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  • Paul Longhurst

The extraordinary case of the missing case (management system)

The following article is written as part of the Navigating Legaltech series for The Global Legal Post.

In the 90s and noughties, small and medium-sized law firms had the option of buying a practice management system (PMS) which included case management to provide guided flows and document creation for repeatable work types such as debt collection, clinical negligence claims or road traffic accidents.

With many of these PMSs (including the likes of Axxia and Envision) approaching or already at the end of their development, a vacuum appeared in the case management space which was exacerbated by the accelerating move to cloud-based solutions. Before the arrival of the cloud, the smaller suppliers that once dominated the market, at least here in the UK, had the luxury of being able to develop a product and then evolve it gradually over time, reaping the benefits of long term revenue streams.

Cloud changed the equation for many suppliers, with development cycles measured in weeks and months rather than quarters and years – the continual need for new functionality, the battle with hackers and the overhead of GDPR all added to the cost of creating and maintaining a new product.

This, in turn, has brought VC investment into the market, although not without the added pressures of hitting financial targets every three months. Against this backdrop, the updated (but still client-server and Progress-based) Visualfiles continued to prosper but avoided embracing the native cloud movement. Both K2 and Sliced Bread pushed into legal but not with the success they might have hoped for.

All of which left us with a dearth of suitable products for those clients looking to replace their old PMS with a new platform and realising that this meant a new case management system too… and one that could take them into the future with confidence.

However, in the last two to three years we have seen new entrants to the case management marketplace offering cloud-based solutions… and others are in development. These are more generic tools which could be used to create an automated file opening process or a ‘slips and trips’ workflow for those defending retail insurance claims.

Products such as Peppermint (now focusing more specifically on case than practice management) and ActionStep are offering process automation whilst Spitfire and Leap now combine a PMS with case functionality and Practice Evolve is developing its own platform to challenge here. Some of these products will no doubt include templated flows and documents to enable your firm to ‘get up and running in no time at all’, but caveat emptor… these templates rarely work without a good chunk of custom effort and are often discarded altogether in favour of a clean slate approach.

However, some areas such as plot sales and conveyancing are reasonably universal and so can be usefully served by a well researched and crafted template. As with so many technical solutions, the devil is in the detail so make sure you understand what the firm is looking to achieve (both now and in the foreseeable future), undertake a suitable product evaluation/selection, ask for references and agree a pilot. Alternatively, you could ask someone who knows about these things to help you….

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