Cloud PMS review

Cloud Practice Management Systems Review | John Duckett

The recent arrival of Clio in Australia suggests that a quick review of the major players in the ANZ legal market might be appropriate. Not surprisingly, it is those vendors that provide a true Cloud Practice Management System that are enjoying the most success, and what is also apparent is that while there is considerable choice for smaller firms (less than 150 seats), there is limited choice for larger firms.

Putting aside International firms - which are inclined to implement SAP as their PMS because it seems to be the only viable global solution on offer - the vendor that has been enjoying considerable success with larger firms in the plus 200-seat space has been Aderant. They have capitalised on the opportunity created by their main competition, Elite. When Elite 3E was released, it required a major shift and lift rather than an upgrade. Many firms took the opportunity to review the PMS market, and the only viable option was really Aderant, and they have been successful in winning the majority of these opportunities. In fact, our 2023 review of 36 legal firms with 150 plus seats shows that Aderant’s market share is now 56%. Globally, Aderant has successfully won 220 plus that have decided to upgrade their existing PMS. IPS has spoken to many of the ANZ firms about their decision, and a common reason that was given was the greater confidence in the Australian Aderant team.

Aderant offers a cloud-based SaaS PMS offering, Expert Sierra, for firms with 50 users or more. It is not a multi-tenanted solution but rather a single instance hosted in Australia on AWS, and as would be expected, it provides data replication for both disaster recovery and backup. Aderant has implemented Sierra for new clients as well as successfully migrating on-premise Expert clients to the Cloud and is in discussions with many more firms as they plan their inevitable move. As Monica Le-Nguyen, Director of Sales and Consulting, explains, ‘We are encouraging (not forcing) our clients to move to the cloud so that they can take advantage of the myriad of additional benefits Expert Sierra can provide, such as improved security through Penetration testing, SOC Type 2 certification, and Disaster Recovery.’ Aderant also reported that clients with Expert Sierra are logging 25% fewer support cases than clients still with Expert on-prem, and case resolution times are apparently nearly 20% faster. Aderant has a range of autonomous cloud products that complement Expert, such as iTimekeep and BillBlast, and most recently announced the launch of Onyx powered by MADDI, an AI-powered virtual associate that is fuelling the development of new Aderant products and enhanced predictive features yet to be released.

In April this year, Thomson Reuters sold a majority stake in Elite to private equity firm TPG, although it has retained a minority stake as well as board representation. While it’s still early days, this change could prove to breathe new life into Elite, and there are already encouraging signs of this with the release of new AI-powered timesheet entry functionality developed in partnership with Microsoft. Elite is the second largest provider of PMS in our 2023 Legal Tech Survey, capturing 22% of firms, and now with a Cloud version of its flagship PMS 3E that’s built on Azure, ‘3E represents the first financial management system for mid-to-large law firms that’s truly a cloud offering, not just IaaS,’ says James Bible, APAC Sales Director for Elite. Elite now has over 60 cloud customers for 3E worldwide, with many more in the pipeline. `Each firm will have its own journey to the Cloud, and they need to move at their own pace, but over the next five years, we expect to see a much faster adoption as Cloud vendors, such as Elite, can provide firms with all of the capabilities that they require,’ adds Bible. Elite is now only selling 3E Cloud in ANZ and expects to announce 4 new clients during October/November as they roll out their new website.

While Aderant and Elite may dominate the mid to the large firms, another successful PMS in Australia is Actionstep, with more than 8,000 seats with firms ranging in size from 3 up to 250. Although Actionstep has its own financials, it is also tightly integrated with Xero, and as Richard Jones, Actionstep Director of Partnerships ANZ, explains, `combining the power of Xero with the efficiencies and technology of Actionstep provides firms with a cutting-edge solution to enable automation and growth’. Implementing Actionstep into an existing Xero client reduces time, cost and complexity. Although Actionstep does lack serious document management capabilities, its integration with NetDocuments, and more recently with iManage Cloud, means that the two solutions are frequently implemented together. Actionstep also recently purchased LawMaster, and while it will still be supported, it is unlikely that there will be further investment in the product. LawMaster does have good document management capabilities, so we might expect to see some of this functionality become a component of Actionstep.

