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Digitization and renewed focus on core legal applications

'Will Microsoft win the battle against the current dominant players in the legal application market?

Av: Peter van Dam

The legal tech landscape is expanding continuously. A lot of new applications for compliance, litigation, Due Diligence to name but a few are offered in the market. At the same time, we see a renewed interest in the core applications that lawyers and legal professionals use. Document Management and Matter Administration may not be that sexy anymore, but they are still the heart of the application platform of legal firms. Many may say: Didn’t we fix that 10 years ago? The answer is: Maybe you did, but it’s a fact that many firms still have Document Management and Matter Administration as their number 1 improvement goal.

A market research conducted in March 2021 by the Norwegian legal tech event TechTorget showed that most law firms prioritize and focus on investing in Document Management and Matter Administration applications, more than for example security and compliance.

This is understandable as lawyers are focused on delivering legal advice to their customers. For the customers this written advice is often very valuable and the reason to pay for this advice. Both lawyers and their customers consider the efficiency and effectiveness to produce and deliver the advice (the document(s) with the correct content and arguments) still most important when prioritizing and selecting IT-applications.

Many of these applications within Document Management and Matter Administration have improved though: they are more user friendly, more flexible; they allow the possibility to work remote and from multiple devices and they have better integration options.

In addition, both the requirements from the government (compliance and regulatory) and the needs from the customers are continuously changing and getting more complex. Over the last 10 years new needs and developments have come up:

  • Document handling is not only about efficient storing, archiving and searching anymore, but it is more and more about internal and external collaboration on documents (reviewing, co-editing, templating, document automation, …), about integrating seamlessly with other applications and about working remote from different devices with good identification and security measures
  • Matter Administration is more than a practice management system that organizes time writing, bookkeeping, invoicing and standard reporting. Due to customer demand and internal efficiency, dynamic reporting and sharing financial information via secure platforms is needed. Also, the ability to integrate with value added applications like time capture, travel expenses, CRM, et cetera has emerged as law firms want to be flexible in choosing their portfolio of applications.

On the application side we see various shifts as well:

  • Many niche products focus on parts of the process, like time writing, incoming invoices, document automation, proofreading, et cetera.
  • A change of focus towards configuration, instead of customization. The cloud strategy that many firms have requires software vendors to offer more flexible, standard products. Customers do not want to have to customize products and host these systems themselves; they want to subscribe to a standard, (fine)tuned product.
  • Compliance and security are not side products anymore and must be integrated in the products.

In all these changing needs, developments, shifts and considerations there is one central provider: Microsoft.

Within law firms 95% of the lawyer and their customers use Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) and Outlook, and Microsoft Teams is quickly moving in to be the central place for collaboration. The best-of-breed application providers that operate in the legal tech space (examples of international players are iManage, Litera, Thomson Reuters) want to optimally integrate with the Microsoft products for it to work seamlessly for the customers.

Here lies the paradox: On the one hand these best-of-breed application providers need to integrate with Microsoft as well as possible, and on the other hand they are competing with Microsoft.

The Microsoft product suite, now with Teams (for collaboration) and Intune (for identification and security when ‘working from anywhere)’ as central modules, creates opportunities for Microsoft partners to create Document Management, collaboration products tuned for the legal sector within a secure environment.

The better these Microsoft partners can lift and integrate the specific legal functionalities into the core Microsoft platform the more this platform will challenge the incumbent international best-of-breed legal systems that have existed and dominated for the last 20 years.

This applies even more at a local level. Microsoft partners[1] for Document Management and Matter Administration already dominate the market for small and medium firms and this will only be more in the near future.

[1] Examples of Microsoft partners which have customers in Norway: Advisor, Avant IT, Transform Data International, Smart Solutions, Duett, mm.

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