Dec 31 2015

That was the year that was – A review of 2015 in Legal and Legal IT


To wrap up 2015 I thought I’d post a review of the Legal and Legal IT news throughout the year.

One of the big trends across law firms this year has been mergers, I touched on this trend back in 2009 and the number or mergers and consolidation in the industry continued throughout 2015.

Dentons has been the major news story as its huge growth continued through the year, we had the Dacheng merger in January, talk of McKenna Long & Aldridge joining in April, discussions with Singapore’s Rodyk & Davidson and Australia’s Gadens about tie-ups in November leaving a firm at the end of the year with a possible headcount of around a massive 7000 lawyers. Other large firms continued to grow this year with DLA Piper entering Canada in March and White & Case planning to boost City lawyer count by over 40% as it put London and New York at heart of new strategy in November. BigLaw doesn’t seem to cover these firms anymore, MegaLaw? No probably a bit too Judge Dredd that one!

Some mergers don’t come off though, in November Eversheds and Foley & Lardner broke off merger talks that could have created a £815m ($1.25bn) revenue transatlantic firm. And there were growing pains in others, in November at Norton Rose Fulbright the firm’s management looked to reconnect with City partners after years of rapid overseas expansion. But still this didn’t stop the merger talk and in November Irwin Mitchell and Thomas Eggar unveiled merger plans.

It seems the final shackles of the financial crisis had been thrown off in 2015 as growth was back on the cards or at least in the published figures, so although still an industry under pressure from clients it doesn’t seem to have affected the bottom line. Growth numbers look pretty good against most of the western economies, with 4%, 6% and even out at 7% rises in revenue across law firms according to a Deloitte survey in March. By December the Deloitte survey was still predicting firm fee income rises of nearly 5% in Q2 of 2015-16. Impressive numbers.

PEP was also on the up and into the double figures in some firms with 11% and 12% rises coming through in March figures. BLP posted PEP 22% in June! But not everywhere was rosy, some markets clearly still are ultra-competitive and this saw Hill Dickinson and Holman Fenwick both take revenue and PEP hits. As did DWF as their PEP slid 21% and revenue stayed broadly flat in August figures.

The good times though saw the top firms battle for the best associate pay rise around April/May time with 7% at Linklaters, 8% at Ashurst and 10% at Slaughter and May. White & Case then trumped them all in June with a 20% rise in London associate pay! Not to be outcome in December Slaughter and May associates were in line for bonuses of up to 16% as firms also bumped up rewards.

Was this all driven by a growth in client demand? Possibly as in London, for example, back in February TfL announced a rise in legal spend this year, the first in four years. And the Greater London Authority doubled its spend. But also I suspect a hard look at costs also help the profits in firms in 2015. Freshfields started consultation on a low-cost base in Manchester in February and announced further centres in June to create a global network of centres. White & Case mulled opening European support centres in November. And DLA Piper launched a low cost services centre in Warsaw this November, its third such centre alongside one in the US and one in Leeds.

Law firms were also looking at growing their business in other ways, putting pay to a few speakers talks in 2016? Dentons launched a tech investment arm (NextLaw Labs) in May. There were moves into the contract lawyer space in June as DLA Piper and Addleshaws moved into contract lawyer market with new ventures. DWF also launched contract lawyer, support centre and consulting offerings in June. And finally to top off a changing market KPMG boosted its UK legal capability with a Birmingham launch in September.

Quite an eventful year for law firms in general, what about the Legal IT side of things?

Starting with the stalwarts of Legal IT, Document Management (DMS) and Finance systems.

Back in January SharePoint was on the agenda again as a possible DMS in law firms with Microsoft pushing Matter Centre, by the end of the year though it was open source product. HP Worksite became iManage again with a management buyout and we saw energy back in the firm after many years of being part of a monolith. And Netdocuments continued to grow market share and cloud coverage with Europe and Australian datacentres.

In the finance arena the column inches were mainly full of Elite v Aderant, but in September Baker & McKenzie became the first global law firm to go live with the latest version of the SAP ERP system.

