Most full-service law firms face the major challenge of having to reconcile the differing IT system requirements of their various practice areas with the limited resources – both IT and financial – available to the firm.

On the other hand, niche firms specialising in one area of law or one sector, have the advantage of concentrating on technology which specifically services their sector. In the case of residential conveyancing, PI, probate, family law or debt collections there are well established specialist solutions on the market.

These solutions have been designed to deliver one specific legal service and aim to enable firms to use them with minimal customisation.

However, other legal services are not well serviced by vendors, and firms (both niche and full-service) therefore rely on a more traditional approach of bespoke development or customising more generic solutions to match the requirements of their specific practice area or areas

Jack of all trades, master of none ?

Whilst this may be a challenge for single practice area firms, they are still at least able to concentrate their investment and resources on meeting their unique requirements. Where it becomes a major challenge is in multi-disciplinary firms. Whilst some of their practice areas may be catered for by the type of solutions mentioned above it is more often more practical that a firm will adopt one solution and customise it for each legal service. This relieves both the cost and burden of paying for, and supporting multiple systems, and maintaining often complex integrations.

An example in which I was personally involved for many years encompassed the creation of specific case management workflows for an Immigration Team, a Regulatory Team and a Medical Negligence Team, the latter dealing with long-term, high value medical negligence claims. It was not easy, it required a great deal of effort, but in the end, we could deliver substantially what was required using a single case/matter management system.

One ring to rule them all ?

Make no mistake whilst this can still be a labour intensive, long and expensive process the use of a common solution does have multiple advantages: –

  1. reduces the amount of training required (particularly if staff work in multiple teams)
  2. reduces the medium and long-term cost of ownership in terms of licence fees, support and maintenance costs
  3. reduces the costs and burdens of creating and maintaining integrations.
  4. removes the hidden costs of gaining and maintaining IT skills in terms of development and maintenance of multiple solutions.
  5. enables common business practices across work area (e.g. file opening, risk assessment, billing and file closure)
  6. enables “code /workflow” re-use/sharing across departments
  7. ensures there is single version of the truth”, which facilitates client relationship management, cross-selling, financial record keeping

In many ways this “Single Solution” vs “Tactical Solutions” is very similar to the “Best of Breed” vs “Single Solution” PMS debate. However, we have identified there are some significant changes underway in the marketplace.

New Entrants

In the recent years there has been an abundance of “New Technology” with new start-up vendors often within law-firm created technology incubators bringing a plethora of tactical “one purpose” solutions to market. The difference with the traditional “one purpose” solutions is that the new entrants are typically cloud delivered SaaS solutions with sophisticated API’s (making integration far easier and less burdensome).

We expect these emerging technologies will see an increase in the number of firms taking a “pick and mix” approach to their business applications and deploying more specialised “one use” case management solutions alongside the traditional PMS/CMS.

In the meantime, these new solutions are still to a certain extent untried and untested, and not fully mature. Furthermore, some firms still have a residual reluctance to adopt cloud solutions to store or contain critical data. In the meantime, what can these firms do?

Align Technology with Business Goals

There is no substitute for defining a clear technology strategy, aligned to your business goals. As part of that process, an extensive requirement gathering, and scoping exercise is crucial, followed by a logical, structured approach to vendor selection.

  1. Ensure that you are using a reliable and flexible Practice Management Solution, preferably a system which allows for easy integration. A PMS sits at the core of any law firm’s business, and should be the “master” for all data used by the firm;
  2. Perform a very detailed and in-depth requirements gathering and scoping exercise. Ensure that you have fully captured all your existing and potential future requirements;
  3. Most modern PMS solutions will support case-flow in some form. Before you decide to invest in another system, try to match your requirements to what is potentially possible with your PMS. Remember the 80:20 rule – it is better to deliver 80% of the functionality you require quickly and easily, rather than invest significant cost and effort in achieving perfection;
  4. Consider all the integrations you could potentially need, and ensure that your PMS can support these. Only once you have exhausted this process should you consider investing in separate, or bespoke

The same principles apply to niche, single practice firms whose specific requirements irrespective of whether their practice areas are well served by current mainstream practice specific vendors or not.