Center For Practice Management, Microsoft Office

Lists in Microsoft 365

In September 2020 Microsoft rolled out Lists in Teams for MS 365 subscribers. With Lists now in Teams, as well as in SharePoint and in a stand-alone interface, what can this product do for law firms? Lists can help a law firm track issues, manage tasks across the firm, provide transparency on workflows and more. Lists integrations and automation through PowerAutomate, SharePoint and even MS To-Do can help improve productivity and reduce the chance of losing track of progress on important tasks. You can trigger workflows, set up automated reminders via email and send a message to a Team based on activity in a List. How can Lists help your law firm?

What Is It? What Is It Not?

Lists are designed to be “smart information tracking apps”. While there is some functional overlap with MS To-Do and MS Planner, Lists let you create and manage information and activities in a different way. If you use a spreadsheet to track issues or information, Lists may be a better tool because they are easier to update, are more visually appealing, and let you set up alerts and workflows based on triggers when information is added to the List.

Lists have always been part of SharePoint. If you ever built out a SharePoint site you could add apps, including pre-formatted lists like Issue Tracker. Now Lists are available as a standalone app, either on the web or via MS Teams. They are still in SharePoint as well.

Lists are remarkably similar to AirTable, so if you are not a Microsoft 365 subscriber but you are interested in this type of functionality, you can explore AirTable which describes the functionality as “a single source of truth”.

Law Firm Ideas for Lists

Click to See List Example

How might a law firm take advantage of Lists? The app is very extensible and only limited by your imagination. If you are currently tracking activity via chats in Teams or via email, then Lists help consolidate the information in one place. If you are using a spreadsheet you can convert it to a list, which is easier to edit, update, sort, filter and visualize. You can also convert the List back into a spreadsheet for posterity.

A simple suggestion for Lists in a law firm might include using the Issue Tracker template to track and trigger responses to requests to the firm. Like a Help Desk ticking system, anyone in the firm who receives a request from a party (client, potential client, service provider, opposing counsel, etc.) can log the request, assign a due date for response, add notes, comments, attach documents, and assign the responsibility to someone. You can add categories and other columns. You can set up notifications so that when a person is assigned a task they will be notified via email.

Another idea for a List in a law office is to use it to track whether a conflicts check has been performed. In a smaller firm there may not be a conflicts department, and the firm needs a way to make sure that the conflict check has been done. In a firm with a conflict department Lists could provide a way to easily request that a check is performed, and the requestor can see if the task has been completed.

Does your firm set goals? A List can provide transparency and make sure that in addition to goals being met, there is accountability and that goals are aligned across the firm. Or set up a List with your professional development goals to track activities from social posts to published articles to CLE presentations.

Lists can also help with file management. For instance, the firm could keep a closed file List and ensure that all the activities regarding closing a file (send documents to client, close out billing, move files to cold storage, apply the retention date, etc.) are accomplished and logged.

These are but a few ideas of how a law firm could leverage Lists. Lists are not client projects, but a way to track and share information firm wide or in a functional group.

Getting Started

If you are planning to use a List in Teams then you can start by logging into Teams (web or desktop) and going to the Channel and clicking on the plus sign and search for Lists. You can create a new list or add an existing list. If you have an existing list in SharePoint you will need to go into SharePoint and grab the link to incorporate it into the Channel or pick from the available Lists. If you choose to create a new list you can use templates, pull in an Excel spreadsheet, or create a list from scratch.

One minor irritation is that creating a list in Teams does not have all the bells and whistles that you get when you create the app in the Lists interface. For that reason, you could create the List in Teams and then head over to Lists (go to, log in with your business account, and choose Lists from the available apps) for refinement.

Lists have a few things happening – you are sharing information and you are also asking people to submit information. The default List view is a grid of rows and columns. When you build the List, you add columns to house the information that is being input. Columns have headers and can contain text, numbers, drop down menus, and more. If you have ever used an online survey tool then creating columns in Lists is similar. For instance, if you want to add a column that contains a drop-down menu then you add a “choice” column. The column has a name, a description and you add drop down options, including letting the user manually add a options. You can select a default value or a calculated value. You can allow for multiple selections. You can add validation, require that the column value be filled out and much more. Each type of column has different options so you can make it easier for someone to provide the information you want/need, enforce consistency and make input faster. For instance, in a date column for “Date Submitted” make today’s date the default.

Views and Filters

Lists can be viewed in four ways. The default is the list view. Any user can toggle to grid view, which makes it easy to jump around to different cells or fields to add or edit information or edit multiples at once. Gallery view will show a “Card” view, with each list element displayed in box.  If your List includes dates you can also use the Calendar view.

In each view you can filter by all issues, my issues, items that need attention and other criteria. You can save your filtered views for a List so you can always see what is most important to you. Of course you can also sort each column.

Lists also support conditional formatting. You can set up a column so that a fill color, font color and icons change based on criteria you set up. For example, you can change the background fill color of the Due Date if the Due Date is equal to today. So any items on the list due today could be highlighted in orange. To apply conditional formatting click on the column, choose Column Settings and Format this Column.

Alerts and Smart Rules

One of the reasons emails are still used to communicate and trigger activity is that it comes to you, and you do not have to do much to get to it. If you think that you will react to an email alert versus visiting a list and culling through it for action items, you have a couple of ways to set up alerts and emails. Go to, login, open Lists and navigate to a list to set up alerts. In the List at the top of the screen click the ellipses (…) and you will see an option for “Alert Me”. You can set up email or SMS (text) alerts based on criteria such as “when new items are added”, “someone changed an item created by me” and many other options. By default, if an item in a List is assigned to you it triggers an email notification. To edit your alerts, go back to the ellipses and click “Manage My Alerts”

If you want to create alerts and notifications for other people or change information based on information that is changed or submitted, Microsoft Lists lets you add automation smart rules. You can create a rule that emails someone when there is a new item on a list, for example. Using rules, you can also create reminders, etc. Smart Rules are found under the Automate menu in a List. They as easy as writing a sentence in an “if this, then that” style. Rules can be edited and deleted as well. If you don’t see “Create a Rule” in the Automate menu, this feature is still rolling out and may need to be turned on by an account administrator.


If you set up a List in a Teams channel all the members of the Channel have permission to view and interact with the List. The List creator can make certain fields read only or add other granular restrictions. If the List is not housed in a Team go to Lists in MS 365 apps and choose “Share” to grant access (full control, add or edit only, view only) to others. You share just an individual list item with others. You can apply other constraints too, including setting expiration dates and requiring a password for accessing shared Lists.

Apps and Automations

Want to really supercharge a List? Click on PowerApps to build a custom app based on your list. Or choose Automate – Power Automate – Create a Flow to set up approval workflows, send a message to a Team when an list item is added or updated, add a task to Outlook, add Planner tasks from List items and much more.


Microsoft Lists, which comes with your MS 365 Business Standard or Premium subscription, are easy, powerful and extensible. Get started with one to see how it can help your firm stay on top of information. For a step-by-step tutorial example see this Content Scheduler List that tracks publishing and writing. Microsoft has an entire Lists Resource Center with blog posts, videos, demos, podcasts and an adoption site. They also have plenty of support. Microsoft has some work to do to make Lists as seamless experience across MS 365, but shining a light on it and unburying it from SharePoint is a step in the right direction.