Comment: The Spanish legal IT scene – is Spain really different ?
by Eva Bruch*
Quite at the beginning of my professional career as a lawyer, I was fortunate to work in a law firm, it was a subsidiary of a larger corporate structure where management was performed following business criteria: among other things, we had an annual sales budget, a marketing plan, monthly budget deviation was analyzed, etc…
There also was a CRM system with integrated management business functionalities, including case management, billing and an extranet for clients. That application had been developed internally by the company. I spent nearly ten years working in the business of legal service delivery (as a lawyer first and then as a manager) in a technologically advanced environment, and for that reason, when I started my career as a marketing and management consultant for law firms I was surprised for what I found.
Many firms did their invoicing using spreadsheets, had no client data bases, had oficces with tons of papers on their shelves, did not have an electronic file management system, and in most cases, files where identified with a number, wich was recorded in a spreadsheet along with the client name and a brief description of the case. Clients contact details were only found in the lawyer’s personal agenda, or the secretary’s. It’s been just six years since this, but a some things have changed.
It would not be fair to say that all law firms were in that situation, some, usually the largest, had implemented internal file and client management systems, document and knowledge management, document automation systems, but they were only a minority. For the vast majority of small and medium size law firms, the adoption of communication, management and information technologies, was far from this. Neither the Spanish market was offering good products customized to the needs of this huge segment. There were few suppliers and a very limited offer, as Infolex, Diana, Sage or Sudespacho.net (one of the first cloud-based systems).
Lastly, small and medium size law firms, have been gradually becoming aware of the need to incorporate technology into their daily lives. A study made by the General Council of Spanish Lawyers (CGAE) states that 98% of lawyers believe that new technologies are important to their practice, and 76% believe that their Bar association is devoting sufficient resources to modernize and promote their use. The technologies used by law firms in Spain are, in order of importance internet access and email (98%), and at a far distance, the use of mobile devices to check email. Access to case law databases in their online versions, is the following (78%), and case management programs, responding to a critical need of the firm to manage their daily work is the fourth technology to be deployed (54%).
This is statistical data of 2008, when the last “Sector Barometer” was issued. It has not been published an update of this study, but everything points that this percentage would be greatly increased.
This situation facilitated the appearance of new products as Nubbius, Gedex, ED/Management, Netfincas, etc… Their main features are: - File management system. - Calendar - Billing - Document Management - Sending emails - Extranet for customers to grant access to their files and documents – Multi-user system
Quite a lot law firms have a file management system and some of them are using an extranet for clients to increase the added value of their services. Another matter is weather this technology is being used to analyze the firm’s situation: budgeting, objectives, customer base analysis, customer profitability, segmentation and cross-selling, etc… Many of these programs permit these options, but generally, are largely unknown by its users.
But the crisis environment has accelerated the need for lawyers to manage their businesses and to conduct sales and marketing actions, and it is precisely here that the technology available in Spain for the legal sector is not capable of fullflling these needs: medium-sized offices can’t find attractive solutions. Firms willing to do marketing activities and to obtain information of their results in terms of quality and effectiveness, have to adopt not legal oriented technological solutions with the consequent extra effort of customizations needed.
E-mail marketing software is one of the tools beginning to be used by the legal sector in Spain: it is seen as a useful tool to analyze the feedback you have when sending emails to clients and prospects. The most used platforms are Mailchimp, ConstantContact, NewsletterSoft and ClickMail. Their user friendly interface, usability and affordability, makes them the perfect option to start with online marketing campaigns.
The implementation of CRM systems for medium law firms is also something complicated that is waiting for a solution. Actually, medium law firms (30-100 lawyers) are hiring CRM software companies to develop a customized application to integrates contact and customer management, file management, invoicing and an extranet for clients. They are willing to unify all of their technological resources in a single platform. These developments are made by companies who do not know the legal sector: this causes high customization costs and is really a time consuming work. An alternative way would be hiring a solution developed in other countries specially for the legal sector, but this option almost always ends up being discarded because of the lack of translation into Spanish.
Besides, these foreign applications are not adapted to the Spanish market, among other things, they do not include the territorial distribution, legal system (courts and tribunals), Spanish legal terminology, government official calendar, Spanish tax system, etc … For smaller firms (10-30 attorneys) this option is not economically viable. Instead, they use CRM platforms designed for small and medium enterprises, very effective, economical, intuitive and relatively easy to customize, as for example WebCRM, but they are not designed for the legal sector. The problem there is they can not integrate their client files into these applications: they end up with at least two management applications, and linking them both is a tedious process with uncertain results.
Document automation for the legal sector is another thing that can not be found in Spain. Software provided by companies such as DirectLaw or ContractExpress to create automated documents are too complex to use for a small law firm, with limited time and human resources. I have been asked several times for this product: this is something small law firms would be interested in as a new product and delivery system to offer to their clients.
On the other hand, lawyers search portals and price comparators are experiencing a great success. Platforms as Abogae, Abogalista, Legal Portico, Promolex or the latest Legal Prestigia, Unoabogados and Lawyeah! are becoming more and more popular whithin the legal community. They are seen as opportunities to improve online visibility and incrase work volume whenever you are rigorous and share quality information. In this sense, these companies are doing a lot to educate law firms about the need to do marketing, and thus, to organize and manage their law firms properly.
While it is true that Spanish law sector, in its segment of small and medium law firms, is just beginning the road of technology adoption, the change of mentality is taking an agile way. It may be because of the need to grow, the trend towards internationalization, the frequent alliances and partnerships with other law firms, or because of the greater access to information facilitates to look to other jurisdictions which years above us.
According to a study conducted in Spain in 2011, the number of law firms is about 90,000, which is a lot, especially if we consider that of these, 89% have only 1, 2 or 3 partners. It is really a small and mid-sized law firms market, a particular market with its particular needs. The introduction into the Spanish market of a comprehensive technological solution (CRM + file management + Email marketing + billing + document management) that could be implemented by modules to provide gradual adoption and a moderate economic impact, adapted to the Spanish legal market and designed for this segment (taking into account both the language and the price) would be a boost for the industry and an opportunity for the provider that develops it.
At the LawTechFutures 2013 event in London I saw some great options, talked with some providers and software companies. Is any of them going to take the chance?
* Eva Bruch is a legal marketing consultant with MoreThanLaw www.morethanlaw.es and adds that she apologises for her English – don’t worry, it’s far, far better than our Spanish.