Predictions 2008: Technology in Law Firms

January 3, 2008

From Charles Christian, the editor of the industry newsletter Legal Technology Insider

Industry news is going to be the big thing in 2008. Will the IRIS Legal group (which now encompasses the old AIM, Laserform, Mountain and Videss businesses, as well as the Bar supplier Meridian) convince the market that its future strategy – including a roadmap to an eventual common successor system – is technically viable and commercially sustainable? Or will existing users and prospective purchasers vote with their feet? Then there are the changes to the Capital Gains Tax regime, which make it highly advantageous for anyone wanting to sell a business to do so by the end of March 2008. Two suppliers – including one household name – are already in merger/acquisition talks (one of which will be complete before this column is in print). AND three more suppliers, again all well known names, are currently looking for buyers, providing the price is right.

From Delia Venables, co-editor of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers & Law 2.0 (see and creator of one of the main independent legal websites in the UK at

I think that the two big topics for 2008 are Web 2.0 (Law 2.0) and Software as a Service (SaaS).

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 does not imply that technically there is a new sort of Internet, but rather that the character of the Internet is changing. People are now sharing their knowledge, experience and ideas on the Internet rather than just ‘tuning in’ to the ideas of the big shots. Whilst in ordinary life, Web 2.0 sites are mostly used for social networking, legal applications are starting to use the same methods but to rather different ends. There are already large numbers of blogs created by UK lawyers, with the ability to comment and develop discussions being a key part of these, a few law wikis, including crime, mental health and IP (and Richard Susskind’s ideal of a public law wiki is very much in many peoples’ mind), the first case law resources driven by Web 2.0 platforms (such as the Scottish CaseCheck), the first publisher’s Web 2.0 site (free so far!) CompanyLawForum from LexisNexis, many law firms using facilities built into social interaction sites such as Facebook to provide effective (free) communication within their own firms, Field Fisher Waterhouse and Lovells ‘setting up shop’ in various ways within Second Life – and the list goes on. During 2008, these applications will multiply, mature and become widely accepted.

Software as a Service

Software as a Service is just one of several words and phrases associated with the same idea – that the software you use can belong to someone else and can run on computers somewhere else. You do not pay to own the software but rather to use it, over the Internet. This is cheaper for the user initially, requiring little or no capital investment although the cost of using the software can be quite substantial on an ongoing basis. However, the need for IT staff and expertise can be greatly reduced or eliminated entirely, since upgrades and ‘patches’ are installed by the SaaS provider and the need for computers in-house can also be greatly reduced. Another advantage, for smaller firms in particular, is that they can use the same software as their larger competitors without the major up-front and ongoing costs they would have had to absorb in the past and anyone running a ‘virtual firm’ or ‘virtual chambers’ will certainly be using SaaS in one way or another. Legal software already available in this way comes from Quill, Pracctice, SOS, Axxia, Meridian, Tricostar, ConveyanceLink and Easyconvey, whilst other companies, such as Nasstar, Chambers Technology Support, and 7global are offering software from a variety of suppliers, including legal suppliers, essentially as ‘middlemen’. These applications too will multiply and mature in the next year.

Peter Birley, Director of IT, Browne Jacobson LLP:

My predictions for 2008 are based on the background that firms are looking ahead (and behind them!) in order to ensure they are positioned in an ever competitive and changing market place with still an uncertainty on how some future scenarios may pan out. The Triple Crown of increased profit, improved efficiency and added value remains the goal.
On that basis I believe that Business Intelligence software will continue to grow in importance as firms try to understand their business in more depth, BPM (Business Process Management) software will figure in order to drive efficiency. There are also likely to be more moves towards the ‘less paper office’ both for efficiency, security and the new mantra of being ‘green’ so we will see increased integrated scanning solutions. Within IT departments, server virtualisation will continue apace with new players such as Microsoft challenging the VMware dominance. Collaboration software such as Microsoft’s Groove will start to be considered as a way to add value with clients and improved mobility for lawyers will be introduced with more services available via handheld or remote devices (Blackberry will still dominate over Microsoft), IP telephony and WiFi.  Improved web sites using Web 2.0 will start to emerge as differentiators in the market place.

Clients will increase their demands for efficiency, pushing e-billing and electronic communication up the priority list. E-billing will present a major challenge with increased costs due to lack of standardisation at the delivery point.

Sharepoint will still be high on the agenda but the reality will kick in as to what can actually be achieved. Vista will be reviewed but, in a risk adverse sector, further consideration will go back to 2009 except for the brave few! Office 2007 will follow a similar route. Concerns such as DRM (Digital Rights Management) and how that will impact on records management will start to be debated.  

