by Charles Christian
THE long predicted shakeout within the U.K.legal systems market may have finally got underway last month when Technology for Business plc (better known as TFB) announced it had purchased rival supplier Avenue Legal Systems Ltd. The Avenue acquisition, backed by the Bank of Scotland, is TFB's second takeover in recent months. In April it bought the Scottish legal I.T. specialist CB Business Systems Ltd. TFB says the Avenue deal makes it the U.K.'s largest legal I.T. supplier, with a combined turnover of approximately U.S. $18 million, and a total client base approaching 1000 medium-to-large sized law firms. (TFB does not operate at the "City" end of the market catered for by the likes of Hummingbird International and Elite Information Systems Inc.)
There are no signs that the expansion will stop with Avenue. TFB managing director Simon Hill says the company will continue "to actively pursue further acquisition targets both in the U.K. and abroad to consolidate its position as a market leader," and hinted that the U.S., Irish, telecoms and knowledge management market sectors were all being investigated. TFB ultimately plans a public flotation on the main London stock market.
In terms of the consequences for Avenue users, TFB says it is committed to supporting the older Avenue Solomon legacy accounts and billing system for at least the next two years. Firms running the latest Avenue Wisdom system will, in the short term, benefit from TFB's extensive customer care and R&D resources, in says. In the medium term, they will be entitled to a free upgrade to the common successor system now being developed to replace the Avenue, CB and TFB ranges.
And, if you are wondering why the market could do with a shakeout -- although there are about 10,000 law firms in the U.K., only 2000 employ more than 10 people (including lawyers) yet there are about 60 systems suppliers dedicated to selling into this market.
Barristers Get ASP Service
This month saw the launch of a new service for barristers offering a virtual alternative to the traditional clerk and chambers administration system. Called Freedom 2000, it offers an ASP approach (application service provider) to the delivery of general purpose office applications, such as Microsoft Office, as well as more specialist software such as the Meridian Law Ltd. chambers and fee note system. Freedom runs on thin client technology (Citrix or WTS) enabling barristers to access it on a 24/7 basis from anywhere using relatively low specification PCs. Five sets of barristers chambers have already signed up for Freedom, although the only one to go public to-date is Clerksroom.com. This is a new virtual set that already provides some 90 barristers with online clerking, internet access to legal information databases and web based marketing services.
Tikit Floats on Stock Exchange
The legal I.T. services and consultancy company Tikit Group plc has floated on the London AIM stock exchange. (This is London's second market, the equivalent of NASDAQ.) The placing, in June, capitalizes the company at U.S. $19 million. Tikit also is well known as a distributor and integrator of U.S. based products, such as Carpe Diem and the Interface InterAction system.
Tikit's directors believe the flotation will help the company take advantage of existing opportunities for expanding its business and will also enable it to attract and retain key employees. Tikit's target market is the top 200 law firms in the U.K., which currently spend between four and seven percent of their gross annual fee income on I.T. products and services. Last year the top 100 firms alone had a total fee income of more than U.S. $9 billion, suggesting the City end of the legal market could be spending as much as U.S. $450 million a year on I.T. ( although this figure does also include staff). Last year Tikit customers included nine of the U.K.'s top 10 firms.
Changing Places at LSSA
The U.K.'s Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA is the U.K. legal I.T. industry body) annual general meeting last month saw Neil Ewin, the head of case management software supplier Solicitec Legal Systems Ltd. depart as chair after a two year stint. He's succeeded by former vice chair Alan Richardson of Norwel Ltd. Phil Snee of Linetime Ltd. is LSSA's new vice chair.
Ewin, who deserves much of the credit for establishing a better working relationship between suppliers and the English Law Society over the last couple of years, will continue to head the LSSA team to work with the Law Society on its Software Solutions Guide. LSSA also agreed to devote more resources to its XML working party after initial studies indicated that various (primarily U.S.-oriented) XML efforts, including LegalXML and LEDES, were not sufficiently relevant to lend themselves to a direct transfer to the U.K. legal I.T. market. LSSA member Solicitors Own Software Ltd is already working on an XML system for handling Legal Services Commission (the U.K. government agency that provides financial assistance to support litigation by plaintiffs who would otherwise be unable to afford to hire a lawyer) reporting requirements.
Sycamore Targets U.S.
Kaye Sycamore, the popular face of the Anglo-New Zealand legal systems supplier Keystone Solutions plc since the company launched in the U.K. in the mid-1990s, has been reassigned to the United States as part of the build up to the U.S. launch of the Americanized version of the Keystone Professional PMS product later this year. The company has also reassigned Brent Nicholson, one of its heaviest hitters from the Australia-Asian market, to support the US project.
Smith Bernal Moves into Events
To date, Smith Bernal International's name (Smith Bernal International Ltd. is now part of the Boston, Mass based WordWave Inc.) has been synonymous with court reporting and the Livenote real-time transcription system. But last month, the company launched a new joint venture with conference organizers IBC (part of Informa Group plc) that will move the company into the broader events market.
Called KeyNote Online, the service will draw on Smith Bernal's transcription and digital audio recording skills to provide conference delegates with not only the full text of conference presentations, but also copies of speakers' PowerPoint slides and searchable recordings of what was actually said at the event.
Along with providing a comprehensive record of an individual event, it offers a way for firms to build up a library of conference papers that can also be used for ongoing education purposes by non-attendees. The service, which will be accessible to subscribers via the Internet, will initially focus on intellectual property, competition, I.T. and media law conferences.
Smith Bernal's Graham Smith says the company intends to use the new Version 8 release of Livenote in the Barings Bank failure litigation, which is just getting underway in the High Court in London. Barring any last minute settlements, it should run until March 2002. Features include improved messaging services for discretely passing annotated notes between advocates and their support staff; and auto tags as an alternative to full text searching.
The company also plans a major upgrade (Version 9) for the middle of next year. This is likely to include XML and an interactive browser interface, he said.
Charles Christian is the publisher and editor of the U.K.-based Legal Technology Insider newsletter and New Media Lawyer ezine.