Legal IT v3.0

The world of legal publishing – be it software or content – has finally tipped over into the Long awaited v3.0. Thomson (C-Track) have beaten a host of other enterprise and legal software specialists to deliver the new English Royal Courts case management system by the end of 2015.

V1.0 was the Word.

And the Word was Law. But frankly, it’s been some time since trudging around with a volume of Halsbury has given you the leading edge in legal information services. The Word was strong. Now? Not so much.

V2.0 was The Code. Not some Star Trek Fibonacci sequence or clues in the Temple Church, but some really quite mundane C# code automating case and matter management processes. Most know the choices ranging from Elite to Peppermint in the UK, but there’s also the court systems such as CREST and XHIBIT.

All the fastest growing parts of the legal information services industry are around the legal IT world in some shape or form now. The legal IT world is not yet transforming behaviour beyond recognition; but no-one believes the “furniture publishing” of old holds any lessons for the future either.

It’s time now for what the technophiles would call Version 3.0.

It is more than Clouds, much more than BYOD, more than in-memory advances, more even than eDiscovery or Big data analytics (important though they are in their place). It is, in short, time that the legal system became truly systematic – that tech finally put the WYSI- into the -Wygs.


The drivers are clear: saving time and (usually thereby) cost. Not among firms, however, but in major administration of justice processes. Many frankly do not even see this “puck” yet. Maybe simply putting all that data on a screen was an end in itself.

It shouldn’t have been.

What’s coming, is not a Big Bang, but piecemeal, messy stuff; and the impacts on the content, computing and consulting/outsourcing teams will be profound.

In a very real sense law firms have no real interest in simplifying the litigation and judicial processes. It is no surprise therefore that innovations typically come from pressure either in insurance led processes (where time is always cost) or in consumer facing ones, like debt and housing, where again the incentive to simplify and shorten the process is clear.

That debt and family courts in the UK have been among the first to actively refine processes is no accident.

Wither the Publishing Brands?

Effectively all of the brand building and reinforcement efforts of the past two decades have simply been preparation for this challenge. But there are really no guarantees. At their simplest the big brands carry a degree of trust among the professionals they serve. The owners of them have to prove that they can hold the clients’ collective hands through the transitions ahead and if they get it right, they will be established for another decade, possibly another two centuries.

While the global brands may see Oracle or SAP as rivals, here is where the fight gets real as a software business process team (albeit a big one) are as likely to have the wherewithal to deliver v3.0 in legal IT as the legal developer brands or publishers.

It is not even clear that the Ministry would automatically think of Elite or Lexis as a first port of call were they to automate the Supreme court processes – but they should – and thankfully – they have. Legal information services teams are finally in position to deliver some real process improvements.

Red Flags

You really can’t blame the futurists for keeping their head down on this one. Nobody in their right mind would step up even if the governmental decision makers who could tackle it could be fitted into one room. It’s a career graveyard for civil servants and major project IT teams alike.

All the red flags for a major cock-up are also very visible.

The departments involved in the administration of justice have been chopped and changed from 2003 and 2007 most recently, but horse trading is the order of the day in the administration of justice when it covers everything from family courts and mental health to crime.

In the UK the Secretary of State for Justice and the Lord Chancellor are combined positions. They share pieces of constitutional policy with the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. There are still big grey areas with the Home Office. A different Minister deals with criminal justice to the courts and tribunal service; legal aid responsibility is split and civil liberties responsibility is shared.

That’s before you even get to the fact that legal systems are different throughout the devolved regions, nobody’s quite sure what Lords Lieutenant are still meant to be for, and the Plantagenet legacies of Crown dependencies such as Jersey are also still rattling around.

Whisper it quietly, but the fact that things are so complex is accidentally doing us all a favour. Progress is being made piecemeal by the people who really need to get it done, on small budgets with very specific targets in mind.

US Experience

There is always concern among the IT fraternity that the disciplines, especially in business process management are simply not well enough understood or established among court staff. This is decreasing, significantly, but another example of why it may matter less that it seems comes from the US.

The case and matter management system of the Phoenix Municipal Court covered 300 staff, some 30 courts and 350,000 cases, including 80k criminal cases. They started redesigning the process from a data flow approach, not technically a BPM one, but it worked all the better for that. It delivered structure and flexibility in sentencing order, a major perceived benefit and cost saving. “Easy” wins were the automatic checking of many routine and compliance issues in bulk overnight, typically.