Being successful does encourage investment from third parties that are prepared to build additional integrated functionality, as is the case with Actionstep, which now has optional Plug-In Dashboards. Actionstep is also making considerable investments in its solution to address the diverse needs of the US market, which is helping it win clients in a competitive market.

Like other PMS vendors that aspire to gain larger firms as clients, Actionstep will face some challenges, especially in providing more than standard reports. Larger firms tend to demand diverse and non-standard reports, meaning data may have to be exported to an SQL database to allow someone with appropriate DBA skills to produce customised reports. That said, Actionstep has recently won 150-plus seat firms by utilising some of their integrated technology partners to bolster reporting and provide dashboards.

A recent entry to the Australian PMS market is Clio, which claims to be the world's number one provider of cloud-based legal practice management software and currently has more than 150,000 legal professionals using Clio in more than 100 countries worldwide. As Denise Farmer, General Manager APAC, explains, `Clio has been in the Cloud since 2008 and provides lawyers with low-barrier, affordable solutions to manage and grow their firms more effectively and efficiently.’ Clio serves firms of all sizes, from sole practitioners and small firms up to mid-tier and top-tier firms. Clio doesn’t have its own financials, but like Actionstep, integrates with Xero, which does lessen the pain of implementation. It does provide a range of functionality, including client intake, contact management, calendaring, document management, timekeeping and billing.

Smokeball is an Australian product that started with the US market around 12 years ago and for the past 6 years has been very successful in the Australian market, now having over 2,000 local clients. Globally, it now has over 6,000 firms, and its next venture will be in the UK market. Smokeball is a true, multi-tenanted, Cloud product, and like Clio and Actionstep, it integrates with Xero, as well as MYOB and QuickBooks for general ledger, with additional integrations to LawPay and Stripe for credit card payments. Smokeball’s target market is smaller law firms, up to 30 users, and can provide complete offerings from case & workflow management, billing & trust, automatic time tracking, precedent libraries, and practice-area specific customisation. Smokeball has recently launched a new tier, Boost, which provides a Mac-friendly entry point, as well as new solutions for intake for leads and detailed matter information. Jane Oxley, Smokeball’s Chief Revenue Officer, says, `Smokeball is growing quickly across both the US and Australia as firms look for more fully featured cloud offerings. Our recent investments have been in tools to help firms provide a superior client experience – our intake offerings make it easy for consumers to interact with law firms effectively. Consumers can interact with their firm through a Whatsapp-style messaging app and can utilise our intake offerings to get the right information to their lawyer in a digital, streamlined way.’ Jane concludes that Smokeball not only manages matters but also manages a business.

LEAP is a global provider of PMS, supporting over 66,000 users across Australia, the United States and Canada, the United Kingdom, and most recently, New Zealand. For over thirty years, LEAP has established itself as a dominant force in the PMS market and offers multi-tenanted Cloud solutions. Its globally popular, fully integrated solution delivers not only Practice Management, legal accounting, and document automation but also extensive content and legal updates relevant to commonly practised areas of law. 

`LEAP is proudly Australian-made and provides local, hands-on support – like on-site visits from Legal Practice Advisors – that foreign PMS can’t hope to rival’, said Donna Broadley, CEO of LEAP APAC. `It is what Australian law firms have come to know and trust about us – our support and our local legal content. It’s also what’s made our entry into New Zealand one of the most successful in history.’

While this is not an exhaustive review of PMS providers in the ANZ market, the focus has been on those that have a cloud solution and on those that seem to already have or are winning significant market share.

Authored by: John Duckett, Director of InPlace Solutions

John Duckett

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