Elsewhere legal project management (LPM) is clearly on the move with a number of products offering support for this discipline, Umbria and Cael as examples. Strange that in the Legal press itself LPM wasn’t hitting the headlines despite strong take up by law firms and interest by clients! Proof again perhaps that contrary to the press and conferences, law firms are quietly getting on with new ways to grow the business?

I couldn’t review this year without mentioning AI (Artificial Intelligence), a marketing teams dream with a whole new “disruptive” technology campaign. 2015 was definitely hello AI, goodbye cloud in the Legal IT zeitgeist. The start of summer saw Ravn launch ACE and by mid-September, Berwin Leighton Paisner confirmed that it had become the first law firm to sign up to RAVN’s Applied Cognitive Engine. We also had US legal tech start up eBrevia has just launched its own AI offering, IBM Watson with Clifford Chance joining the growing number of City firms that work with IBM’s offering. September saw the BBC focus on Intelligent Machines, Riverview Law acquire US tech business to advance use of AI in legal market and AI goes mainstream as LexisNexis acquires Lex Machina in November and December.

The fact that cloud is now out of the news could be that finally its maturing and starting to take off, Netdocuments saw growth and Hill Dickinson kicked off a three-to-five-year IT strategy review that is expected to see a significant further shift towards the cloud.

Document automation was back in the news. Becoming more commonplace across the UK, Ashurst in September became the latest City law firm to sign up with Business Integrity’s ContractExpress solution to automate its legal precedents globally and across all practice areas. And at Clifford Chance in March, two finance lawyers were hired with coding expertise to design a template to allow banking clients to generate their own documents.

Social Media in law firms was in the news in summer as DLA Piper discussed the launch of their internal platform Grapevine.

Dentons appointed a new CIO tasked with integrating their IT after their whirlwind expansion. And we couldn’t finish the write up of 2015 without mention of the debacle at the Law Society. The start of year saw the Law Society of England & Wales endorse Eclipse Legal Systems as the one and only supplier. By end The Law Society of England and Wales’ latest foray into the role of technology supplier ended in disaster after it was forced to disband online conveyancing portal Veyo with losses upwards of £3m. Does it still have sway in Legal IT?

My final thought though for the Legal IT world in 2015 is where is the big push into mobility, business support workflow and “standard IT” that supports lawyers? Law firms are definitely looking at this, but what about the Legal IT vendors? Some show hints of the above and that they’re starting to get it. Will this be the real news in 2016 or will the marketing teams win and continue to sell us the promise of a disruptive world and robots replacing lawyers?


A big thank you to Legal Week , Legal IT Insider and Legal IT Professionals invaluable resources in researching the news from 2015 for this blog post!


May 5 2015

“Lawyers are like any other machine….”


“Lawyers are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem”

Rick Deckard, Los Angeles, Nov 2019.


The last time I really looked at Artificial Intelligence (AI) was when I studied it in my second year at university as a module for my degree. AI bookOver the last year I’ve seen it pop up again and again at various Legal IT events and in a number of Legal publications. If the talks and articles are to be believed, then in the next 10 years or so we’re going to see AI become pervasive in the legal sector, both through the need to legislate against its usage in society and as a replacement for trainees and junior lawyers (Note: this is a link to a pay walled article, though you can read the synopsis). In fact the latter view point is becoming the new topic of choice on the Legal IT event circuit, Richard Susskind has talked about it, Dr Michio Kaku keynote at the recent British Legal Technology Forum has talked about it, Rohit Talwar talked about it at last year’s ILTA in Nashville and there are many many more examples.

I’m not convinced by the timescales, but it’s daft not to think this will feature in the reasonably near future. But then a recent article in The Spectator made me start to doubt whether this in fact will be our future? The article was actually about this year’s re-release of Ridley Scott’s ‘Final Cut’ of Blade Runner and the announcement of the sequel. But it talked about the concept of “virtual paranoia” in the original Philip K. Dick book. The uncertainty of what is real and what is not. Will this fear be the one to scupper AI in the legal profession? Will virtual paranoia mean we’ll never have the digital lawyer? Well if you’re after a key piece of legal work or advice would you be happy a computer giving it you or would you insist on a human being? I think there would be a bit of worry, this virtual paranoia is already creeping into society. We see people dislike the their online actions being used to tailor adverts for them, so much so they are removing themselves from sites that facilitate this.

