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Opinion: Legal Software – their own private Afghanistan?

With The Times newspaper today commenting that wars are like D-I-Y projects – they are easy to start but hard to complete – I'm wondering whether the big consolidators in the legal software vendors’ arena – the LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters and IRIS Groups of this world – are finding the legal IT market turning into their own corporate Afghanistans?

Getting involved may have seemed like a good idea at the time – what with all those small niche players just looking for someone to snap them up – but now they’ve made their investments, the consolidators are finding the sector a lot more complex – and far less profitable – than they first thought. Bogged down in the poppy-fields of technology’s Helmand Province, the consolidators are having to cope with a steady outflow of cash to modernise, rewrite and replace the legacy technologies they have acquired, while simultaneously facing an ongoing stream of criticism and defections from an increasingly disgruntled user base.

Like the Allied forces in Afghanistan (and the Soviet Union before them), the big consolidators have no clear exit strategy and are faced with an unpalatable choice: Do they dig-in for the long term and throw in more troops (sorry, senior mangers) money and resources in one last surge to try to fix the problem? Or, do they cut their losses now, pull out altogether and write-off the whole imperialist venture as a mistake? Damned if they do and damned if they don't.

Either way the ‘natives’ – their shareholders and their customers – are growing restless.

47 replies on “Opinion: Legal Software – their own private Afghanistan?”

I especially like this comparison and see you as well suited to the glamorous role of war correspondent. I suspect that withdrawal would leave Tikit, with its combination of captured heavy artillery and former Taleban, particularly well placed.

Presumably instead of
“Bogged down in the poppy-fields of technology’s Helmand Province”
You meant to say
“Bogged down in the poppy-fields of technology’s Hellman & Friedman Province”
I'll get my coat!

Other than a questionable metaphor in respect of associating a commercial strategy with a real world conflict that costs lives….!?
However to follow your metaphor – any military planner will state that any Plan doesn't survive first contact with the enemy; consequenlty flexibility and change are to be expected and should be 'planned' for.
Once engaged if the challenge has been underestimated then the 'Executive' arm should take appropriate action to meet the challenge.
If this means bringing in senior officers with appropriate field experience and strategic skills that were not part of the original deployment then that is surely the right thing to do?
Finally changing the fundementals of a region is a long term play where the apparent impact will look poor in the short term but the long term result will be a new stronger and more stable environment with very positive future prospects for all concerned.
The error is to underestimate at the outset the length of time these changes take. However it is the duty of the 'forces' to minimise the negative impact and hold true to the long term goals.

Charles, a magical post if I may say. What a great analogy. Who knows what the likely outcome will be, but with someone having 226 law firms as clients, the natives certainly are getting restless. Almost every time I meet with a client they are expressing some kind of dissatisfaction with software vendors, but in the same breath know that he pain (cost) of switching is so high, that it's not something they even want to consider doing in this market!

I suspect that all too often the decisions are made by politicians/shareholders and generals/senior executives, using high level information gathered by dubious means to rationalise their own thoughts… Apparently one report says there are still some small time suppliers who can be purchased, who could launch a new product to market in only 40 minutes.
What does not tend to happen is to consider the opinion of people who have been the 'boots on the ground' in the theatre of operations; experienced real troops/technical people, who know what will be actually be required to make the operation a success.
Due Diligence in these types of scenarios is not just about earnings ratio and cashflow summaries; if the newly acquired operations are to be merged then decent technical product architects have to get involved as part of the decision making process (and I don't mean Technical VPs, I mean the real grunts)
As for ” … it is the duty of the 'forces' to minimise the negative impact and hold true to the long term goals” then that's fine if the 'forces' were involved, at an appropriate level, in the first place.
Otherwise “Theirs is not to reason why, Theirs is just to do and pick up a P45”

Due diligence !!! Do any of these companies realise just how badly they are ripped-off when it comes to due diligence? Usually involves some freshly graduated MBA (mediocre but arrogant) phoning up me (or someone like me) to try to pick our brains for free. And that's it. I always throw in some spurious facts but they never check. –
PS – if Tikit are like the Taleban – see earlier comment – who is their Osama bin Laden?

Look under OSB's beard. It is long enough to hide a little fella behind it. Any little people at Tikit?

You couldn't be closer to the truth. I understand from the engineers that a big supplier who own many legal suppliers has shot all the best grunts in the back of the head and brought in a level of middle management who know absolutely nothing about the legal market, Data Migration, Case Management etc. The experienced troops have all been made redundant.

… thus affording a marvellous opportunity to outsource those “on the ground” skills to another nation's troops

Some of the best comparisons that have been made for ages regarding the whole sorry CSG/IRIS and LN saga!!
Wasn't it General Vin who said the troops would be home by Christmas 2006!!!

