SCL IT Award Finalists

January 1, 2003

The judges have done their work and have whittled the list of 26 candidates for the SCL Award 2003 down to four. This year’s judges, chaired by Andrew Levison of Baker Robbins, were Paul Berwin, Managing Partner at Berwins Solicitors, Kevin Connell, Director of Information Technology at Masons, Kieran Flatt, Editor of Legal IT, Richard Harrison, a partner at Laytons and Ian McFiggans, IT Director at Lovells. Andrew commented “Despite this being a tough year for suppliers, there was no shortage of entries, which made the panel’s decision extremely hard.” The final shortlist is as follows:

  • ARTL (Automated Registration of Title to Land) from the Registers of Scotland Executive Agency
  •’s Electronic Conveyancing Solution
  • TotalSpeech, the digital dictation product from BigHand
  • Visualfiles from Solicitec.

The final selection was made on 9 December and the Award winner will be revealed in a ceremony at the Law Society’s Hall on 20 January when Richard Susskind will present the Award.


The Automated Registration of Title to Land system, which has been developed by the Registers of Scotland Executive Agency, is seen as an important step towards full e-conveyancing in Scotland. It focuses on the straight-forward transactions (Dealings) and exploits the fact that these dealings lend themselves to a high degree of automation. ARTL allows solicitors on either side of a transaction to work online with each other that produce digital deeds that automatically generate the necessary changes to the land register. It will simplify conveyancing work and help bring the costs down when implemented. It has already been the subject of a substantial pilot scheme, having completed 15 months ‘testing’ in March 2002. The next step is concerned with establishing what changes in legislation are required and that is currently being examined by eminent law professors in Scotland.

The Chair of the Scottish Society for Computers and Law, Janice Webster, was especially impressed with ARTL and has indicated that the system will benefit not only the legal profession but also the public; it should result in a cheaper, more efficient system. Ian Davis of the Registers of Scotland Executive Agency expressed his delight at being shortlisted and felt that it could only reinforce the case for the system, which already had the backing of the leading lenders and government. He emphasised that, while ARTL was not currently a live system, the in-house computer model worked and was fully developed and that the Agency was not merely biding its time awaiting implementation – it was pushing ahead with improvements in compatibility and in pushing developments on PKI and digital signatures.

The electronic conveyancing solution is an attempt to integrate the core elements of a conveyancing transaction as far as required by small to medium sized solicitors. Essentially it consists of a number of elements, namely CASA, Track-A-Matter, On-line L@wyer Instruction and FeeSearch. CASA, or the conveyancing administration software application, is said to be at the heart of the solution. It enables the production of quick quotes for conveyancing work as well as being a case management system. The overall product features a substantial amount of integration with compatible software such as HotDocs and the developers indicate that most CASAusers claim to see an increase in the number of matters they can deal with of between 30 and 50%.

Dominic Cullis, Managing Director of, was clearly enthused by the discovery that his company had been shortlisted. He regards the integration element as fundamental to the success of the application. While his company represents the more modestly funded end of the market, that has certain advantages – in particular, he can ensure that they do not suffer from ‘oil tanker syndrome’ and can respond to the needs of their core market. They see their market as solicitors’ firms with a maximum of 10 fee earners, which is pretty much the starting point for many larger legal software specialists. In a recent exercise in obtaining feedback for the products, they received 125 suggestions and incorporated 80% of those – so perhaps the credit for any success will have to be shared around even more widely than usual.


The BigHand product is probably the most widely known of the finalists. It has been implemented in a large number of firms, particularly big firms in the City. Essentially it is a digital dictation workflow system. Fee earners record dictations and create passwords to protect them. They can edit and send dictations to a choice of secretaries. The software enables priorities to be attached to various dictations and also fee earners to check the progress of the work. Indeed, it even allows for the use of an in-built speech recognition feature.

