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  • Paul Longhurst

Practice management in peril? The benefit of hindsight



The following article, written by 3Kites consultant Paul Longhurst, is part of LPM Special- Systematic Planning.


3Kites consultants have collectively worked on more than 65 practice management system engagements from project managing some of the later Elite Enterprise implementations, through countless Aderant Expert and TR 3E selections and implementations, to evaluations involving Evergreen, SAP Fulcrum and others. We are now seeing a full-scale charge into the cloud with the market leaders taking different approaches as TR moves to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform whilst Aderant uses a hosted cloud environment.


Supplier consolidation in the SME segment of the market has seen some of the longer established names start to exit the market as companies including Access, Advanced and PracticeEvolve hoover up founder-owned products, whilst Peppermint has (successfully) shifted its focus away from the PMS. This consolidation created a gap which Aderant and TR looked to occupy, although the market wasn’t necessarily ready to adopt solutions previously aimed at large law firms.


It was at this point that the latest generation of cloud-first systems started to truly replace their on-premise predecessors. Full-practice systems (which included PMS, case and document management such as Axxia, Partner4Windows and LawSoft) had traditionally sold well to small and medium-sized practices, especially where these needed to automate high-volume, low-margin worktypes such as debt collection, conveyancing and insurance claims defence.


These systems often had founder owners who had built the business from the ground up but, after many years at the helm and facing the cost of redeveloping for the cloud, decided to sell to larger players in the market. Filling this vacuum are products such as ActionStep, App4Legal, Leap and Tessaract while PracticeEvolve is building an all new cloud-based product that should reflect the best of both its previous on-premise system and its acquired LineTime and SOS platforms.


This is great news for small and mid-tier law firms which now have solid options to select from after a number of years where the list included too many on-prem-only PMSs that were unlikely to transition into the cloud.


From my perspective, there are still frustrations here. First, that HR functionality is rarely a component part of full-practice systems. For vendors servicing a people-based sector, it seems odd that HR is not included in the mix. This would provide a real soup-to-nuts solution within which data flows seamlessly. My second gripe is that document repositories are not provided as simple connectors for these systems – anyone authoring products in the legal sector must recognise the success of iManage, the rise of NetDocuments and the potential for smaller firms to use their Microsoft 365 licences for low cost document storage – though this is rarely acknowledged. Fixing these two points would help the next generation of PMSs to really take off. This is not to ignore customer relationship management which is an important component in the tech landscape for many law firms but, I suspect, a market that will see its own change over the next few years as established players are pushed to re-invent themselves.


And what of Aderant and TR in the rush to cloud? The big two are rightly embracing cloud, although the transition is not painless as true SaaS requires bravery in switching customers away from custom-anything to supported configuration only. Whilst these are challenges with a clear way forward, pricing is a real conundrum. The big two have been able to compete in the small to medium sector due to a dearth of good alternatives. However, with the arrival of so many new options that are cloud-based (and consequently future-ready), easy on the eye and relatively low cost (especially to implement), the big two will need to find a pricing model that allows them to compete in this market whilst avoiding alienating large law customers which can afford larger per person subscriptions but will also want scale to be recognised.


This is not a problem for the larger enterprise resource planning vendors which tend to operate only in the stratosphere with global firms headquartered in the UK and US. It might appear that the march of these vendors has stalled but I would expect them to push forward again as larger firms review their Aderant and TR platforms. As you might imagine, we at 3Kites think these are interesting times and I’m confident that our understanding of the market can help your firm to make the right choices here.


This article is part of the LPM Special- Systematic Planning. Click here to download your copy in full


If you have any questions about how 3Kites' can assist your firm, then please contact laura.howells@3kites.com


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