I get all the Afghanistan comparisons because it's so true but in may ways it's even worse and is 'Hellmand & Friedmans' Vietnam. They've inherited a right old mess and unless they get some key people in there pretty quick 2006 to 2009 is going to seem like a pleasant period compared to 2010 to 2012.
For those us in the jungle so to speak have you actually met any significant IRIS users who aren't thinking about jumping ship over the next few years? Also every time you bump into one of the IRIS conscripts all they want to do is go home so to speak. I haven't met a more disillusioned bunch of troops in the sector in 25 years.
Message to Hellmand Towers – they're burning the papers in the embassy and the Vietcong are on the edge of town.

great in here today above reminds me of that 60's song
'hey uncle sam i'm in IRIS'nam It’s a jungle it’s a prison. But here I am, Dreaming of the outside and freedom, planning my get away'

Have you ever considered that Osama Bin Laden is an anagram of
None bad as Liam

As is “A lesbian nomad”. We could carry on for hours, although Anonymous' anagram is a tad more on point than mine.

Hellmand Towers are so out of touch with reality. We asked for an up to date quote recently so they pulled a burning price book from the flames and increased the prices for training and data conversion massively. They are struggling to hold on to the clients they already have never mind taking on any new business. They have no plans to hold on to the smaller Mountain and Laserform Accounts users.They just increase their prices and drive these firms into the arms of TFB, Peapod, Eclipse etc.

OK, so Iris is incompetent, Elite can't make good decisions on staffing (I don't know Kay personally, but IMHO it strikes me that a business this large doesn't succeed or fail on the back of one person), LN are in the midst of a platform meltdown – apparently they've just 'end of life'd' their Locus platform, which they only recently purchased and are forcing hundreds of users onto a new platform…
1,2,3… Could this be the 'Axis of Evil' that G-dubbleya was really talking about???

Oh dear – one of Sadaams brave henchman that is envious of not being important enough to be a playing card but happy to be an anonymous coward post liberation.

Thank you fellow anon. I'm assuming you're one of the underused Joker's of the pack.

TFB guy mentioned that Mercers Solicitors in Henley (IRIS/AIM) have just signed up with Linetime.

I think I understand where you are all going with this. Let me see: IRIS is the United States military- the most powerful force in the arena; and the other suppliers are strapped-for-cash outfits like the British Army, struggling by on obsolete equipment, or fielding a token handful of personnel with no real hope of affecting things either way.
Yes it works, doesn't it? It explains all the sniping and griping against the US (IRIS) with its fistfuls of cash and endless resources – coming from outsiders who weren't invited to join the union (TFB etc)
Also you can clearly see that whatever happens in this campaign or the next or the one after that, the US (IRIS) will be around for a long, long time – and eventually all the erstwhile combatants, like the former VietCong, will be buying Big Macs (ILB), Coca-Cola (ILE) etc.
Yep, an excellent analogy. Clearly the reason the keyboards all get hammered at every mention of IRIS is coz all the other suppliers can see the writing on the wall and know their own days are numbered..

Maybe it's nothing more than my masculine intuition but something in my waters leads me to suspect that this post might possibly lead to a gentle riposte or two. I'm not sure whether to don my digital tin helmet or draw up my digital armchair, popcorn and cold beer and sit back and watch.
On reflection I'm going to do both. Just in case, of course.

As one of the employees of one of the suppliers who didn’t join the union I agree whole heartedly with this post. I wish that the owners of my business had shown more enlightenment and had sold our business to Iris. I know that all of my colleagues and our loyal clients would have welcomed such an opportunity with open arms.
Our clients would have benefited massively from the benefits of upgrading to ILE or ILB and my colleagues who were still working here after the takeover would have enjoyed the chance to explain to the clients why this would deliver a good ROI.
Never mind. Instead we will just have to carry on enhancing our software and selling it to those Iris users who are not so enlightened and choose to eschew the opportunities presented to them and elect to buy the clearly inferior software that we publish. It doesn’t seem to matter that we tell them Iris are a much better company than ours with a huge development team offering quality software with excellent service. They just don’t seem to believe it.

The psychological angle is itriguing. What does it say about the psyche when you feel the need to liken yourself (presumably) to the US army? As a buyer, the xenophobic undertones of the post could make me a little alarmed but that of course could just be me playing devil's advocate. Hard to get away from the John Wayne'esque prose though.
Ultimately, I do like the analogy – fire enough bullets you are bound to hit the target eventually.

Charles Christian adds… I don't like to mix my metaphors but, come to think about it some of the big legal tech consolidators seem to have all the PR skills of Tiger Woods – and, a bit like the Tiger, find themselves in bed with too many similar-looking partners.

Well if that’s the best you can come up with I rather think you’re missing the point in that of course the US is a World superpower but the posts compare specific mistakes of the past (or present) where clearly things didn’t go to plan. Obama made it clear that the US needed to ensure that how the world viewed it needed to change, if you’re of the view that somehow victory comes about by the fact that Vietnamese go round buying Big Macs, well I’d say that’s a little scary and partly why the last US administration had something of a problem with world opinion. Ah hah I can see the link in your post now – IRIS is a plant and so is a Bush!!!
In terms of being invited to a ‘union’ well from what I’d heard in the market over the last few years I’d suggest it was more of a ‘would you like a pot of cash that you never really thought your company was worth and then goodbye’. I don’t think anyone would seriously comment that there was any real strategy in putting a so called union together, more a collection of companies who said yes as the bullets (sorry consideration) were sprayed in any direction!!

