LSSA: Interview with Barry Hawley-Green

March 1, 2005

LE: Before we turn to how you became LSSA Chairman, it occurs to me that readers may know that you are Chairman of Laserform International but also need to know how you got into legal IT. I know that you started Laserform in 1989 to produce electronic legal forms, but how did that come about?

B H-G: Before I started Laserform I worked for three years in my own company which provided laser printer solutions into the Wang marketplace. Wang was the main, perhaps only, clustered WP at that time and of course a lot of my customers were legal practices. That’s where the idea for Laserform came from. I saw an opportunity to develop some software that would work on the laser printers – because there was a language for the printers which allowed you to design electronic forms. My legal customers explained how much of an advantage it would be for them if they had a complete electronic legal forms list. We started small with Companies House forms, which were relatively straightforward, then moved on to the more demanding Land Registry forms, where the Land Registry’s requirement was that the electronic forms had to be pixel-perfect. We saw that the future was Microsoft and PCs and so we created a forms package for that environment – at which point we decided to start Laserform.

LE: Were your original customers small firms?

B H-G: No, we started off working with quite large firms. The big firms really saw the advantage of this approach – three or four of the top ten were early adopters. Norton Rose really helped because they were the one firm which did a proper study of their savings – amounting to about a quarter of a million pounds.

That was when I saw the future importance of electronic legal forms technology to legal practice.

LE: That all explains the derivation of the name Laserforms – I had somehow previously thought it was just the futuristic associations of lasers rather than the sensible connection with laser printers.

B H-G: I think the name has caught on as the generic description of the type of technology now – we are not quite like Hoover but I do get people telling me that they use Laserforms when they actually use a rival’s product – which must annoy the hell out of the competition.

LE: Do you see the forms side as under threat? I note that Sweet & Maxwell have just signed a deal with Epoch, there is a sort of generic change with the move towards full-blown document assembly and then there are now quite a few free forms around, whether from the Court Service or otherwise.

B H-G: The free forms tend to lack functionality, are not usually kept up to date, are often tough to download and they are likely to lack consistency. Moreover they may not interface adequately with case management and document management systems. Certainly the larger firms are sticking with Laserform partly because of the quality of the forms and updating service and partly because it is simply too messy for them to try and use a combination of free and paid for forms. Also nowadays most firms have a realistic idea of the savings which they make through using a sleek and complete package. I have no doubt that there are some people in smaller firms who try to get by with the free forms and think that it is worth the time they expend in using them. If it is “free” they will go and get it, even if it takes an hour to get the item downloaded and in place. It is the wrong mentality – to save £200 per year they will spend 50 hours faffing around, which to my mind is just dumb.

LE: So with an established business and many years in legal IT, that brings us back to the initial question about becoming Chairman of LSSA. How did that happen?

B H-G: I presume that I forgot to step back at the right moment.

Seriously, I felt that here at Laserforms we had a well established management structure that allowed me a little more time – so that I can focus on strategy. We now have three MDs looking after our Electronic Forms, Practice Management and our recently acquired HR Management companies. All are experienced and capable – so that took some weight off my shoulders. Alan Richardson, who had done a terrific job as Chairman of LSSA for three years, was looking to do other things. I had been a founder member of the LSSA but I was aware that I had not been a particularly strong member – so I thought it was time I did my bit. And of course I was asked to do it.

LE: It is always nice to be asked and in this case of course that is a considerable testament to the respect of your peers.

B H-G: The fact that I was asked means that the other members believe I have something to contribute. I think that each Chairman brings something different to the role and defines his own targets as Chairman. Personally I would like to raise the profile of the LSSA to the extent that we become a “must join” organisation. At the moment the suppliers that are not members see no real benefit in joining and if I am brutally honest they are probably right. I believe we can change that by focusing on becoming an industry voice, creating an LSSA Conference, working with the Law Society on the Law/Society/LSSA Software Solutions Guide, plus forming a purchasing group. Above all of course by creating a climate where legal practices will doubt the wisdom of buying from non LSSA members and where all those bodies responsible for introducing change into the legal profession will see it as essential that they consult with the LSSA.

LE: You now have 22 members of the LSSA. Do you see room for further expansion?

