Shearman selects TR Elite 3E Cloud: The transformation journey 

We speak to the key executives behind the selection and implementation of the Thomson Reuters Elite 3E cloud, discussing the timing of the decision; how 3E Cloud fits in with Shearman & Sterling’s IT roadmap and strategy; and how they have broached the cloud discussion with clients. Also, we look at how the functionality of the 3E Cloud has evolved since it was first launched in 2018.  

As we first revealed on 7 September, Shearman & Sterling has become the first Am Law 50 law firm to move to the Thomson Reuters Elite 3E Cloud, with the project already underway and expected to be completed in 2024. 

Shearman originally went out for tender to replace its sunsetted Thomson Reuters Elite Enterprise practice management system in 2018/19, selecting Elite 3E on premises after evaluating systems including Aderant Expert and SAP. However, the project was set back by Covid-19, during which time Thomson Reuters further developed its cloud offering, to the point that Shearman pivoted in its selection decision this year. 

Speaking to Legal IT Insider about Shearman’s transformation journey, chief knowledge and client value officer Meredith Williams-Range explained that the 3E Cloud selection should be viewed within the context of a multi-year strategy put in place in 2018, which has seen Shearman overhaul its people, processes and technology. 

People 

If you look at Shearman’s C-Suite just over five years ago, you will notice that it looked radically different. Global chief technology officer Lawrence Baxter was hired in 2017, followed in 2018 by Williams-Range, who together brought in global director of enterprise architecture and delivery services, Jeff Saper, and global director of knowledge and research, Glenn La Force. 

Williams-Range told Legal IT Insider: “Our executive director and managing partner knew they wanted to bring in people that thought differently and that weren’t afraid of reinventing how a law firm functions. So, Lawrence was first, I was soon thereafter.  We brought in Jeff and Glenn to help us execute.” 

When Baxter and Williams-Range first sat down together, the scale of the work ahead of them became apparent. “We realised the firm was 150 years old and had not heavily invested in technology over about a decade.  We were reaping the consequences of those actions. Elite Enterprise was in place but there was basically no document management system (only 4% usage) and was no true data organisation and structure,” says Williams-Range. 

She adds: “I joined about a month before GDPR went into effect and we knew we needed to go on a journey to get us into a position where we could comply with any regulation, in any region, at any given moment. And so, we sat down in August of 2018, and we wrote this strategy, which we dubbed Shearman Analytics.” 

The strategy, for which the firm won the Financial Times Innovation in Data Analytics Award in 2021, has three pillars: the first is about getting data collection in order, and Williams-Range says: “We knew early on due to the data architecture, we were going to have to rip and replace every single system.” 

The second was that Shearman needed to govern everything appropriately, introducing policy, governance and rules around the management and destruction of data.  

Within the third pillar, now the data is organised and clean, Shearman continues to look at how it can use data for analysis and prediction. 

The firm overhauled its new business intake first; worked with Foundation Software on breaking down data silos and with BigSquare on business intelligence (both now owned by Litera). It went live on the iManage Cloud in 2020 and is in the process of moving to Office 365. Williams-Range says: “Elite 3e in the cloud is the final piece of phase one.” 

Clients and the cloud 

One of the biggest questions for many firms looking to move to the cloud is still how to approach clients, but by the time Shearman came to its selection of 3E Cloud, it had already done the leg work. 

Williams-Range says: “The client cloud journey can be divided into two parts. One, how did we overcome any concerns with client owned records. We did a full analysis of all of our general counsel guidelines in 2018 prior to submitting our cloud strategy. What we learned is that there was a clear delineation pre-2016 and post-2016. 2016 was the year that a large global bank went to the cloud. What you saw is in any guideline post-2016, there wasn’t a prohibition to going into the cloud. It was ‘how are you doing it?’  There was not one single client that prohibited us from moving data to the cloud.” 

With the iManage rollout, Shearman consulted EY on its plans. Baxter says: “It’s not about going to the cloud, it’s about HOW you go to the cloud and we enlisted a professional third party to review and bless the blueprint design and overall plan.  Ernst & Young conducted a thorough review of our iManage 10 cloud and Office 365 platforms and provided some very helpful configuration recommendations.  When we notified clients, one asked for a third party review and we were able to say, ‘here it is’.  Once reassured that Shearman had implemented the configuration recommendations, the client was content.” 

The firm updated its engagement letter in 2020 with the iManage rollout. 

There is a critical difference between iManage data and Elite data and Williams-Range says: “Because iManage contains client records, we have certain preservation obligations and notice requirements in moving data to the cloud. Elite data is considered a firm record, which is slightly different. So, we weren’t required to gain client approval but we did offer any client the opportunity to discuss the move.” 

The firm notified clients over email of its move to the 3E Cloud. Incidentally, it did the same a few months ago in notifying clients that it is moving to Office 365. Williams-Range says: “The critical thing is that with every notice, we also offer a conversation, and so for some it has been simply a dialogue. What we find works is an open dialogue with the clients and saying ‘here’s our deck of cards and here’s how we’re going to play them.’ It’s a conversation, not a directive, and that’s really critical.” 