BigHand added themselves to the list of those who were ‘delighted to be nominated’. Asked what made TotalSpeech different from other dication systems, Dan Speed of BigHand felt that it was the fact that it was the first product to be designed specifically for UK lawyers and their secretaries – based on feedback direct for the sector. He referred to the feedback from implementing firms such as Nabarro Nathanson. They have recently turned a pilot into a firm-wide rollout. Nick Taylor-Delahoy, their Chief Information Officer, stated “The pilot that took place in June 2002 was an overwhelming success. It led immediately to greater secretarial efficiency, a marked increase in work sharing, and a tangible improvement in the turnaround time of documents in the departments involved. In this way the business case for TotalSpeech proved extremely strong. We aim to continue to use TotalSpeech to engineer the flow of work across the firm and impact the process side of document production, thus maximizing the productivity potential of each fee-earner and secretary.”


Visualfiles is described by Solicitec as ‘a powerful and flexible knowledge network, which represents a new generation of case management systems’ in fact Solicitec prefer it to be referred to as ‘digital nervous system’. Its key component is that it has the ability to develop interfaces with other systems (using XML or CSV formats and messaging or e-mail delivery mechanisms). This enables the development of customised and seamless interfaces with other organisations and applications in a true B2B environment. Nigel Williams of Lee Crowder, who nominated it, describes it as ‘enhancing the capability of the firm’.

Neil Ewin of Solicitec was in bullish mode and commented “Following our success in the recent Loties awards, in which Visualfiles won Best Legal Office Technology Newcomer, we are delighted to be included in the shortlist for the SCL Award. Visualfiles is a truly unique product combining traditional case management with knowledge management and the latest technology in Business-to-Business communication. Visualfiles is the ideal new generation system for the 21st century.”

Comment from Laurence Eastham

The betting for this year’s award remains wide open. I was surprised by the absence of the two major innovations from Axxia and TFB which created the biggest impact at Legal IT 2002 (although not entering does tend to scupper one’s chances), but what remains is certainly interesting.

My initial reaction to the shortlist was to think that the ARTL system was prematurely nominated in that it was not likely to make a difference to legal practice until implemented – and that might be three or more years away. But I see that in fact the system itself is fully developed, the problem is in relation to the massive implications of this implementation which, among other things, requires legislation. By any normal criterion, it looks like ‘the outstanding application’. It is likely to have a much larger impact than any other of the shortlisted candidates. However, it suffers from a considerable defect for those of us who are considering where to put our tenners. Last year Searchflow won with a conveyancing-related product and only two years before H M Land Registry won with a system which, whilst inferior in its ambitions to ARTL, covers similar ground. It may be that the judges will feel the need to go for variety. suffers from one of those disadvantages too, as it also relates to conveyancing. My other reservation about that product, not having had the benefit of a presentation relating to it, is that its main selling point appears to be the integration of products rather than a true innovation in the products themselves. But if it really could make a difference in terms of increasing the competitiveness of High Street solicitors in the frenzied conveyancing market then it may have a massive impact and be worthy of the Award.

TotalSpeech has probably had more of an impact than any other product in 2002. The number of firms which have implemented it and the scale of some of the implementations is truly impressive. There can be little doubt that it has been massively successful. I don’t think that is necessarily enough to win the SCL IT Award since the award has a history of looking towards the leading edge. BigHand’s new digital dictation workflow software may be an improvement on that which went before but software of that kind has, in one form or another, been around for a while. If the real selling point of TotalSpeech is that it is a slight improvement on that which went before and is implemented with great skill because of the after-service capacity of BigHand then it may not be eligible for this award on those sorts of grounds. Still, if it does not win, I suspect that the sales director will manage to conceal his distress on his way to the bank.

Finally, Visualfiles has a number of negatives against it. The outstanding negative seems to be that the award panel has a history of looking for applications which create social change and that’s not really on the agenda of any of the main legal software houses. Its second disadvantage may be that it comes from a software house which focuses on the legal market – it’s a long time since one won. The final negative relates to the question of whether it really is fundamentally different. That’s going to be a challenging question for the awards panel to consider in the time it has available and a challenge to Solicitec to show that it is indeed different in the short presentation which they will be allowed.

So where is my tenner going? Well if I got decent odds I think I might go for Visualfiles. After all, isn’t it time a legal software supplier won – and I do like the objectives which underpin it.