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News Analysis

West Acquires ProLaw: The Implications

By Ross Kodner

IT'S BEEN a year of surprises on the case management front. Last January, Lexis-Nexis and Time Matters announced their alliance. Then in August, just as the LawNet sessions convened in Palm Springs, West Group revealed its acquisition of Provolution Corp. (d.b.a. ProLaw Software).

West Group president Michael Wilens
West Group president Michael Wilens
We all know LexisNexis and West Group, the two titans who battle for our hearts, minds and legal research dollars. But there's a difference today. Perhaps pushed by the encroachment of the Internet and the increasing diversity in free research resources, both companies have moved to remake themselves. LexisNexis, for example, acquired Plumtree Technologies and has assimilated and offered its portal technology to the legal market.

West Group also has been busy. They acquired FindLaw.com, the popular legal Web base. There's FirmSite (Web design); Workspace (Extranet and collaboration services); LegalEdCenter (online CLE). Perhaps most visible: the WestWorks project that hasn't quite found its legs.

Time Matters, from Data.TXT Corp., is a mature product that has captured a significant segment of the case management market, from solos to larger firms scaled upwards on its SQL-based Time Matters Enterprise product. It integrates with a number of billing and accounting systems, including Timeslips from Sage U.S., PCLaw from Alumni Computer Group, TABS III from Software Technology, Inc. and Juris of Juris, Inc. The strategic connection between Lexis and TimeMatters involves the offering of a Lexis-ized version that connects research content to case files. It offers one-search capability across both internal documents and LexisNexis, as well as the ability to save excerpts (cite lists, opinions, etc.) from LexisNexis research sessions along with comments/-notes within an electronic case file.

ProLaw software has been around in various forms since the late '80s. The integrated application connects "front office" and "back office" systems into a single, cohesive program, mixing billing and accounting functions with case information management, document management and e-mail connectivity.

A one-stop shop of legal software. ProLaw has built a solid name for itself, not to mention base of users, in the larger end of the small firm market, ranging up to some of the largest firms in the U.S.

Until the introduction of the latest release of STI's CaseMaster 10 case management system, which integrates directly with STI's TABS III billing and accounting suite, ProLaw was alone in being a complete integrated system.

Not Surprising?

In the wake of the less-than-enthusiastic reception of WestGroup's ASP play into the case management market, WestWorks, the purchase of ProLaw, ultimately, isn't surprising. The rumor mill was rife with speculation that West was shopping for an established case manager it could leverage, but everybody thought a small firm case manager was the target. Instead, WestGroup aimed high and scored, bagging a far bigger trophy than anyone expected.

Bill Bice, ProLaw's C.E.O., says that the new connection is a "natural."

"West's financial power allows us to grow with less risk," said Bice at LawNet. The company wants to capitalize on the success of its "Lawlapalooza" tour last year, and beef up its small and mid-sized firm roster, he said. ProLaw, says Bice, also may launch a certified consultant program.

His competitors insist the acquisition will benefit the marketplace.

Dan Berlin
Dan Berlin
Dan Berlin, president of Software Technology, Inc., the publisher of the CaseMaster 10, says the purchase "will help generate more awareness of the need for case management as the system that will drive the firm's day-to-day practice of law. We see this as a positive for us."

Ron Collins, president of Toronto's Gavel & Gown Software, publishers of Amicus Attorney, agrees, noting that only about 25 percent of lawyers use case management software.

Berlin says the case management market is today where the time-and-billing market was 10 to 12 years ago.

"Competition makes for better products and service. The legal market has benefitted by having several major players in time-and-billing. The same will hold true for case management."

"The market is too big and too demanding to think that the West acquisition of ProLaw makes the case management market a two-horse race." says Berlin.

But Abacus Data Systems president Judd Kessler sees things differently. "The side benefit is, anytime a big, slow organization that can't do it right on their own after spending millions of dollars finally throws in the towel and buys out a little entrepreneurial company that is successful, it's one less entrepreneurial competitor to worry about."

Predictions:

Here's what you can expect as a result of the two alliances:

1. Both TimeMatters/Lexis-Nexis and ProLaw/WestGroup will succeed -- perhaps wildly.

2. The competition between these four now-intertwined companies will raise the standard in case management product design and functionality, force reasonable pricing because of the competition, force competition based on offering the best service -- a very positive event for case management consumers.

3. WestWorks . . . R.I.P. (or morphing into some ProLaw-esque thing that fits into the smallest firm segment).

4. For systems integrators and consultants: WestGroup/ProLaw will come a'knockin on your door -- they're gonna need help. On which side do you align? Or will the smart folks offer both approaches? Interesting questions.

5. The new market dynamics will help push the adoption of case management systems. That's a very good thing for law firms who could benefit significant from such systems as well as a good thing for the whole panoply of case management system vendors.

Ross Kodner is president of MicroLaw Inc., based in Milwaukee, and a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board.

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