Ashfords has just rolled out the SOS Connect integrated practice, document and case management system from Solicitors Own Software to 450 users in the south west of England. (The firm was formed in 2004 when it demerged from Bevan Ashford.)

Since 2000 Ashfords has used SOS for accounting and back office functions integrated with another solution (LexisNexis Visualfiles Solcase – this is still being used for some case-types but will be replaced) for case management. When a pilot document management project stalled in 2007, Ashfords went out to the market examining major solutions such as Interwoven and the new SOS Connect product. Integration became the critical deciding factor.

According to the firm's head of IT Mike West “Some partners had seen a demonstration of Connect. They were impressed by the complete integration of document and case management and the accounts in a single product accessed through Outlook, with which they are so familiar. Looking at the wider picture, we saw that SOS Connect removed the integration headaches, best-suited our needs and would build on the SOS expertise that we already had.”

Since late 2007 each Ashford’s office – Exeter, Plymouth, Taunton, Bristol and Tiverton – was implemented in turn with completion in April 2009. Functionality is being phased too. The first SOS Connect workflows have centralised file opening. Document management is also live. Emails are initiated within Connect rather than Outlook as this means that they are stored against the matter. It works two ways, too, as incoming e-mail, where subject headers remain the same, is also automatically filed back into the matter, which West describes as “particularly impressive”.

The in-house IT team is using Connect scripts to customise the system such as the integration of  Workshare DeltaView document comparison. “This illustrates how extensible Connect is and how we don’t always have to go back to SOS to make changes, which is another key benefit of the software,” comments West. More extensive developments are sourced from SOS.

The plan is to move the workflows from the incumbent case management system to SOS Connect, eventually. West says: “There’s a lot of potential in Connect to have everything under one system and reduce the amount of integration we need.” As Ashfords becomes more experienced with Connect, new possibilities are opening up all the time, such as the closer integration with the Microsoft CRM system (based on the Client Profiles  CRM4Legal product) using XML.