B H-G: The LSSA does indeed have 22 members. The companies in membership have 1200+ staff in the UK, £200m+ turnover and supply over 75% of all PMS and case management systems in UK. The membership covers most areas of legal software and ranges from the biggest suppliers with £20m+ turnover to the smallest with less than £300k. I am hoping to see at least four new members this year and another four or five next year.

LE: What do you see as the aims of the LSSA?

B H-G: Primarily to promote the highest ethical and product standards within our membership thus providing a valuable service to the legal profession. Our, or at least my, secondary aim is to lower running the running costs for members.

LE: How can you improve ethical standards?

B H-G: The twin mechanisms are a strict code of conduct and a complaints resolution procedure.

LE: How many complaints are we talking about LSSA dealing with?

B H-G: Very few complaints come to the LSSA, in fact I think only one or two over the past year. The reason that there are so few is that I do not believe that the marketplace knows enough about the LSSA. If you buy from a member and are told that there is an option of complaining to the LSSA, you are obviously nonetheless going to take your complaint to the supplier in the first instance. At the moment, either the supplier resolves the complaint or the parties go their separate ways. The marketplace does not see the LSSA as an option and that’s principally because we are not visible enough.

Our profile is not high enough. At the moment, customers tend to complain to the Law Society rather than us, but they handle very, very few complaints. Also I know that in the past members have been unhappy at the way that the Law Society have handled the complaints..

LE: I do think that you will always have a problem with this. Obviously it is right and proper for complaints to be dealt with by the particular supplier but the trouble with lawyers is that when faced with an invitation to go to an arbitrator, especially a trade based association, they will tend to say “No – see you in court”. They are lawyers after all. It may be just that I think like that but I suspect it is a widely shared attitude.

B H-G: I do not think that this has much to do with lawyers – as I have been ecently discussing this point with Dennis Keeling of BASDA (British and Accounting Software Developers’ Association). He also provides a complaint handling service for his 300 or so members and has also had almost no complaints channeled through his organisation.

LE: You mention a lack of visibility for the organisation, but does the legal profession have an accurate or positive view of legal software suppliers generally?

B H-G: I think some of them see us as making too much profit and not offering good software or services. I think that is a false impression and I want to change it, using mailers and adverts setting out our aims and contributing articles regarding profitability, our difficulties and our dedication to providing excellence.

LE: I think most of the people that I know who are suppliers in this market are very much interested in real improvements, rather than merely showing a commitment to making a profit, and are extremely well informed about the legal profession and its needs. But I do think there is a perception that the suppliers are sales heavy – that too much money is going on the sales element and on relevant commissions.

Turning to product standards, how do you see the LSSA contributing to improvements there?

B H-G: I see both quality assurance through the complaints procedure and benefits from timely and accurate compliance by our 22 members with new legislation, procedures, and rules by the LSSA being actively involved with the various bodies who have an impact on the legal profession and disseminating the information gleaned from that involvement. Two spin-offs from such activity are that the various bodies benefit from our expert involvement in ensuring that their proposed changes are reviewed in a software context prior to release and that certain types of changes are often better communicated to the legal profession by our members.

It is important that the LSSA provide a single and consistent interface/dialogue with various regulatory bodies. This can avoid confusion (on both sides) plus lead to better legal software for lawyers, as the LSSA members can better prepare its clients for current and future initiatives. Examples of areas in which we can work effectively are the PISCES initiative, our work on XML and our work with the Land Registry. I’d also like to see us work closely with the LSC, the Law Society, the Cabinet Office, the Court Service and the Registrars of Scotland.

If we are not asked to participate we will see more situations like the debacle caused by the Inland Revenue when introducing the new SDLT system. There seems to have been no consultation with anyone – this culminated in thousands of man hours being spent by lawyers and software suppliers trying to do their job properly and sort out the mess. This is still ongoing (even after over a year) as they are now introducing more changes that are ill-conceived. If there had been timely consultation with the LSSA, we could have avoided many of the problems. The Legal Services Commission is another example of how not to introduce change smoothly.