The other point that struck me from this article was the question “What is the meaning of memory, now everything is a click away on Google?”, something this article on the ABA Journals site also raised recently. Will this aspect further enhance our virtual paranoia?

Maybe though what we’ll see is a future that will be somewhere between the extremes. Rather than full on replacement of the lawyer, we’ll see AI support the lawyer. AI used to speed up the legal process, provide the knowledge to the lawyer and become the KM function of law firms. I think it is unlikely that AI will ever become “human” enough, they may pass the Turing Test but I’m sure there is something of human interaction, of human behaviour and thought that will mean that the human lawyer is still required for quite some time.


Dec 9 2013

NatWest computer problems. Will this be Legal IT in a few years time?


Looking at the banking industry you can see a mirror being held to the legal industry in a few years time. A mature industry that has battled to maintain profit margins year on year in tough times. One bank this month looks to have misjudged the fine line between hard cost savings and going too far. NatWest’s IT is under the spot light and it seems to have made too little investment in its IT over the last few years, this under investment is coming back to bite it. Customers forgave it the last time but will they this time?

RBS IT problems 2013

RBS IT problems 2013 – Metro newspaper Monday 2nd December

It’s taken 10 years of tough cost savings to get into this mess in banking. Given that legal started hard cost savings in about 2009, how many law firms are going to be seeing similar IT issues later this decade? The pace of IT change is on the increase again so we may not even have that long!



Jan 2 2013

Top 5 Legal IT technologies of 2013 and a review of 2012


Well it’s that time of year again, a time when TV is full of reviews of 2012. Also a time when blogs review predictions from last year and look forward to 2013 in a hope that they can look back next year and say “I told you so”! Who am I to buck the trend, so let’s take a look at what I had last year as key Legal IT technologies in 2012:

First I had was Speech Recognition. Well to be honest Siri continues to be a gimmick and this technology in Legal still isn’t making the significant inroads I thought it might. I am still convinced it will make waves in law firms for a couple of reasons. One, in an age where law firms need to keep costs low this technology will surely prevail and two, technology firms are all continuing to push the boundaries of what this technology can do. But it does look like this is going to be a very slow burner.

Next were a couple of technologies where I was way off, first was SharePoint which kind of fizzled away as a hot topic in 2012 and then I madly suggested a big return of the laptop/netbook! Oh how wrong was I? On the former I’m now happy to admit that I just don’t think SharePoint will be a major player in Legal IT as a document management system. As to the latter, well that really was my my “Decca moment“. I ended up buying an iPad and realised the netbook was dead!

The final two predictions for 2012 are still wait and see, a new vendor emerging as a major Legal IT player and the death of the blackberry. I still think the market is ripe for a new player in Legal IT, I’m not sure exactly what this will be though yet. But I’m not convinced it will be a “disruptive tech” company, I’m thinking it will be a company that delivers something law firms already do, just in a much better way. As for the blackberry it’s wait and see, personally I think BBX will be too late to the market and if those first devices are purely touchscreen that’ll be game over!


So what about 2013, well I think the death of the BlackBerry is still in the mix. If I’m being more specific I think it will be BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) that will be it’s end and as such it will probably be a slow demise as law firms take time to extract the BlackBerry from their estates. To use an analogy of spectacles from my school days, the BB will end up being the NHS specs for the law firm, handed out to those who aren’t fussed about tech or as temporary replacements for the lost or broken iPhones!

Which brings me onto BYOD, it’s been talked about throughout 2012 but this year it will become reality and lead to a real look at data security. It’s time to make the shift from securing the hardware to securing the data on it. Moving the passwords down from the devices to the apps. Stop the focus on locking down hardware and move to facilitating secure use of data on any device. In Legal IT we’d better prepare to enable this as our lawyers are going to bring in their iPads and use them regardless.

