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Exclusive/Trending: Oracle launches legal global practice management system

Added on the 7th Jan 2019 at 12:00 pm
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As much of the UK formally returns to work today (7 January) we kick off 2019 with a bang, with the revelation that Oracle is launching a dedicated legal global practice management system that will initially be targeted at UK headquartered law firms, with the intention to later expand out to the United States.

The PMS launch will take place on the 16-17 January at Oracle OpenWorld London conference, held in partnership with Oracle diamond partner PwC, where there will be legal specific sessions on the new system as well as a wider look at market disruption and intelligent data.

Historically OpenWorld is an event held in San Francisco, but in 2019 it goes global, with OpenWorld Europe taking place in London; OpenWorld Middle East in Dubai; and OpenWorld Asia in Singapore.

Little detail is yet known about the legal PMS but we can tell you that Oracle is giving it high level sponsorship and currently looking for potential firms to work with. One IT leader at an international law firm told us: “They are aiming to bring a lot of Oracle’s cloud and AI technology into it, making it a rather different proposition.”

Oracle looked like a potential new entrant to the legal PMS market shortly after the turn of the century when it teamed up with Keystone Solutions in a winning pitch to Clifford Chance. The system, selected by Clifford Chance in 2002 and still in use at the magic circle giant today, integrates Keystone’s time and billing and client management applications with Oracle’s database and financial applications.

That pitch process was led for Clifford Chance by legal IT consultant Neil Cameron and for Keystone by co-founder and now legal IT transformation adviser Kaye Sycamore. Keystone was acquired in 2001 by Australian-headquartered tech company Solution 6, which subsequently split into Aderant, MYOB and other parts, with Aderant owning the Clifford Chance relationship.

As for Oracle, while the leading ERP provider could have been expected to leverage its success with Clifford Chance by productising its legal offering all those years ago, the word in the market is that it was, putting it politely, deterred by the notorious complexity of law firm practice.

Oracle briefly collaborated with legal service provider Elevate Services around four years ago, and at the start of 2015 Oracle’s legal operations head Dan Coll joined Elevate as its VP, general counsel, corporate secretary and chief risk officer. Coll left Elevate last year for manufacturing services company Jabil.

The new dedicated legal PMS will be welcome competition in a market dominated by Thomson Reuters Elite, Aderant and, increasingly, ERP’s such as SAP Fulcrum and LexisOne, which is underpinned by Microsoft Dynamics.

One competitor observed: “This will suit smaller firms, as Oracle is all in the cloud and with multi-tenant architecture. Big law firms aren’t ready for that.”

Oracle will certainly have to persuade law firms that the PMS can pass client data sovereignty and security requirements, which will undoubtedly be its biggest challenge. However, it has made good headway in the financial services sector, where customers include Lloyds Bank and HSBC.

The IT head above told us: “Everyone is looking for an alternative to Elite and Aderant, which are not really moving forward, and they are concerned SAP is too difficult. Dynamics is not proven, so I think there will be interest. Key will be to get a credible launch customer.”

We are lining up a proper briefing and will follow up with more details about the product shortly.

11 Comments

  1. Hisham Anis says:

    Good to see other Blue Chip organisations such as Oracle recognising the growing challenges facing the legal sector. Innovation in Practice Management Systems will be transformational