I know many people believe that the recent consolidations are a car crash …. so there are even more similarities!

Until very recently (last year – i think) there were no golden arches in Vietnam so the only Vietcong that would be eating Big Macs would have left the country.
If you are going to come up with tortuous analogies try and get them right or your argument will fall flat.
Do you want to supersize that?

Themes developing today!! What have IRIS, George Bush and Tiger Woods got in common?
Well it appears they all have a form of plant in their name (brain in some cases?) and have been involved in some form of car crash.

well said as the first post trying to make out that somehow the us got the better of the Vietcong via all thins american like big macs etc was a macflop!!! – as you say at least get your facts (or should i say buns) right

Umm……Taleban For Business – has a certain ring to it.

I don't suppose there's any Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Marlboro, etc etc, either?
PS I don't need to supersize mine!

As Iris have just lost yet another client (Mercers to Linetime – looks like about one a week on average) perhaps they should now be likened to that other spent world super power, the USSR. They spent 10 years in Afghanistan before, just as the US in Viet Nam, they were crushed by the little people on bicycles with no Air power and no big guns. It doesn’t help, that along with negative feed back from their users they hand out end of life notices (Roadside Bombs)and then provide their clients with outrageous “free” upgrade charges (Mortar attacks). TFB did just this when they bought Avenue Legal Systems and we all had a field day signing up their Avenue clients.

It seems to me that rather like the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the innocent civilians (law firm users) are battle weary and don't have much energy left for supporting the IR(IS)A or the UD(LN)F any more. Perhaps there is an oppotunity for Mr Stokes at Saturn27 to do a Bill Clinton (no not the Monica bit, the peace envoy bit) in this war and organise folks into a 'pilgrim'age over to an even newer technology for business being built in a church not a stone's throw from the home of the British Army !!
Isn't Gallagher -Stoke's partner in crime at Saturn from the north and has a passing resemblance to John Hume the former nobel peace prize winner: … My god its all coming together! Peace in our times ; it will all be over by Christmas!

This is ironic – Mountain were one of the main beneficiaries of picking up unhappy Avenue sites after the TFB acquisition – and now TFB are one of the main beneficiaries of picking up unhappy Mountain sites after the IRIS acquisition.

The last Anon could be onto something….. Charles I'll have to re assess your 'Orange' rag from the standpoint of actually being from the stables of Ian Paisley !!
As an aside I've always wanted Messers Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to make an advert for that mobile phone company that only 35% of Northern Ireland would ever consider buying.
Cut to Stormont….
Gerry Adams ” The futures bright, the future's Orange!”
Ian Paisley “Here Here” (waving of papers)
Martin Mc Guinness keels over suffering mild heart flutter (doing the rounds in legal IT right now!)
Rear Admiral David Gallagher
UN Piece (slice of bread and jam in Derry) Brigade

I read the Orange Rag every day and I must say I enjoy all the articles even the 'light hearted' – probably especially those as you know how boring the legal industry tends to be. When I need some light relief I go and read the sarcastic comments on the 'supplier wars' type articles (please keep those articles coming as we spend our time guessing who posted what!)
We love the fact that you always tell it ‘how it is’ rather than ‘how people would like to hear it’. As many of those at the receiving end are the big suppliers we deal with – we just have to smile as these are the things we think but can’t say.

Charles – how many times have we told you not to let your wife on your PC? Before you know it she is posting comments like this!

Shushhh… My wife doesn't know I do this for a living – she thinks I have a respectable career, such as repairing duck houses and bell towers for MPs – CC

Surprising position to believe you can think things but can't say. Astonishing to believe that the supplier somehow has the upper hand. When it comes to a supplier's shortcoming I've always found clients, much like Yorkshireman, to be more than happy to point them out.

Exactly! This isn't the US where clients/customers bizarrely seem to cower in front of their suppliers.

It's nice to think that it will all be over before Christmas…
But, as ever, no year is quoted for delivery…
I'd like to think that we could make things better … If we could, then Charles would be out of work.
Until then a 'Monica' would do …
Failing that, have a Merry Christmas.
… And your New Year resolution is not to be “Anonymous”

You can always say the things you think….
It's just that no one knows who's thinking the thoughts.
Oh, I'm so stupid!
It's that no one has the balls to not be 'Anonymous'.
C'mon – for 2010 … get some Cojones …

I wish some individuals would go the reverse and actually be anonymous in 2010 (particularly if your only contribution is to repeat over and over and over and over and over and over again how wonderful you are for putting your name on a comment that has no substance or content but to say that you're not anonymouse). WE DON'T CARE!

OK, move along there, some of these comments are getting personal, not least with someone who has had a heart-attack accusing some-else – who hasn't had a heart-attack – of having had a heart-attack. (Pot calling the kettle black or what.) You all know the rules, only Charles Christian is allowed to sling vulgar abuse at individuals because that's his job. CC

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