Next I think bespoke systems (or at least flexible systems) will start to make a come back. Remember Hatton Blue anyone? The modern versions of this and the rise of ABS law firms will see firms look at their processes and find more efficient ways to do things. This will be much more than case management software, more a mix of case management, online communication and document automation.

Cloud storage I think will be a big topic still through 2013. In particular for Legal IT it will be a specific cloud offering that will be all the rage, a simple dropbox or skydrive type solution. In this area in Legal there are two big players that already have their hat in the ring. Workshare’s SkyDox and HP Autonomy’s LinkSite, at the moment I think the later just has the edge. But there are also smaller vendors offering integration of your DMS into products like I’ll put up a blog post about this in the coming weeks.

And finally that big one, Windows 8 makes it to the top of my top 5 for 2013. Sure no law firm will run a desktop refresh with Windows 8, but all those replacement laptops and desktops at home WILL come with Windows 8. People will use it and (eventually) start to realise the potential, software vendors will write for it and the hybrid laptop/tablets will start to become the big BYOD item of 2013. Law firms by the end of the year will need to cater for Windows 8 whether they like it or not!

So that’s it my top 5 for 2013.

5 – Death of the BlackBerry, rise of the other three (iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8) in law firms

4 – BYOD

3 – Bespoke systems (Q: are they still 4GL’s??) make a comeback

2 – Cloud storage, specifically “Legal dropbox”

1 – Windows 8


Jan 4 2012

Top 5 Legal IT technologies of 2012


I did my review yesterday so let’s crack on and look at what I think will be emerging technology for Legal in 2012 or that will be technology that will feature heavily in Legal in 2012.

Speech Recognition : Yes I know I predicted this in 2010 but I really think we will start to see more uptake of this technology in Legal. It’ll creep more into consumer and as such we’ll become more acustomed to speaking to machines. Read more of my thoughts on speech recognition in this post from November last year.

Windows Phone/Android/iPhone : Or more to the point, the death of the blackberry in Legal. After years of being the corporate tool of choice (remember when having a BB was a bit of a status symbol!!), RIM through major failure of service and also taking their eye off what they were really good at (email access) have gone the way of the fax machine. As for the replacement? Well the last two on the list are obvious, but I’m sticking my neck on the line and predicting the order as written! I’ll post up why I think this in an future post.

SharePoint : Now this is a tricky one. I’m going to sit on the fence for a little longer here as to which way it will go, but in 2012 I think we’ll conclude one way or the other whether or not SharePoint will or will not become a viable Legal DMS (Document Management System).

The return of the laptop/netbook : not that they ever really went away. I read a great post before Christmas that really chimed, it was entitled “If you want to look old, get an iPad”. I gauged my 9 year old’s opinion as to which tech he’d prefer, answer a laptop. Apparently roblox doesn’t work on an iPad! Seriously though, the iPad is nice kit and until I upgraded my Smartphone from Windows Mobile (old version) I hankered after one. But now, I’m with Larry’s 27 year old son (albeit a bit older!) I think they will have a place but for me a lightweight ultrathin laptop would be preferable and I think more will start to feel the same.

A new vendor emerging as a major Legal IT player : to me the market is ripe for a new Legal focussed player to emerge. I’m not sure where, but there seem to be plenty of opportunities for technology focus in Legal that aren’t being addressed or existing technology that is perhaps being forgotten as the traditional players diversify into other verticals. Now vendors don’t go spamming my comments with products, as I won’t allow them through! But feel free to let us know why you think this might be you without product placement.

That’s my top 5, nothing revolutionary for this year (although predicting Wp7 as a major player could be seen as beyond revolutionary!). There are things from the last few years that will continue in 2012, Office 2010 becoming the default platform and IM continuing to proliferate around Legal. But these feel more business as usual now. So, I’ve kept it fairly generic and it is probably geared more at mid sized firms and above. But would love to hear your comments on the above or what you think will be big in 2012 (especially from those in smaller firms).


