word documents is that OneDrive allows multiple users to edit the same document at the same time (a process called “co-authoring).

Dropbox and Box are primarily file sharing services that do not allow co-authoring. If collaborators using those applications edit the same file at the same time, different versions of the documents are saved. It’s then up to one of the collaborators to use the “compare” feature in Word to resolve conflicts. While a Box user can “lock” a file when working on it to prevent collaborators from making conflicting changes to the same document, this is not efficient because collaborators often need to work on the same document at the same time.

Unlike Dropbox and Box, Google Docs offers true co-authoring, including real-time co-authoring. There are a few downsides to collaborating using Google Docs, however. First, most lawyers are simply more familiar with Word than with Google Docs. Second, although co-authoring works best (i.e., best avoids conflicting changes) when all collaborators work online and save changes frequently, sometimes it’s necessary to work offline; Google Docs offers very limited offline capabilities.

Featured image courtesy of Microsoft.

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