From Linda Webster, Director of IT and Facilities, Wedlake Bell:

I predict:
• An increase in the use of webcasting as a method of disseminating information
• More use of multimedia on Web sites and micro sites
• The systems now in place to support a more flexible approach to working – lawyers working from home and abroad, utilising citrix, web meetings and video conferencing from PC screens – will be seen as of increasing importance and will assist in firms retaining top quality staff.
• More focussed use of portals delivering specific information to individuals using Web 2.0/3.0 technology.
• The use of wikis and blogs within law firms will continue to expand
• Microsoft Vista and Office 2007 will start to be rolled out by law firms.  There has been hesitation up until now, but it is inevitable that this will happen.
• More focus in communicating with clients using new technology – extranets, mirco sites, multi media communications.

From Juliet Humphries of Pierian Spring Consulting, a consultancy specialising in knowledge and information management opportunities for law firms:

I believe that clients are going to become even more demanding about value for money in the provision of legal services. There will be an increased demand for law firms to improve their efficiency and lower their costs for all types of work (including the more standard elements of high value work). This means that if law firms want to retain their current levels of profitability they will need to look at how technology can help with systematisation, document automation and self-service tools for clients. Law firms will also need to start looking at their business models and make greater use of outsourcing, in-sourcing and co-sourcing opportunities (and a multiplicity of variations thereof) to take advantage of lower costs, to offer flexibility and to partner with others to create new business solutions – this will all need to be supported by robust technology.

From Paul Heritage-Redpath, Solution Architect, IRIS Legal Solutions:

Commercial Landscape

As Professor Susskind continues to ask what lawyers are for, how is the IT industry which supports them bearing up?

If the future looks bleak for the small general practice firm, it is bleaker still for the small family businesses providing IT. The small firm market is only going to shrink – that’s the publicly stated aim of legal aid reform – and while the canny niche sole practitioner may have the time and vision to assemble their own IT from low-cost open source packages, vendors servicing the small business market won’t have the investment to keep abreast of the increasing speed of innovation and the move to software as a service whilst migrating legacy Win32 application customers.

Front Office

Design guru Stephen Bayley said: ‘style has many definitions but one I like is “the prospect of happiness”.’ Traditional legal support software has tended to be a keyboard-driven list manager. Lawyers have traditionally disliked keyboards. Will this be the year we see a handheld utilising AJAX to display appointments, proactively time record them – and VOIP calls – automatically, show KPIs, record and despatch dictation and then display the transcribed results as an e-mail attachment? After all, the application most loved by lawyers has been mobile e-mail on Blackberry. The iPhone shows that mobile interfaces can actually be pleasurable to use. Asus have delivered a £200 solid-state device offering the key business functions of WP, VOIP and Internet access in a usable form.

If such a mobile device were lost, its account could be cancelled remotely avoiding data loss concerns (ever more pressing since the recent HMRC faux pas). Web-based applications can be updated piecemeal with zero downtime, in-house IT costs would be slashed and vendors could explore alternative pricing models for use, putting small law firms on the same footing as the majors.

As we move slowly into the era of the semantic web, perhaps we will at last see CRM that allows businesses to exploit the social graph (pace Tim Berners-Lee). This could be the canny consultant’s angle of choice in 2008. How about contacts on that handheld being synchronised with the firm’s CRM and pushed out so relevant details appear prior to meetings: ‘How’s your boy’s football going?’ Certainly Microsoft’s investment in Facebook’s fluid collaboration interface points the way to future developments in Groove and Sharepoint collaborative working tools.

Back Office

For transactional work, XML will continue to grow in importance as solid work by PISCES and LiST/EDRM begins to pay off in the face of increased government pressure for cost reduction in conveyancing and dispute resolution respectively.

SQL 2008 offers transparent encryption to respond to data privacy concerns and synchronisation support for mobile working. Don’t expect products taking advantage of it in the year of its release, but this is one to watch.

From Joe Reevy, Director of Words for Business and bestpracticeonline: and

For the first time in my career, I am seeing lawyers who are looking outside the profession for ideas and reading the sorts of books and articles that managers of other businesses have routinely done for the last half-century. They are also getting a better handle on their real cost structures (still a mystery to far too many practitioners, who are wedded to traditional reporting and management systems) and thinking about predictive measures. These trends should bring an upwelling in demand for PMS systems that give much better predictive power than they currently do. These are trends I expect to see accelerate in 2008 as Clementi starts to bite.