  2. Neil Cameron says:

    Hmmm…eenteresting.
    Well, God knows we need the competition. How the world’s largest law firm have ended up with the largely lacklustre, or just pitiful, current bunch of contenders is a mystery that has baffled me for decades. Some years ago representatives of some of the current bunch tried to argue that law firms had the PMS options they deserved as they were “too mean” to pay for proper software development. That may have been partly true, however, ill-thought out acquisition plans (and ham-fisted implementation thereof), incompetent long-term ‘strategic’ management and poor customer support have wrought chaos with the major PMS vendors for many years. Almost no law firm loves their current PMS system, or vendor.
    For several years I have been telling law firms about to venture into a major PMS procurement that all the options are invidious, or have other down-sides – and all that I can do, is help them make the least harmful choice in the circumstances.
    So now we have more choice, from a major operator, and that can’t be all bad – however, in my generic experience, Oracle may be hamstrung if it has committed one, or more, of the basic sins of ERP to PMS:
    • having insufficient designers and developers with legal industry experience
    • having insufficient specialist salesmen of legal industry experience
    • having failed to consult sufficiently with law firms, or other experts, about how law firms actually work and what they need
    • in the absence of one or more of the above steps, nevertheless taking the view that ‘they know best’.
    Furthermore, my specific experience of Oracle makes me no more optimistic.
    Here follows a history lesson. Caroline is right that I was deeply involved in the initial Clifford Chance Global PMS procurement project, but omitted to mention that this was a three-stage process for me. I was initially hired as their consultant to the project, and at first they looked at the ’usual suspects’ and Keystone, and liked the Keystone software, but decided that it was too much of a risk dealing with such a new and small antipodean organisation.
    They then toyed with CMS/Open, the fore-runner of Aderant, but at that time it did not scale well, and the project went into stasis.
    Some months later, having got to know the Keystone people and system much better, and being impressed with both – I actually joined Keystone as Product Strategy Director.
    Shortly after that Oracle was approached by a new CC procurement team, and – after a false start- brought Keystone back into the mix – and it was this combined ‘product’ that we sold to CC.
    Two years later, I left Keystone after it was acquired by Solution 6 (now Aderant) and went back to advising CC on the implementation of the combined Oracle Financials/Keystone product for many months. It did not go well – party because someone at CC insisted on implementing a deeply intertwinedly integrated version of Oracle and Keystone, which is difficult to migrate from (apparently), and partly because Oracle just wouldn’t listen to anybody else – about anything.
    Oracle’s corporate memory of this is so bad that apparently the current cohort don’t even know any of this history, or even that CC’s system is based on Oracle.
    The journey from ERP to PMS is fraught with difficulties and dangers – ever since Norton Rose thought they could implement D&B Millennium as a finance system in the 1990s – by taking a world class generic accounting system and adding the legal bits’. Those ‘legal bits’ can be hugely complex and often take much longer to build in than anticipated – ask LexisNexis.
    Furthermore, ERP vendors dabble with law firms at their peril – at the same time that CC was implementing Oracle & Keystone, remember that Linklaters was putting in SAP. Odd that after those experiences, which ought to have served as a bridgehead to a new market, neither of those major vendors saw fit to address the legal market for well over a decade.
    So; best of luck to them, and – as I say – the market needs more competition, but I for one will need to be convinced that this leopard has changed its spots…

    • Andrew Dawson says:

      Neil,

      What a wonderful walk down memory lane and as you identify, the numerous times that the “big boys” are going to infiltrate and take over the professional services space.
      The market definitely needs more competition, the question is whether the newcomer will invest wisely; deliver functionality that is required and respond quickly enough to make the market recognize them as a long term competitor. Addressing the risk for the firms willing to take the chance is key. For the firms willing to take on the risk, ensuring that full due diligence is performed is critical.

  3. Mark Garnish says:

    Many years ago I was asked to look at a new PMS offering for law firms which was going to be the “latest and greatest”.

    It was based on a tried and trusted enterprise financial platform and to quote Neil’s earlier post “had the legal bits and pieces added”.

    The initial demonstration was focused on showing me those bits and pieces so we got into looking at how this system handled disbursements. It became apparent that they had no concept of the difference between expenses and disbursements and when I asked “Show we how you can part bill a disbursement” I was told “law firms never want to do that”!

    Those of us that have been in this industry for most of our careers can learn a great deal from other industries but as Neil says – knowledge of the specialist requirements for a law firm is vital for any new entrant into the market.

    This is probably what has made the market so difficult for new entrants over the years.

  4. J says:

    I recently heard a rumour (admittedly nothing substantive) that LN were going to ‘quietly withdraw’ from the PMS market due to not hitting critical mass and because TRE had strategically also distanced itself from the PMS market by splitting off Elite.

    The emergence of Oracle may well be the excuse they are looking for.

    • SB says:

      If there is substance to it, I wouldn’t be shocked. I’m aware of one particular implementation of L1 that was horrendously drawn out; years overdue. It didn’t leave a good taste in the mouths of either party, as far as I’m aware.

  5. Mike Walker says:

    I agree with Mark and Neil, there is a fundamental challenge in delivering legal service financials. Law firms often suffer overly complicated processes for various reasons and the new entrants always find these as quirks and dont understand why law firms dont adapt well. The specific legal functionality is often specific to firms historical ways of working and until there is a normalisation of these functions there will always be needs for bespoke legal specific expertise.

    Having worked to deliver legal software over many years at FWBS, Elite and now Peppermint the continuous challenge to deliver focused legal solutions is often graced by “we have always done it this way”. There are new technologies and solutions to deliver innovation and ways to deliver software but the firms themselves still strive to work how they always have and not consider the productivity and customer value of adapting process to better suit customer satisfaction.

    Competition is always good but I feel the commitment of a firm to adopt Oracle or a big corporate finance system supplier in the legal space maybe limited to the strength of investment and people recruited to be able to deliver these solutions.

  6. Caroline Hill says:

    Oracle are being very guarded about all of this but hopefully today (16 January), the launch in conjunction with PwC, will provide some answers. Interestingly for a project that is UK-led, the US seem to be calling a lot of the shots. Thanks for all your comments, keep them coming.

    • J says:

      Soooo. my sources were good and Lexis have abandoned the market and their single customer as predicted above.

      Selling the solution is as good as sunsetting it unless something radical happens like they also acquire Aderant and start to merge product and userbase – oops did I just give something else away?…

  7. The Lurker says:

    Oracle will never get a penny of our money. Bait, switch, increase rates, aggressively audit customers, sue. Rinse and repeat.

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