Jan 3 2012

Top 5 Legal IT technologies – a two year review


Before I take my annual look of emerging technology for Legal in 2012 or technology that will feature heavily in Legal in 2012, let’s review what I thought would be key things over the last couple of years.

My 2010 list was as follows:

  • Mobile Applications
  • Search
  • Office 2010/Windows 7
  • Instant Messaging
  • Speech Recognition

And then in 2011 was:

  • Glue Tech
  • Microsoft Lync
  • YouTube
  • Mobile Applications
  • Office 2010 and Windows 7

Now given the similarity between the lists it’s clear that things don’t move at a fast pace across the whole of Legal. But I didn’t do a bad job (alright some were bleeding obvious, but they still caught some Legal IT vendors on the back foot. Office 2010 anyone?)

Off the mark! OK YouTube hasn’t been the success I thought, but elsewhere it’s going where I thought it would (see YouTube in Schools), it makes sense to me and so maybe soon we’ll see something appear. Maybe one of the Legal IT vendors (HP Autonomy hint hint) could provide a YouTube channel with product videos (like WorkSite how-tos for example!!). Glue Tech is one to watch still, there is use of this technology of course, but I thought there would be a real rush to this last year. Speech Recognition I think I was a couple of years too early and Search, well let’s put that down as a bad idea!

Mobile Apps,  well the apps themselves haven’t really been making waves in Legal as I thought . Sure there are a few Legal specific ones out there, but I was thinking more of an internal Marketplace/Appstore for firms own apps. But there certainly is a move by lawyers to more personal/consumer devices (iOS, Android, WP7) and away from the controlled blackberry environment which may speed this up over the next couple of years.

Microsoft Lync/IM, now this is taking off in firms. It feels to me like email circa 1995 at the moment, contacting someone in the firm is now easy but outside is still a bit tricky and clunky. I’m sure we’re almost at a tiping point and corporate IM will explode like email did in the late 90’s.

Office 2010/Windows 7, come on who hasn’t implemented something or at least started a project to implement these two? For UK firms it was obvious this was going to happen, almost all of us were Office 2003 and XP and so it was bound to happen. Why then were so many Legal IT vendors caught out and behind the release of Office 2010? I could fill a blog post with the problems we found along the way, mainly with plug-ins to Office from 3rd parties causing issues!

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at 2012!


Oct 27 2011

“The smelly people who cry”


This is just a short post to point out a great blog post I read the other day about in-house lawyers. What struck me was the similarity between in-house lawyers and their customers and IT departments and their customers.

It was this section that made me smile:

People who don’t speak to customers that often (and this gets worse the more senior that person is) are prone to taking every complaint that they do hear at face value. After all, if it wasn’t serious they wouldn’t have called the boss, would they?

So where more a experienced complaint wrangler has a range of techniques for getting angry people off the line so that they can do a proper investigation of the issues, the senior manager can think of nothing else but an immediate promise that Something Will Be Done. Thus expectations are raised and the lives of minions made harder.

It’s a generalisation of course and the seniority isn’t necessarily the issue in IT departments. But this does happen (I can even see where I’ve done it myself!) and you end up chasing problems that affect only a few people or delay other projects that could benefit many.


Mar 6 2011

I’m getting old and tired, a bit like Legal IT software


This week I caught the news that the ZX81 hit 30 and that got me thinking about the computers I have owned.

Then the fun went out of computers. I mean take a look at the next lot. (don’t believe me, pull out the internet cable and see what you can do with that thing on your desk!)

  • PC (386 laptop with a massive 8 inch b&w screen)
  • PC (486 compaq from work)
  • PC (self built Athlon)
  • PC (water cooled over clocked P4)
  • PC (i5)

That first Commodore started me on the path to an IT career in applications development. Developing software in BASIC was the only way I could get that PET to do anything useful. The early days of the Spectrum as well led to plenty of coding, mainly due to the magazines at the time having code listings for games and projects. Also the plethora of magazines like INPUT (TV advert), that taught programming for the Spectrum and Commodore 64 amongst others.

