As legal software provider Pracctice Ltd enters its fourth decade in business, CEO Craig Matthews asks founder and managing director, John Taylor, how it all started – and what the future holds for the independent tech business
John, you had a change of direction from accountancy to legal technology. What drove you to set up Pracctice?
During the 80s I worked in a forensic role, reconstructing accounting records for law firms with failing computer systems and acting as a consultant in procuring new systems. Three of my clients said that if I wrote a system they would buy it. Quite a challenge but very appealing.
The tech industry’s seen an awful lot of consolidation, with acquisitions including BT with Tikit/TFB and mergers between rivals such as CSG and Advanced Legal, yet Pracctice remains independent as it celebrates 30 years in business. Why?
It’s hard to see how law firms benefit from their suppliers merging or being the subject of acquisition. It seems to have the effect of diverting funds away from software development rather than providing economies of scale. Technology still interests me, and our independence allows software development to remain the priority.
What’s been one of the biggest challenges that Pracctice has faced in recent years?
The Law Society’s support of the Veyo initiative threatened a great deal of disruption to the legal tech market given its stated ambition to take 90% of the market within two years. They had some good – if not original – ideas, but in the end concentrated too much on delivering a marketing message and didn’t get the software release right. We had to change our development priorities but we released Free2Convey and Docs4Home, so challenges are also opportunities.
What’s the secret to Pracctice’s longevity in a highly competitive market?
That’s a difficult one to answer. We try to get the basics right – attract and retain good staff, listen to our customers and manage their implementations – so that they get the results they expect from the software, but I like to think there is another element. It is possible with specialist software applications to rely solely on developing exact functionality. After all, most of the intellectual property in a legal software application is contained in the functionality. However, all the dramatic improvements in the capability of technology have little to do with specialist functionality. Why move to the cloud for instance?
We try to understand how technological developments can be translated in to real world benefits for the lawyers who use our software.
Describe the Pracctice business in 10 years’ time
Legal software applications still do the same job as they did thirty years ago. They do it better, more efficiently, more comprehensively and more intuitively, but the purpose of assisting lawyers and their support staff does not change. That will remain the objective for Pracctice and the Osprey product. What that will look like in ten years’ time is another matter. The road signs already exist for the working environment of the future. Lawyers and their clients will interact directly with the software and AI will assist in making the user experience natural whilst performing most of the administrative tasks. VR meetings will replace most of the face-to-face consultations. Secure transactions will be recorded and maintained in blockchain databases. Cloud based portals such as Land Registry will share and integrate information to increase the efficiency of legal processes. Social media will be as much a part of interaction at work as it is in personal life. I’ll risk predicting that technology will be designed and developed to enhance people’s working and personal lives and to change, rather than replace, people’s work. That’s what we will be doing over the next ten years.
And finally, what three pieces of advice you would give to someone considering a career in the legal tech industry?
Learn about all areas of technology. The enhancements in the cloud, in social media, in apps, bots and VR, will all impact on how software is developed and therefore used by legal staff.
Consider how change affects your customers. The hardest part of delivering effective software is the initial implementation. You need to prove that the time invested in learning new software will result in benefits to customers’ working practices.
See the benefits of change. In common with most tech careers, the constant process of development and the introduction of new technologies will provide your best opportunities.