Do Jack-of -all-trade Style Applications Really Make Business Sense?


The debate on best-of-breed systems versus Jack-of-all- trade type applications is not new in the legal sector – in an industry where technology choice is ample and firms require a variety of functionality to effectively conduct business operation, i.e. case management, practice management, CRM, document management and so on – it’s understandable why many organisations try to limit the number of systems they deploy. However, from talking to many firms, it’s abundantly clear that systems offering multiple functionality via various modules only serve the business up to a point – eventually firms need the advanced and comprehensive functionality of best-of-breed solutions.

To illustrate, many firms use the document management modules within their practice management systems for records and information management.   Often the functionality offered by these modules isn’t adequate.  For example, some systems place restrictions on the number of documents that can be saved to a single folder, or provide little or no search functionality.  Very few provide any true mobile solution that allows lawyers to use devices such as smartphones, tablets and iPads meaningfully for work when working remotely or on the move.  Also, if it takes lawyers extra time and mouse clicks to save a document or an email into a system, they are unlikely to undertake the operation, which hinders establishment of a complete electronic matter file.  This can have great implications for firm wide security, risk mitigation and compliance, let alone contradicting the requirement of a single, central, collaborative working environment in which knowledge can be shared and re-used.

‘Handyman’ style applications are indeed holding back the business transformation in many law firms, especially in the small to medium sized organisations, who mistakenly believe that applications that offer a ‘bit of everything’ are their only resort and that best-of-breed systems are out of reach due to their cost of purchase and ownership.  The reality is to the contrary. In fact, we are actively working with our partner software providers to remedy these misperceptions.  As an example, we can now offer a best-of-breed document management solution, iManage Work (formerly HP Autonomy WorkSite), as a private hosted solution.  This implementation model addresses the security, cost of ownership and lack of IT resource concerns of firms.  We can also provide the system as an operational expenditure rather than a capital one.  We are driving our technology vendors to devise alternative pricing and licensing models to help lower the cost of technology ownership of systems.  We are delighted that our approach is already encouraging some firms to recognise that it’s now viable to deploy the very best of the legal document management systems available.

The legal marketplace is on an upward trajectory and there’s opportunity for growth, particularly for the smaller firms, who can now have the best ‘tools of the trade’

For firm’s embarking on this route, it’s advisable to work with a systems integrator to ensure successful change management, user training and migration of data from the existing system or network file share to the new solution.  It’s worth noting that data migration doesn’t simply entail transferring files, but also moving the ‘contextual’ (also known as meta-data) information around those documents, including associated emails, matters, contact details of various parties involved on the case, financial information and such.

With a best-of-breed email and document management system now being affordable, there’s no reason why a small to medium sized firm can’t compete and provide the same technology solutions that the large firms offer.

The legal marketplace is on an upward trajectory and there’s opportunity for growth, particularly for the smaller firms, who can now have the best ‘tools of the trade’ – which have long been considered a privilege of the larger law firms with deep pockets – available to them. Adopting best-of-breed solutions will provide them with a firmer footing to achieve their strategic business objectives and indeed compete in a level playing field.  Take external collaboration for instance, many clients (private individuals and/or the largest of corporates) today expect the ability to exchange matter-related information securely via collaboration tools.  With a best-of-breed email and document management system now being affordable, there’s no reason why a small to medium sized firm can’t compete and provide the same technology solutions that the large firms offer.