I am however not totally negative – and would put forward one shining light of how change should be introduced. This is e-conveyancing by the Land Registry. The LSSA has been a party to this for some time and is involved at project board level as well as working group level. I am convinced that e-conveyancing will be a great success and will be introduced smoothly. The LSSA members will not only provide good interfaces into the Land Registry Systems from our Matter and Case Management products but will also help to introduce the system to, and educate the users in the new technology. A typical Win Win Win scenario. Why can’t others follow their lead?

LE: I was intrigued by your reference to PISCES and the LSSA work on Legal XML. Is there a clash there in that the PISCES standards will dictate the standards which legal software suppliers will have to adopt in any property related software?

B H-G: I really don’t think so. Certainly Laserform has been involved with PISCES for a long time, with a representative there, and we see no conflicts.

I think the day will come when legal practices will have to be PISCES-compliant. It’s sensible. If you have the names or mapping for data at source, it will save a lot of typing and errors. It has been a long time coming. It will be to the benefit of all the software people too. All you have to do is make your software PISCES-compliant and many forms will self-populate.

LE: I gather that the battle to convince the LSC of the value of consultation still has some way to go.

B H-G: Absolutely – they seem immune to any awareness of the consternation that can be caused by ill-considered changes. They seem to inflict change rather than introduce change.

LE: I take it that you have no equivalent input with them to that you have with the Land Registry – someone on a relevant project board or a similar opportunity to feed in information.

B H-G: We seem to have to work around them rather than work with them.

A lot of legal practices are now moving forward with the implementation of matter management systems. Systems that allow them to open matters and do checks, such as money laundering checks, then monitor progress and close the matter in a proper way. When you have a change, such as the e-conveyancing initiative or the SDLT change, the primary interface is through the matter manager. When you want to submit something to the Land Registry or SDLT, you use the links from the matter manager. It follows that legal software suppliers are going to have increased importance whenever change takes place, because they need to make sure that the “software hooks” are in place and that any events are captured within the matter management system. Our big selling point to HM Land Registry has been that we can get the necessary material for change into our systems and thus ease the way – and act as a disseminator of information about how the system works.

I don’t want members of the LSSA and the legal profession having to spend their time sweeping up after these people. I would much prefer we invested our time working with the various bodies to ensure that the necessary changes are introduced properly..

LE: Is there an opportunity to work more closely with the Law Society, for instance on their Software Solutions Guide?

B H-G: I would like that to be a joint enterprise. I would like to see LSSA membership and inclusion in the Guide running together. At present the suppliers have to jump through various hoops and are asked for £8,500 to cover costs. In my view that far exceeds the true cost of carrying out the studies and it is at present a profit-making enterprise. Of course any source of independent advice is useful – it would be very nice if the LSSA members could produce its own brochure covering all solutions but that is too close to our central commercial interests and we could never agree on it.

Over the past few weeks I have been having talks with the Law Society regarding the LSSA involvement with a series of conferences they are scheduling around the country later this year. This looks a very promising development.

LE: How do you propose to lower running costs for LSSA members?

B H-G: We are looking at having a purchasing group so that members benefit from “Group discounts” on stationery (we are considering having an agreement with Office Depot), insurance and for the provision of employment law advice and guidance (where we already have an agreement with Croner).

LE: I suppose the flexing of the LSSA’s commercial muscle might pay dividends. The most obvious example of that relates to exhibitions, when you were going to run your own exhibition rather than have a series of duplicated, or triplicated, events run by commercial providers. Am I right in thinking that you are now working with Cordial Events and that they are running Legal IT?

B H-G: Recently we decided that running our own event was not really what we were about and would require us to duplicate skills that are available from a specialist sector. We are now partnering with Cordial Events. We are going to be working very closely in putting together the 2006 Legal IT event.

The past problem was that there were a number of events and not enough people coming through the doors. What we want, and Cordial have taken this on board and have already moved in that direction, is a single high profile event.

I am investigating the possibility of having an LSSA Village which will help to brand the LSSA and increase our profile. We are also aiming to make it a fun event, with a proper conference element and a must-attend dinner which has a real focus.

LE: Are you keeping the same Islington venue?

B H-G: We are likely to keep the same venue for the time being, although we have to look at other options. When the LSSA’s own Exhibition was being looked at, we considered the Queen Elizabeth II centre in Westminster and Billingsgate(the old fish market venue), both of which are good venues and I favour something more central.

