Changing times for Practice Management Systems and law firms

Around the world, every law firm of any size who has to comply with jurisdiction and accounting rules has a specialised legal practice management system (PMS) installed and in use. These systems are complex, hard to select and become very deeply embedded into the day to day operations of the firms.  

Large national and global firms have a choice of two, maybe three, systems oriented to the specific needs of the legal industry. These were designed as ‘best of breed’ technologies and are aligned to businesses with their own substantial information technology (IT) resources.

The smaller firms, too, have their own set of dedicated legal PMS providers who reflect the unique challenges implicit in being both small businesses and legal practitioners. Increasingly these are SAAS (Software as a Service) and designed with an expectation of inter-operability with the ever-growing community of specialist legal apps out there. 

The mid-tier firms tend to have one of the location specific legal PMS which have grown up in their part of the world. These tend to be region specific, in order to cope with the variations in local legal accounts rules around the world; originally designed in the 80’s and 90’s as on premise solutions; and ‘one-stop-shop’ systems.

At the time when they evolved, the one-stop-shop solutions were the most practical solution to the core technology needs of the time where a mid-size firm typically wanted a combination of legal accounting, document management, legal workflow, marketing functions and reporting. They were designed to do a bit of everything, but not built with a view to make integration with third party applications easy. Best of breed options, where one selected the specific key systems and integrated them together, meant for a more complex technology environment with a higher cost of ownership, and were deployed by law firms with bigger budgets and more resources.

Spool forward to the second decade of the 21st century and things have changed. The advent of the cloud and SAAS combined with the maturation of IT and the arrival of mobile computing has created a new and highly fertile world for legal technology. There are now hundreds if not thousands of software components available to this market. However, the PMS vendors, particularly those with mid-tier systems, are struggling to come up with their next generation solutions because of the cost of investment and complexity of the task. Meantime, law firms want to take advantage of the proliferation of smart, new technologies but have been held back in the past by the limited integration abilities of their incumbent PMS.  

This is starting to create new discussions between law firms and the suppliers of their PMS about the desire for firms to choose to add on the specific combination of technology that meets the needs of their teams and individuals.  

Stephen Butler, the CEO of Red Rain, commented that “our RedView suite of modules have been designed to provide smart cloud-based solutions for specific law firm users and we’ve really noticed a new era of openness from the PMS vendor community that has come about in the past year”. He added that it shows that a number of the PMS vendors are really listening to their clients and, by opening up their systems to new technologies like RedView, actively working to support them.

One can see a future for the PMS, where the core technology remains largely in its current form (on premise or hosted) but where the attitude to integrate shifts volte-face so that law firms can freely choose what to connect into their PMS to best meet their needs.