With today’s variety of legal specializations, one lawyer’s substantive work can look very different from another’s. One thing that nearly all lawyers have in common, however, is that their work requires the constant management of what seems like an ever-rising flood of email correspondence – despite that email has been declared dead several times in recent years. And although occasionally it might seem as though lawyers would be more productive without it, email remains one of the most effective tools available for communication and collaboration.
For email to live up to its productivity potential, however, a good organizational system is needed – one that allows sorting through inboxes efficiently to find and track content in long message chains (often involving varying numbers of multiple contacts) and that integrates with calendars and file management systems.
For most law practices, the primary tool for this type of advanced email management has long been one of the consistently capable desktop versions of Microsoft Outlook. However, many lawyers are not content to be confined to their desktops (or even laptops) and have taken to the regular use of tablets and smartphones for a sizeable proportion of email communication (see “Pick Your Winner: 2016 Smartphone Roundup,” Wisconsin Lawyer, January 2016). To deal with this more mobile method of handling email, a variety of options have become available on mobile app stores over the past few years.
Tison Rhine is the advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411™). Reach him at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6012, or by email.
But, despite there being options, most people tend to stick with whatever app their device happens to come with as a default. This isn’t necessarily bad. Default email apps (such as Apple’s “Mail” and Android’s “Email”) are adequate for basic tasks, and there are some advantages over even the most fully featured third-party apps – such as compatibility with the unique features of a phone’s native ecosystem (“Siri, draft email to …” and so on). However, when it comes to more advanced email and features and integrations – that is, the types lawyers are accustomed to having on their computer’s Outlook – the default mobile apps just can’t compare.
So, then, for email to be as productive on mobile devices as it is on computers, what does compare to Outlook?
The answer is none other than Microsoft’s own mobile version of Outlook (somewhat surprising given Microsoft’s relative lack of success in the mobile world on the hardware and OS side of things). Here’s why lawyers should give Microsoft a chance on Apple and Android devices.
First, Office for iOS and Android, which is based largely on a former app by email startup Acompli (acquired by Microsoft in late 2014) and works with most major mail services, does an impressive job of helping determine which emails are time-sensitive or important and which can be saved for later. It does this by looking at each email and automatically sorting it into one of two inbox sections, “Focused” and “Other.” The Focused section contains higher priority emails that require more immediate review or action, and the Other section contains less crucial emails, such as news feeds.
I was initially a bit skeptical about this feature but have found it to be quite smart, reliably separating my emails perhaps even better than I could myself. Additionally, this feature can work across multiple accounts, both work and personal, bringing all important communications to the forefront.
Microsoft also took advantage of its acquisition of the excellent calendar app, Sunrise, which it has integrated directly into its Outlook for mobile app. Not only does the calendar exhibit good mobile design, it integrates with email and contacts, and users can easily share their availability and set up meetings, just like on their desktops.
Outlook for mobile is also a class leader in how it deals with files and attachments, making it easy to view and attach files from OneDrive, Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive accounts, as well as find files that were sent as attachments. Basically, tap, tap, and you’re done. No other mobile email app comes close to this ease of correspondence file management.
Outlook also includes excellent search, contact-handling, and other small features that result in a polished, full-featured app. In the end, Microsoft’s plan to acquire one of the best available email apps and one of the best available calendar apps, then combine them, really worked. The result is my pick for best all-around mobile email app, and it’s free.