In a survey by the Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA) 236 out of 237 senior representatives of over 200 law firms (that over 99%) said they were opposed to the English Law Society’s proposal to have one (or a very small number of) preferred supplier/s of case and practice management software to the legal profession.

Early in 2014 the Law Society began a tendering process to endorse one preferred supplier of case and practice management software. The LSSA immediately privately then publicly registered its opposition to this. Several times the LSSA requested meetings with the Law Society to discuss this issue but was not successful in obtaining a meeting. It has subsequently transpired that the Law Society is now looking to appoint more than one preferred supplier, but the legal profession is virtually unanimous in its opposition to this process.

Chief Executive of the LSSA, Roger Hancock comments: “Diverse Case and Practice Management solutions reflect the requirements of the legal profession from the smallest to the largest, the specialist niche firms as well as those in general practice. The Law Society should take note of its membership’s views regarding a preferred supplier of case and practice management software. The profession does not want this, and considers it totally impractical for a variety of reasons. We call upon the Law Society to abandon this scheme that the industry is so against.”

When asked to comment on the LSSA’s survey findings the Law Society press office made no comment.

The questionnaire: 

Your opinion of The Law Society’s plans to tender for a SINGLE ‘preferred legal software supplier’?
I DISAGREE with The Law Society’s view of endorsing only one or two practice/case management software suppliers
I AGREE with The Law Society’s view of endorsing only one or two practice/case management software suppliers

 

LSSA background information accompanying the questionnaire:
In February this year, we were contacted by The Law Society of England & Wales and invited to take part in a tender process which would lead to them selecting and endorsing one preferred supplier of practice and case management software.

They were offering the one successful supplier ‘unrivalled exposure to the legal sector’ and they told us there would be ‘an endorsement fee, commission payable to the law society  on software sales by the successful supplier and they would expect a committed marketing spend from that supplier through law society channels’.

We were concerned their tendering process was to involve an element of financial bidding and also that the Law Society was underestimating the complexity of the legal software marketplace.   After discussion with the Law Society, it became clear that they were viewing legal software as a commodity and that the people running the process didn’t appreciate the levels of sophistication inherent in the multi-faceted, integrated software solutions available to the legal profession – i.e. to law firms of all sizes and specialisms.

As the LSSA, we raised our concerns with the Law Society regarding their plans and suggested they work with us to find a solution that would better serve the market. i.e. a Law Society service that would highlight suppliers who can: demonstrate they meet the required standards in terms of practice and case management software 
+ continue to provide the investment in the development of legal software
 + offer the diversity the legal profession demands + and above all provide the benefits of healthy competition

The Law Society have said the tendering process has come about because they are ‘brokering the demands of its members to supply practice and case management software as highlighted by research they conducted last year.’  However, we believe their plans will damage the legal software industry which will in turn damage the legal profession, stifle healthy competition and probably put some of the smaller software suppliers out of business.

We are confident, following a number of conversations, that our client base is of the same opinion as us.  We would now like to be able to present hard evidence regarding opinion from our client base on this.

We appreciate how busy you are, so we have put together a Short Online Survey [above] which basically gives you two options and a comments box to complete.  We value your opinion highly as the senior person responsible for IT at the Practice.  However, if you feel that a colleague should be completing this short survey for us too, we would be grateful if you would pass this email on.
With many thanks…Roger Hancock
Chief Executive – LSSA

Selected comments from participants of the survey
“All firms need to access the competition, otherwise a single provider firm cannot provide the service and could increase prices and one would not have a say in the matter”

“Unless I am convinced that the Law Society will endorse providers on the basis that a selection of products have been fairly tested and are the best for their membership, rather than being the best for providing income for the Law Society, I disagree that the Law Society should a preferred legal software provider. I don’t think the Law Society can ever genuinely reflect that, so a preferred provider endorsement is just a cash cow.”

“If the Law Society is so minded, they could have a checklist of what is to be included in a case management system for all suppliers to meet as a minimum but in terms of compliance only – otherwise different suppliers and their products serve different needs so it is difficult to identify one or two only.”

“I think the present system works well. I was on the Law Society Council from 1996 to 2005 when I recall this topic came up for discussion and it was agreed that the Law Society did not have the skills or resources to get involved in providing legal software. I do not have any objection to the Law Society approving suppliers who satisfy a standard set of requirements”

“Case management software and packages vary vastly in terms of price and relevance to a practice. Firms should be given the option to chose one that is relevant to and affordable by them. One size does not necessarily fit all.”

Having one preferred supplier is ridiculous as how can one software system suit all needs and all budgets. As a Sole Practitioner we would be at a severe disadvantage as we would not have the economies of scale and we would also be a very small voice”

A one size fits all solution is thoroughly misguided. All law firms are different as are their requirements in terms of case management, financial management and time management. OFR encourages each firm (within the bounds of outcomes and IB’s) to establish its own systems to ensure compliance and best practice depending on the type of practice it is and the type of clients it serves. The Law Society proposal goes a good many miles down the road towards prescriptive practice management, something the SRA, through OFR is set against. I would urge the decision makers in this matter to acquaint themselves with the observations of the SRA during the consultation process before the introduction of the 2011 Code of Conduct.”

The legal profession as a group has lost all faith in the Law Society and will never abide by a forced monopoly of a useful and complicated service that requires a level of competition in order to best serve its clients.”

“A single preferred supplier cannot be of benefit to the profession as a whole. It will simply serve to reduce competition in the marketplace and force practitioners, through economic pressures, to go with the Law Society’s endorsed product – regardless of whether that product is in fact a good fit with the particular firm. Far better, surely, to have some sort of LS approval kitemark – if indeed the LS does really need to get involved in this at all.”

“I am most disturbed by the endorsement fee/commission arrangement proposed by the Law Society. This hardly smacks of an objective assessment of what is best -and best value – in the market. A range of approved suppliers taking account of the range of practice sizes and specialisms would be much more helpful to the profession but even in that case I would not want to see the Law Society making money off its “endorsement”, particularly in an area where they themselves have no credible expertise.”

“the Law Society’s proposal seems unjust, shortsighted and designed with nothing else in mind to other than to provide the Law Society with another revenue stream – not what I would expect from our industry body – how could the proposed changes be good for the industry? hopefully not a sign of the way the way that the Law Society are headed – pretty shocked by this actually”

“The Law Soc should NOT receive any commission payments for recommending a preferred supplier.”