Other factors have changed too in the legal marketplace since we had the well attended Barbican events – there is much less impetus within the profession to find out about legal IT – but the lack of a central position is a factor too in reducing attendances.

By 2006 it is hoped that all the LSSA members will be exhibiting within the Village. Although that means that some will have to downsize from the large stands that they are used to, and Laserform will certainly be among those affected by that, it is worthwhile in the support that it will give the LSSA profile.

LE: I certainly wish you luck with that. It highlights one of the aspects of the LSSA which must make life quite complicated – some of your members are very much bigger than others.

B H-G: There are sometimes conflicting interests, which may arise from differences in size. The diverse nature of the members can create conflicts – it can be quite a difficult juggling task but it can be a source of strength too.

I think it is part of the evolution of an organisation like LSSA that we should move towards majority decisions. Of course we will always have conficts of interest between members supporting the LSSA initiatives or “doing their own thing” to generate (as they see it) a commercial advantage.

Overall I am not as yet sure of exactly where the LSSA is going in this regard and am discussing with other Software Associations to see exactly what works for them. As I said before we do need to evolve the LSSA in line with members wishes without causing a split.


LE: One thing you do all have in common is dealing with law firm customers. Do you see them as difficult people to deal with?

B H-G: As a sector, it is a curate’s egg. Top practices are now very well organised and good (in the main). By the time you get down to the lower end of the scale, sole practitioners and the like, it is a different picture. I would say that 95% of top practices are reasonably well run and members of the LSSA have good relations with them. At the bottom end, it’s more like 5% that are well run from an IT perspective.

How can we do a good job if our customers are not good at managing and will not pay for advice and guidance. This creates real problems. So many don’t have a clear view of what they are trying to achieve with new software.

LE: Do you think that there is a tendency to oversell the products – to make the customers expect solutions to appear out of the box?

B H-G : I do not think that there is overselling within the legal marketplace. In my experience where this complaint has been levelled at software suppliers it is often because key members of the practice have not fully understood exactly the effort required by them in order to “tailor” the software to their own particular requirements. This is often because they have not given the purchase sufficient thought, or read the literature, or perhaps understood what they have been told. Indeed often the software is purchased by IT staff with only “surface” level presentations to the key staff within the practice. Overall the profession needs to spend more time (and we all know how difficult it is to get fee earners and partners to spend time doing anything except earning fees) and be more diligent when buying software.

I find it difficult to know exactly how far a software supplier should go in order to ensure that a practice buying their software is fully aware, at all the key levels, of exactly the effort needed for the software to maximise performance of the practice. Should we ensure that a practice has a complete documented view of its expectations? Personally I think that this is the province of consultancy, so perhaps practices should employ them if they have insufficient in-house expertise.

LE: Is there a recipe for successful implementation?

B H-G: Yes – strong and professional practice management.

I do not think that the implementation failures (either total failures or failures in the implemented system not meeting perceived expectations) can often be put down to software suppliers. It is very much up to individual firms to purchase the proper software for the job. This starts with a practice having very detailed requirements and expectations, a proper selection methodology, good project management, a timely and adequate training plan, plus a clear view of exactly what services the software supplier is supplying and those services the practice needs to provide in-house.

At the outset a firm must also determine whether or not the selection and successful implementation is within the capabilities of the existing practice management. If not, it is essential that they get help and use consultants to ensure success.

LE: It does not sound like you think the legal marketplace is a good one to be in.

B H-G: I think it is fair to say that it is not the easiest marketplace. The reasons are that firstly lawyers by and large do not value software or understand the productivity gains it can deliver, secondly the lack of strong practice management and lastly the fact that there are too many legal software suppliers.

However I am not by nature a pessimist and although it is a difficult marketplace it is an exciting one. Over the next few years the profession is really going to change – some will not survive but those that do will really start to use and value legal software. The LSSA and our members have a major role to play in raising the standards and lowering the cost of legal service delivery.

I feel we are all “up for the challenge”.

LE: Thanks for your time and insights. I will look forward to seeing how the LSSA progresses with you as Chairman.