What a year for web-based legal practice management! After so many years of the same desktop-based options, in 2008 the field was broken wide open by Rocket Matter and other new online, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions for law firms.
Looking back at 2008, it's clear that law firms were in need for a solution like ours. For years, SaaS has been successfully applied to sales force automation, HR and payroll, project management, and other mission critical businesses. The legal industry, traditionally slow to adopt technology, was ready.
2008 was a year of getting started, dipping the toes, and commencing a dialog about online practice management. But as 2009 draws near, the concept of web-based legal practice management will no longer be brand new. So what's in store for the coming year? Here are some of my thoughts:
1) Expect more features.
What you'll most likely see over the course of the next year is increased feature parity among the online legal practice management and time and billing providers. As the online apps begin to approach the functionality of their desktop counterparts, watch for a trend towards standard features, such as documents and increased integration with standard apps. You will also see web-only features gain prominence, such as integration with other online applications (i.e. Google Maps) and client portals.
2) Watch for increased adoption and growth.
Though web-based legal practice management is new, it's no longer bleeding-edge new. Increasing numbers of lawyers are comfortable with the concept. And plenty of attorneys know people in other industries who are using a SaaS solution. By one McKinsey & Company study, a majority of companies would consider purchasing an online solution over a locally-installed solution. The higher comfort level with legal SaaS, word-of-mouth, and an increased awareness of Rocket Matter and products like it will result in tremendous growth in 2009.
3) Count on more mobility.
Smartphones with full web-browsing capabilities continue to gain market share. Apple's iPhone and Google's Android OS contain browsers capable of providing a full Rocket Matter experience. Full browsers such as Opera Mini and Skyfire continue to open up capabilities on Windows Pocket PC and Blackberry platforms.
4) Expect economic conditions to favor monthly subscription models.
2009 has the potential to be a tumultuous year economically. Though some law firms may see an uptick in business, other firms may suffer. Difficult economic conditions may give firms pause when considering the overhead involved in a server-based solution. SaaS products eliminate up-front costs in favor of monthly fees, an easier pill to swallow in a tough market.
5) Watch for expectations to change.
Online applications are month-to-month subscriptions. Therefore we, as the provider, must keep the customers happy and using the software. We can't rely on someone buying a license and letting it rot on the shelf (which happens surprisingly often). The software must be easily learnable and easy-to-use. Anyone who has seen cluttered interfaces for existing legal practice management apps or has forked over cash for training understands the value of simplicity in legal software.
What I think will be a big change is the expectation of use: How fast is the application? How simple is it to get started? How intuitive is it to use? How easy and inexpensive is it to train the folks in reception? How quickly can I find information? How easy is it to enter billable information and print an invoice? Does it make our firm more efficient and profitable? How quickly can I get an issue resolved?
So those are my thoughts on 2009 and Online Legal Practice Management. It promises to be even more exciting than 2008, which was a pretty amazing year for us. One thing is certain — we've greatly enjoyed being part of the dialog with the legal community, and invite you to contact us.
Founding Partner, Rocket Matter