We get a lot of queries about Office 365, and about whether a law firm can use the online version instead of the local applications.

It’s an interesting question, and a very interesting answer.

The first thing to be aware of is the online version of Word is very limited in what it can do. So as long as your needs for editing are basic, then the answer is “possibly”.

A deal breaker for legal is often the fact that the online version has limited support for track changes. If you have a document with track changes turned on already, then yes you can edit it online and your changes will be tracked – but the kicker is you won’t see the tracked changes online. You need to open the document on the desktop version to see your tracked changes. Also, there is no way to turn track changes on or off with the online version, so you need to do that in the desktop version of Word first.

Another commonly used feature in legal documents are cross references. Well you can forget about them in the online version.

We also won’t mention that you can’t insert or update a table of contents, you can’t add or edit styles, or you can’t add shapes, textboxes or WordArt.

There is also only limited support for content controls. The online version only supports rich text content controls – so you can forget about things like date controls and dropdowns.

Law firms tend to have a lot of addins and customisations, most of which are also not supported in the online version.  So forget about all those macros and ribbon customisations your firm uses on a daily basis  – they won’t be available. Most commercial addins are either COM or VSTO addins – which do not work online as they rely heavily on the operating system and the .Net framework so will not be happy in the confines of a browser.

Speaking of addins, that usually includes your document management system. You’ll find most will require the desktop version of Word.

The online version of the Office apps have a long way to go to even get close to the desktop versions. They may be a handy tool to get you across the line with a few basic edits especially when you’re stuck with only your phone, iPad or browser. But I don’t think you’ll be doing any of the real heavy lifting online any time soon.

Hopefully that answers the question for now.

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