These were the early days of home computing when there were many different machines, each with their own operating system. These machines had languages either built in or shipped with them on disks that allowed kids to experiment in programming.

Then came the PC (and to a lesser extent in the early days the Mac) and years of same old same old, with some improvements and iterations in the OS and just a little be faster hardware in each release.

So apart from a little nostalgia what’s the point in this post?

Well it’s tablets. The multiple different devices, the lack of standard operating system, the explosion in software development for them. It reminds me a little of the early days of home computing. The explosion of Apps is encouraging people to develop again. This could lead to a whole new generation of developers who enjoy coding, rather than build a web site in the hope of being the next Mark Zuckerberg.

From the developers of my generation came most of the stalwarts of the current Legal IT portfolio. The developers that come from tablet generation will maybe bring the next wave. I hope so, Legal IT software to me seems old and tired at the moment. It’s iterations of what we have already, better but not revolutionary.  Maybe the tablet will bring the change?


Feb 22 2011



Another week another outsourcing of legal support staff story, or so it seems in 2011. At the time of writing the latest is Allen & Overy and their move to outsource to Belfast. This follows other firms, like CMS Cameron McKenna giving it’s support staff the choice of Bristol or India.

It’s like the mid 90’s all over again. Well for me it is. At that time I was starting off in IT in the utilities industry. In the UK the government had privatised the regional electricity companies and they were suddenly in a competitive market. Very similar to the position law firms find themselves in now, a time when a fairly comfortable profitable market was suddenly plunged into an arena that was getting very competitive very fast.

The mantra was to cut costs and quickly. As a reader of Janders Dean’s blog points out “They’re doing this to cut costs aren’t they and if that means cutting some of the flab out of the headcount so be it. This is a business after all”. And as in the utilities then, it’s the same in law firms now, target headcount and target support functions.

I totally agree with the point in the quote above, that business needs to cut flab to remain competitive. And although not nice for those involved, good companies do tend to handle this well and look after the employees affected.

But it always reminds me of the story of East Midlands Electricity and what can happen if the sole focus of an outsourcing deal is money saving. You can read more details of what happened here and here, but the summary is that EME didn’t see the business changes that the deregulation of the UK’s domestic electricity and gas supply market would bring. And when those changes came they realised that there was no substitute for experience of an internal IT department and that there was a need for them to take direct control of all business-related IT projects. This led to a cancelation of a 12 year deal some 5 years early and a recreation of an IT department.

I think maybe A&O’s response is a better play, I’ve often wondered why a number of the London based UK firms persist in maintaining support functions in the capital, where the cost of offices and staff is much more expensive. So rather than outsource why not shift the functions to cheaper parts of the UK, say for example Yorkshire!!


Feb 7 2011

Everything clients want from a law firm….


Have you ever thought that everything clients want from a law firm are things that our fee earner want from the Legal IT dept.?

I hadn’t thought of it this way until a colleague raised a number of points that were raised by some senior people from large global organisations at a recent conference.

"We want consistent service from a global service provider, even if it isn’t in the home market, we still want the same good service in a distant geography"

"We want a legal services team that really knows our business"

"Don’t do what we tell you, do what we need"

“We don’t want academic legal answers, we want relevant business explanations and solutions”

Change the wording slightly.

"We want consistent service from the central IT dept., even if it isn’t in our office, we still want the same good service in a distant geography"

"We want a legal IT team that really knows our business"

"Don’t do what we tell you, do what we need"

“We don’t want technical answers, we want relevant business explanations and solutions”

Makes sense doesn’t it!

Now I’ve been pondering how to sum this post up. Is there an answer to all the problems of delivering a great service in those points raised? I couldn’t come up with a nice black and white answer, but then maybe this is a case of a problem shared is a problem solved?

p.s. thanks must go to my colleague in Asia for this post, the points are plagiarised from him. cheers Andy!