With cloud very much the direction of travel but still causing delays to many law firms’ roadmaps, Saper sagely observes: “Cloud is just another environment; it is how you apply it that matters. I can have the worst data infrastructure in an on prem data centre that is completely insecure and can be hacked any minute. Microsoft, AWS and others spend billions a year on security. For example, Microsoft is spending $5 billion just on security alone.” 

Data lake 

While many firms are apprehensive about moving their practice management system to the cloud because of fears over how it will sit with what is often referred to as a ‘spaghetti junction’ of other systems, La Force said: “What you refer to as the spaghetti junction is what we have been unwinding the whole time.    

“As part of the Shearman Analytics program, we looked at how the systems were all intertwined and moved to a hub and spoke model.   Our master data management strategy is centred around a data lake that pulls from each system so data can flow between them.   That way they are not all intertwined together where if one thing breaks there isn’t a cascading effect causing issues in multiple systems of record.” 

Williams-Range says: “And as we said, Elite 3E in the cloud is the last piece of that build out, because breaking Elite away and making it not the centre, means it’s just one piece. That means at any given moment we can replace any of those pieces, which allows us to be much more nimble and flexible.”  

Interestingly, much of the architecture and infrastructure work done has been led by Saper, who was previously senior digital and transformation adviser, office of the CTO at Microsoft. Baxter observes: “Another clear observation is that success hinges on people far more than it does on technology. When forming any kind of business partnership, you have to know both who you are and how big you are, and in relative terms we’re not very big, right?  With Shearman & Sterling, we’re clearly not the size of GE, and so if you if you’re going to partner with the likes of Microsoft, you need to understand that you are relatively small in terms of potential revenue for them.    

“Jeff joined us from Microsoft, and he knows how to work best with the Microsoft teams across the world and because of that we have a great relationship with every level of Microsoft and have been very successful in building a win/win relationship.  We do the same thing with Apple, where we have added some Apple geniuses to the team.  Again, we are small in comparison to Apple so again, we need people who understand how best to forge a relationship with them.  So, it’s about getting the right balance of talent as well.” 

The TR 3E Cloud 

Back to the 3E Cloud, and it was thanks to Covid-19 that Shearman paused its PMS implementation, which turned out to be unusually fortuitous. Williams-Range says: “We paused the implementation, by which point Thomson Reuters came back and said ‘we’re ready now.’” 

She adds: “There’s a lot of customizations, a lot of things that don’t need to be in that financial system that now we have better placements for, like in Foundation or BigSquare. So the data clean up; the process clean up; the people involved; all of that has been the work we’ve done for the past year.” 

With a lack of standardisation in billing practices across the legal sector, there are some that question whether the 3E Cloud can be a true SaaS product – something that Saper quickly addresses from a technical perspective. 

“A few years ago, when Thomson Reuters said, ‘we have a cloud solution’, we said respectfully ‘no you don’t.’ But now it is SaaS, and it is morphing.” 

He adds: “There’s a number of changes that they’ve made and again, what they did do, which helped us, is that the code is like-for-like from on prem to cloud. So, you have basically the same code development. 

“The application runs on Microsoft, and we have had conversations with Microsoft to make sure they are supporting them on the back end, and we had we continue to have numerous architectural discussions to this day on how they’re applying security. On how they’re applying the integrations. On what they are using for integrations. But it is cloud.” 

And he says: “Their development and architecture makes sense. We went through a lot of the architectural understanding and the schematics of how and where things are; the hubs and where the data sits; what tools they’re using from a reporting standpoint; what tools we need to use which are complementary to what we’re already doing on the BI side of things, for instance with BigSquare; and how the data sits and where the data sits. It’s not just your standard SQL database on the back end, it is cloud.” 

With regard to automatic updates, Shearman has created a test environment and Saper says: “We have a test environment so that we can test our integrations to make sure the integrations don’t break when we apply them to production. That’s a process that we demanded as part of the contract negotiations.” 

The process 

 It is worth noting that Shearman’s move to the 3E Cloud follow substantial work around process standardisation across the firm. 

Williams-Range said: “I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years, the way we bill and collect is not bespoke. When it comes to billing and collections and time entry, if you raise that up to the highest level of what we do, it’s the same at every professional services organisation. You bill your time, it goes out into an invoice processing, it goes out in a bill, it comes back in a collection, and we have general ledgers. Do we have certain things that are maybe a unique field that we have to have because of the way we might need to calculate something, yes, but what we’ve done in our multiyear journey is data and process standardisation. The process was not comparing law firm one to law firm two, but comparing our processes to how a company, a large billion-dollar company should work and what are the processes that we should have in our different systems.” 

She. adds: “We call it a Gartner approach to how we manage things now. It’s not how does a law firm run, but how does a company run and utilising the best practises because that that’s the only way we’re going to get better.” 

Change management 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Shearman has invested heavily in its change management efforts in order to ensure that its transformation efforts go to plan. 

Williams-Range says: “For every major change we develop what we call an engagement plan and work out what is the impact score to our users? What is the circle of influence and how do we bring people along? With iManage alone we had 2000 engagement sessions. It’s going to be similar engagement with Elite just bringing people along.”

The landscape at Shearman now looks very different from that first conversation between Baxter and Williams-Range in 2018.  

She says: “Just because we’ve done it that way for 20 years does not mean we should do it that way for the next 20. Being able to pivot and to be nimble is critical for us as a company.”

caroline@legaltechnology.com