As much of the UK formally returns to work today (7 January) we kick off 2019 with a bang, with the revelation that Oracle is launching a dedicated legal global practice management system that will initially be targeted at UK headquartered law firms, with the intention to later expand out to the United States.

The PMS launch will take place on the 16-17 January at Oracle OpenWorld London conference, held in partnership with Oracle diamond partner PwC, where there will be legal specific sessions on the new system as well as a wider look at market disruption and intelligent data.

Historically OpenWorld is an event held in San Francisco, but in 2019 it goes global, with OpenWorld Europe taking place in London; OpenWorld Middle East in Dubai; and OpenWorld Asia in Singapore.

Little detail is yet known about the legal PMS but we can tell you that Oracle is giving it high level sponsorship and currently looking for potential firms to work with. One IT leader at an international law firm told us: “They are aiming to bring a lot of Oracle’s cloud and AI technology into it, making it a rather different proposition.”

Oracle looked like a potential new entrant to the legal PMS market shortly after the turn of the century when it teamed up with Keystone Solutions in a winning pitch to Clifford Chance. The system, selected by Clifford Chance in 2002 and still in use at the magic circle giant today, integrates Keystone’s time and billing and client management applications with Oracle’s database and financial applications.

That pitch process was led for Clifford Chance by legal IT consultant Neil Cameron and for Keystone by co-founder and now legal IT transformation adviser Kaye Sycamore. Keystone was acquired in 2001 by Australian-headquartered tech company Solution 6, which subsequently split into Aderant, MYOB and other parts, with Aderant owning the Clifford Chance relationship.

As for Oracle, while the leading ERP provider could have been expected to leverage its success with Clifford Chance by productising its legal offering all those years ago, the word in the market is that it was, putting it politely, deterred by the notorious complexity of law firm practice.

Oracle briefly collaborated with legal service provider Elevate Services around four years ago, and at the start of 2015 Oracle’s legal operations head Dan Coll joined Elevate as its VP, general counsel, corporate secretary and chief risk officer. Coll left Elevate last year for manufacturing services company Jabil.

The new dedicated legal PMS will be welcome competition in a market dominated by Thomson Reuters Elite, Aderant and, increasingly, ERP’s such as SAP Fulcrum and LexisOne, which is underpinned by Microsoft Dynamics.

One competitor observed: “This will suit smaller firms, as Oracle is all in the cloud and with multi-tenant architecture. Big law firms aren’t ready for that.”

Oracle will certainly have to persuade law firms that the PMS can pass client data sovereignty and security requirements, which will undoubtedly be its biggest challenge. However, it has made good headway in the financial services sector, where customers include Lloyds Bank and HSBC.

The IT head above told us: “Everyone is looking for an alternative to Elite and Aderant, which are not really moving forward, and they are concerned SAP is too difficult. Dynamics is not proven, so I think there will be interest. Key will be to get a credible launch customer.”

We are lining up a proper briefing and will follow up with more details about the product shortly.