In a move that could turn out to be the tipping point for SAP’s adoption within the legal sector, K&L Gates has announced that it has selected the enterprise applications leader to provide its financial management system going forward.
The 2,000-lawyer, rapidly globalising U.S. law firm, which to date has been a customer of Thomson Reuters Elite, plans to implement SAP’s enterprise resource planning financial modules and business planning and consolidation solutions, and is currently piloting SAP’s customer relationship management (CRM) module.
K&L Gates chief information officer Scott Angelo (pictured on the home page), who when he joined the Pennsylvania-headquartered firm four years ago was given a mandate to modernise its platform, told Legal IT Insider: “CRM will probably be one of the first modules after we go live with core finance matter management.” The firm is not yet looking at SAP’s HR module – seen as a logical next step for law firms – but Angelo added: “We wanted something that will grow with us and is not going to be a constraint.”
SAP has so far been implemented by very few law firms – in the UK it’s just Linklaters and Shoosmiths. But notably, in December 2014 Baker & McKenzie, after many years in the planning stage and one aborted attempt, rolled out the system long-embraced by the likes of Apple and Accenture across its 77 offices in 47 countries.
K&L Gates spoke to Baker & McKenzie and to a lesser extent Linklaters in the lead up to its decision. Angelo said: “I had a number of conversations with the folks at Baker so I knew it would work. I wasn’t concerned about that. SAP has a large market share inside of professional services firms. So we’re not talking apples and oranges or manufacturing versus professional services.”
While there will be necessarily be some customisation – SAP refers to projects, not matters as one example, Angelo says: “We’re comfortable with the solutions and support we’ll get from SAP.”
Key to Baker’s success second time round was that it supplemented SAP’s single database system with Fulcrum’s Pro Billing for Legal, which is configured for the legal industry and provides flexible billing options.
Angelo and his team are now in the process of selecting who they will use as systems integrator (SI) partner. He says: “A key factor in selecting our SI will be that they have a good track record in implementing SAP in professional services firms.”
The move by K&L Gates away from the familiarity of Elite, the legal sector practice management system leader, will be watched closely. When Angelo joined K&L Gates four years ago, he says he made of point not trying to pigeon hole the firm into solutions that are legal specific. “What it came down to for us was that we wanted a modern platform. SAP has the ability to provide a large number of resources because of their market share,” he says.
Interestingly, one of Angelo’s guiding principles is to be more like the clients the firm services. He said: “I don’t care to be like other law firms, I’m mindful of that. As part of my role, our chairman has asked that I collaborate with clients and I’ve spoken with their CIOs to find out where they are making investments and what would they like to see us do.
“When you have a platform that is industry agnostic, you can really have those conversations. We’re a global firm and wanted a really global platform.”
With Bakers having failed in its first attempt to implement SAP, with significant consequences for its bottom line, the market is still skittish. But Angelo is confident that this will be the turning point. He said: “When we are successful first time out, I think it will change the scenery and people won’t hesitate to see SAP as a viable solution for the legal industry.”