Paul Longhurst, Consultant, 3Kites Consulting:

Last year, I predicted that knowhow would become a focus for many firms, and I think this has been the case although with varying success for the suppliers I noted (Recommind certainly had a good year and look set to build on this in 2008). Another area I mentioned was hosted IT, which didn’t quite come to fruition in the way I imagined but rather under the guise of outsourcing. This was certainly a key topic at June’s event in Portugal and I would anticipate outsourcing gaining ground in the next 12 months.
I think that the impending deregulation of ownership will see a number of law firms starting to gear up either to meet the challenges that this presents or simply to make themselves more attractive to the queue of potential suitors that will arrive at the sector’s door. This is likely to take the form of increased efficiencies derived from BPM tools such as Metastorm, Visualfiles and Flosuite, and may also see the introduction of document assembly in some quarters with suppliers like Exari considering interesting options for this part of the market.

From James Tuke, Director of Intendance, the Web site systems and research company:

What law firms do online is, as always, our primary focus and I expect 2008 to witness firms’ growing awareness of the social media revolution. Both as a platform for presenting and, where possible, managing the firm’s profile, sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn will become increasingly important to firms. The more adventurous may follow Field Fisher Waterhouse’s lead into the virtual world of Second Life, although many questions remain unanswered around the practicality of doing more than PR in such environments. As observers of the activities of firms online for the last six years, we have long held the view that Web site content – and content delivery – offers firms the greatest scope to differentiate online and do not expect to change this point of view for the foreseeable future.

From David McNamara, Sales & Marketing Director, Solicitors Own Software (SOS):

SOS predicts that during 2008, SME law firms are increasingly likely to follow the lead of the large firms in a number of areas:
• Remote hosting
Both for economic reasons (remote hosting costs are falling) and increased security of sensitive client data held on firms’ internal servers, remote hosting will be considered by more and more firms, particularly when the time comes for a major spend on new hardware or IT infrastructure.
• Outsourcing of Practice Functions
We are likely to see an increase in acceptance of outsourcing in relation to practice functions such as IT admin, cashiering, secretarial, payroll and phone services as these become common offerings as fixed price commodities, more efficiently and better handled by companies with the relevant expertise.
• Fee Earner Productivity Tools
Expect a wider adoption of fee earner productivity tools using matter or case management systems designed for low volume applications and operated by the fee earner rather than support staff. Effective e-mail management will be an increasingly important component.
• Business Process and Risk Management built-in
Increasingly, firms will be looking to incorporate both Business Process and Risk Management procedures into their standard matter management workflows.

• Flexible Working

The growing availability of faster and cheaper broadband and wifi connections increases the options to firms for acceptable remote and mobile working for their fee earners, which will increase the awareness and relevance of .net based applications to the profession.

More generally, the honeymoon period for the consolidated software suppliers will be over in 2008 and both existing and potential customers will be looking to see if the promises are really being delivered.
Many firms will give up Legal Aid work after the nightmare of the recent LSC changes (a pity in some ways as suppliers including SOS have actually done a remarkable job of interpreting the new requirements and enhancing their software under ridiculous timescales dictated by the LSC – so can actually offer modified systems that will help make the work viable!)
There will be an increasing adoption of new software licensing models offering ‘pay as you go’ or monthly user charges rather than outright purchase – all part of a longer term move towards a general acceptance (by suppliers as well as law firms) of the Software as a Service (SAAS) concept.

Zafar Kahn, CEO of RPost:

In May 2007 there was a US Federal Court opinion in which the issues of admissibility of e-mail into evidence came to light. In this court opinion, all of the printed e-mail evidence was discarded by the judge because neither party could authenticate the e-mail content or transmission meta-data (Lorraine v Markel). In the US market, this has sparked an increase in awareness of issues surrounding e-admissibility — the sent folder, archive, or printed e-mail provides only a statement of what the sender ‘claims’ to have sent and provides no verifiable proof of whether, when, or what was in fact received by the recipient. We believe this trend of awareness around authentication of e-mail to ensure admissibility into evidence will become an issue in the UK legal market in 2008.

From Rob Lancashire, Sales & Marketing Director, nFlow:

Throughout 2007 the digital dictation market has become increasingly competitive. This will undoubtedly drive vendors to develop technology solutions that add significant value to a firm through innovative functionality. Specifically within the dictation arena a hive of activity around mobile dictation solutions including the Blackberry and Windows Mobile Clients is anticipated. As firms increasingly face pressures to be efficient, effective and proactive, any solutions that can further enable fee earners will be of real benefit. In addition investment in .net technologies and the advantages that this platform promises will be fundamental to the long-term prospects of any DDS solution.’