After many years in the planning stage and one aborted attempt to install it, Baker & McKenzie last December rolled out SAP across its 77 offices in 47 countries, becoming the first major law firm to adopt the latest version of a system long-embraced by the likes of Apple, Accenture and other major international players.
The 4,245-lawyer firm took on SAP’s core financial management module with a view to later expanding that to incorporate client relationship management and human resources, although those developments are likely to come some years down the line.
Critically, 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.
SAP until now has had a reputation for complexity and high costs and has yet to be embraced by the legal sector, with the exception of a tiny number of firms such as Linklaters, Shoosmiths and Iberian firm Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves Pereira. However, in its roll out with Fulcrum, Bakers opted for the Accelerated SAP – or ‘ASAP’ option – which ran to time and took just a year.
Speaking to the Insider about Bakers’ experience, chief operating officer Craig Courter said: “The best advice we got was with SAP you have got to change your processes to fit SAP, not fit SAP to our processes. “People get used to always doing it this way, but SAP needs you do it that way.”
The benefits of having a single database are many for a firm as large as Bakers and Courter said: “We provide clients with a seamless global service and need to provide a seamless global operation.”
The firm is able to bill the client according to their needs not the firm’s internal structure and from the same source. Courter added: “In the past we could access all our data from our warehouse but from multiple sources, which didn’t make it great data.”
Internally fee-earners are provided with a real-time dashboard of their financial performance and detailed metrics and key performance indicators. There are no immediate plans to extend this information to clients and Courter said: “Right now it’s not on the list.”
The to-do list is still long but the firm has successfully emerged from the post-implementation stabilisation process automatically put in place by SAP. One significant teething problem meant conversion to SAP contributed to a drop in Bakers’ 2015 revenue and profits, after a delay in getting up to speed with billing and collection. Courter said: “It takes a bit of time to work out a new system, perhaps when we went through the project was not quite right in its set up.”
However the firm is fully up to speed now and Courter says the new system is extremely well received by lawyers. “It is running well and gives us an amazing advantage with its rock solid performance,” he said.
With Fulcrum now having successfully supported Bakers in a project that ran to time, more law firms may be expected to follow. Sue Hall, who obtained approval for SAP while IT director at Bakers before she left in 1998, said: “SAP is now within reach of many more firms, including small firms, at a time when the benefits of a true multi-currency scaleable and performant platform are required by far more firms.”
With continuing consolidation within the legal market Courter added: “There will be fewer bigger firms and they will need an industrial strength financial system to operate. We see SAP with Fulcrum billing fitting that bill. “SAP does business in every country in the world. It’s about agility as we grow – that’s going to be the deciding factor for a lot of big law firms in choosing SAP or another solution.”