Automatic rule based scheduling adjustments based on missed, foreshortened or elongated timings reduced wastage, and “loopholes” were eliminated on time barring, etc. This “journey” has stretched from the 90’s and Y2K days to now, and is ongoing. The next generation CMS is aiming to make the process entirely paper free. Perhaps most interestingly, the US is not streets ahead of the UK here despite easier access to and proximity to bleeding edge tech.

In the UK, the The Crown Court automation project is tackling the legacy Crest and Xhibit IT systems. The Family courts are duly next in line as part of the Royal Courts move after their 2014 re-launch removes many of the structural anomalies that make all IT projects problematic.

Parallel Initiatives

GCs “went native” before Dotcom and successive recessions since have reinforced that. Where a legal process can be reduced to a data exchange, commercial interests have long sought to automate it. To do that they need standards, and that is where LEDES comes in. Legal Electronic Data Exchange is as dry as it sounds, and actually very parochial in application currently; but is has profound implications. If you don’t know what LEDES is, you need to find out.

In a sense it is the other driver to the public purse cost saving one. Courts cannot afford inefficiencies. Clients have long ago lost patience with even getting into that ring. GRC teams are not waiting for what law firms and even courts are prepared to put up with. Another acronym, UTBMS contains all the elements most likely to scare lawyers – a uniforms, task-based management system.

Combined these deliver for buyers of legal services a series of codes classifying the legal services performed by any law firm. GCs are getting able to classify, encode and then select, automate, manage and regulate legal activities. It is important, as while there has historically been no push for lawyers to tackle inefficient court practices – arguably it has even been adding to their mystique – now there is, and the emperors clothing is being stripped away one process at a time.

Kicking and polishing

Many, many years ago a canny old litigator who helped me transfer the first Chancery case to the newly established jurisdiction in Bristol explained over his Rumpolesque glass of claret and bulging waist-coat, that there are two types of litigator. First, there are those who spend all their time polishing the machine that is the justice system. It has taken years to build, it has many nuances, checks and balances, and it is maintenance heavy – deliberately so. These guys are crucial or the system will fall over. It is brittle and cumbersome, arcane and untouchable.

And then there are the guys who just keep kicking the damned thing to make it work, as they try to get the shiny, vintage, often effete, steam powered monstrosity to produce any kind of result at all. It is the latter who get the whip hand in the next stage of the process – the development of V3.0.

The polishers have had their chance – decades, even centuries of it – and justice is not being served any more than cost effectiveness is.

Game On

That Thomson have led the way in tackling v3.0 is absolutely fantastic – not just for them, but for everybody (yep; Lexis, BNA, Advanced Legal, Eclipse, etc included). A small £5m case management project is not winning the battle – the Ministry simultaneously outsourced £36m in application development, £19m in wide area networks and even £1m in digital forensics. But finally Publishers and legal IT teams can step up here and push the Oracle, SAP, Capita and Siemens tanks off their metaphorical lawn.

The judiciary trust their brands. The shared understanding, professionalism, and experience can and should save vast amounts of time and money. Should the industry drop this ball or the MoJ still go it alone, there is a very real risk that the publishers are cut out, or in effect relegated to a rarely used F1 back-up button. And we didn’t go through the pain of all that digitisation just to drop the baton on this corner, surely.

The first £5m has gone to Taylor-Martin and Thomson Reuter’s C-Track team. It is but 1% of the potential of the market impact. All that product line extension, digitisation, workflow enablement, application development, and replatforming was not in vain.

Whisper it quietly, perhaps. There’s no furore from academia or the futurists. Silence can be golden. No sages are deterministically railroading or leading thoughts here. But make no mistake. This little project in the UK Royal Court is as crucial a piece of economic news as the first judge allowing a reporter to sit in court and summarise a copy of his judgment centuries ago. On these small process pinch-points empires arise. Twenty years ago the smart money would have been on SAP getting it. Ten years ago, Lexis would have been the safe bet. That Thomson Reuters have it now is to their credit. Being a market leader entails burdens and responsibilities; not dropping this ball is about as big as it gets.

[This article was originally published in the NED journal Q2 2014 in a series from 2013 on Digitisation. The NED journal is only available to NED subscribers on subscription.]

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