I was recently asked to speak on “Demystifying PMS Implementation’s” at a seminar run by Robert Half. As I said to attendees I’m not a slick salesman or presenter but I have had the joy of undertaking 7 PMS related projects in my time in the legal sector from “standard” implementations to de-merger and merger projects.

In this article I will share with you the introductionary aspects of the presentation.  The definition of a PMS project, a high-level market overview and the traditional PMS project approach.

In the next article we will suggest a different approach for PMS projects. How to extract best value from consultants and suppliers, considerations when building the project team and preparing the firm for change.

What is a Practice Management System Project?

There are different definitions of what a Practice Management System is – an Accounts System, a Time & Billing Platform, Single system that does everything or a collection of integrated systems which do everything.

Some people even suggest that a PMS is equivalent to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution for Lawyers.

This may sound like a simplistic view but traditional Law Firm application architecture is either based on a Best of Breed or Single Provider approach. Either way the core application remains the traditional accounting system solution with additional functions bolted on.

The definition of PMS used within a firm is typically an indication of the software architecture they are currently using and to some extent this terminology will inform the expected scope of the project.


Figure 1: Typical Law Firm IT Applications

For me a PMS project is not actually about the software element it is more about identifying and implementing a strategy which determines how the firm presents and consumes its IT services.

A PMS project which is only defined as a replacement accounting system will be a disappointment to all involved so such an approach will not lead to any element of organisational change.

A PMS project should be seen as a once every 15 years’ opportunity to fundamentally challenge how the firm operates and how the firm benefits from its investment in IT.

Whatever the definition or what end system is used the replacement of a PMS is a major project it is the equivalent of replacing the organisations IT heart

Market Overview – By Strategy

The “Orange Rag’” list of “Top 200” law firm systems (http://www.legaltechnology.com/top-200/) is the best source we have in detailing which packages are in use with 202 firms listed. Using this list, we can identify the applied strategy.


Figure 2: Strategy Type

Whilst ERP/CRM systems are historically much maligned in the Legal sector with only very large internationals able to undertake such an ambitious project the new entrants of Peppermint and LexisOne are beginning to change that view.

When you consider that the basic aim of a ERP is to improve how the business is run by ensuring decision makers have up-to-date and accurate information via a single software solution which provides the single version of the truth.  It becomes understandable why ERP concepts are attractive and firms with the resources are moving away from traditional Legal IT solutions.

The 10% following a ERP/CRM style strategy accounts for 20 firms of which 2 are using unique solutions based on SAP the rest are using customised versions of Microsoft Dynamics with Peppermint having 11 and LexisOne 6 sites.

Market Overview – Systems in Use

There are currently 22 different PMS providers in use and it is interesting to note that 6 firms are currently running multiple PMS solutions.


Figure 3: Systems in Use

There is currently a general instability in the Supplier market. Only last month Alan Richardson the MD of Norwel retired and sold out to Civica and David McNamara MD of SOS retired passing the reigns to Graham Colbourne.


Figure 4: Systems in Use – By Status

In total that means that 93 (62%) of the firms listed in the “Top 200” list are currently either undertaking or will be forced to undertake a PMS project and a further 31 who may be considering their options.


Figure 5: Systems in Use – By Status

We are of course ignoring the vast majority of the industry who do not submit their applications to the list but it is reasonable to expect the Top 200 is indicative of the current change.

Market Overview Summary

The truth is that there are very viable options available.

Traditional BOB PMS CRM / ERP Focused Single Supplier
Aderant Lexis One Advanced Legal
Elite 3E Peppermint Eclipse Proclaim
Linetime Liberate
SOS Connect
Tikit P4W

The traditional “Best of Breed” approach with Aderant & Elite 3E and 3rd party applications to provide rich end-user functionality

The brave new world of CRM/ERP. Peppermint and LexisOne are gaining traction but not yet tried and tested

The single supplier options are more open but for larger firms the viable options are shortening by the year

Typical Traditional Approach

Contemplation Stage

The project starts with internal discussions about something needing to be done. Normally driven by one of the three drivers: –

  • End of life system
  • Under performing system
  • Misaligned system

At this stage most firms will speak to incumbent and get some product demos. It is not unusual for this aspect to take 6 to 18 months.

Discovery & Contracting Stage

We then move into the Discovery & Contracting Stage. It is at this stage when many firms are often overwhelmed by the project and will consider if they have the time and skills to undertake the project. They then look to involve external consultants.

Some go as far as looking to the consultant to take full responsibility for the project and to undertake all aspects of the stage.

Again this cycle can be between 6 to 18 months

Implementation Stage

Depending on complexity and supplier resources the implementation stage is typically between 12 – 18 months.


In total the whole project cycle is typically anything between 18 – 54 months.

The model is flawed in several ways not least the disproportionate time in the decision making process.

The model also introduces project fatigue points at the end of each phase.



Figure 6: Traditional Project Timeline

I have seen firms so exhausted by the selection process that they do not have the energy left to implement and can’t actually remember what they were striving to achieve.

Project Resourcing

In a project where the firm is reliant on external consultants to lead the project we can expect to see this pattern of internal involvement.


pms-resourcingFigure 7: Project Resourcing Pattern

Initially there may be a few “false starts” as the firm moves towards acceptance of the need for the project. Then there will be an event which triggers the “enough is enough” conversation and the project will start in earnest.

Once a traditional consultant is engaged they will tend to be quickly fully allocated to the project reducing internal control and ownership. The reliance on internal resources will peak at major project stages.

Typically project resources are reduced as closely to go-live as possible. This underlines the project fatigue issue and is an indication of the short-term view of a PMS project. This could also explain why most PMS projects result in disappointment.

Cost vs Value

If we consider the cost vs value in this traditional model it is not unusual for the firm to incur significant consultancy cost during the selection process.

We have already discussed the state of the market and highlighted the limited options open.

You have to question what value a 300-page Request for Tender adds to the process especially when Elite & Aderant are much of a muchness and Peppermint & LexisOne are so different from the traditional PMS model.

pms-cost-vs-valueFigure 8: Cost vs Value

I would suggest that firms following this model would not receive value for money from their external advisors, who after all cannot predict or protect against supplier merger or strategy direction.

You just have to look at LexisNexis’s u-turn on Axxia DNA to prove this point.

In the next article we will suggest a different approach for PMS projects. How to extract best value from consultants and suppliers, considerations when building the project team and preparing the firm for change.