Legal technology platforms, including PaaS, explained.
When you’re closing in on the end of your second decade doing something, as I am in the legal technology field, you’re going to experience many transformations. And I think it’s safe to say that, in the field of technology, the pace of change is not dissimilar to the springtime waters of the Copper River in Alaska when salmon swim into the rushing rapids — a lot of effort to travel a short distance to achieve a critically important goal.
One of the keys to my job is using my virtual technology crystal ball to anticipate trends so that I’m able to deliver useful, innovative products to the clients of my law firm. I hope some of the methodologies outlined below can help you do the same.
Setting The Scene
Tanenbaum Keale LLP is a litigation boutique (25 lawyers) focused on the defense of mass tort and products liability matters. We are virtually a 100% cloud-platform based law firm, a platform which affords us numerous opportunities to deliver technology-based services to our clients, helping them to streamline workflows and gain various efficiencies throughout the legal process.
Xerdict Group LLC offers cloud-based, hosted collaboration systems in areas such as sophisticated case management, cost tracking, calendaring and document repositories, helping our clients to connect and work together in a more collaborative and productive manner.
Now, you may wonder how I ended up in a fairly unique role working in different types of advanced technology in the legal field. Well, from 1998 to 2002, I supported the Corporate Legal Department at Bristol-Myers Squibb. While there, we worked on many breakthrough projects deploying case management systems within the company’s technology platform (more on that later). I developed an interest in the area, and many contacts outside the company, and ultimately started walking down a path which led me to some very innovative legal minds with whom I partner with today.
Our technologies at Xerdict form the backbone of a very exciting, emerging legal management model that continues to gain momentum in the industry today. While we manage individual matters for clients, we, more significantly, help our clients with tracking and reporting needs associated with much larger case loads (ten of thousands or hundreds of thousands of matters). In today’s world, data management across a case portfolio is now front and center in the eyes of our clients, and thus we strive to develop different analytical capabilities to support the various questions posed by our end-users.
What are some of these needs?
- Projecting litigation or settlement costs for a CFO
- Providing supporting details for large insurance claims
- Providing substantiation for corporate financial reporting
- Providing analytical tools and reports to help with complex settlement and resolution negotiations
How do we do this? At Xerdict, we’ve developed methods of customizing and deploying software quickly and efficiently to clients by implementing configuration models not dissimilar to those located within robust enterprise software tools like SAP or the Salesforce Lightning Platform. Additionally, everyone at Xerdict who supports our clients is an expert in constructing reports, either via our query manager or writing SQL-based code. And, of course, I and others working to support Xerdict are business process experts in the legal industry.
It’s a fascinating area within the legal technology space. At the invitation of Legal Evolution, I have been asked to explain legal technology platforms to a smart legal audience, using the Xerdict journey as a easy-to-follow example that can illuminate both the past and (hopefully) the future of legal tech platforms.
Dynamic technology platforms: SaaS vs. PaaS
Platforms come and go. During my 18-year tenure at Tanenbaum Keale, I’ve seen many hardware configurations come on the scene as the “it” platform. These include systems hosted by clients, on-site hosting by law firms, and now the shift of working environments to cloud platforms, the applications-centric element of that approach commonly referred to as Software as a Service (SaaS). Each of these platforms are still quite useful and will continue, to various degrees, to be part of how we solve our business problems.
“The Next Big Thing”, as we all know, is always at the forefront of any innovative technologist’s mind. In my view, the next big thing could be Platform as a Service, or PaaS. PaaS is the deployment of legal applications within the platforms of some of the world’s largest software companies — corporations like Oracle, Salesforce, Amazon Web Services and SAP. The lead graphic for this post, which was produced by Salesforce, does a nice job of summarizing the difference between Traditional IT vs SaaS vs PaaS.
Why is PaaS a compelling new platform in the legal tech field? Because it enables legal service providers (like Xerdict) to host applications within the preferred architecture of the client. This enables cultural alignment with the client (a crucial step one) that, in turn, facilitates and enables economic alignment (the basis for sticky, long-term, and prosperous relationships).
The need to customize in a standards-based world
Services should be tailored. This concept may be easier to digest with an example.
Imagine a conversation where a law firm relationship partner has an awesome internally conceived technology-based service to offer your client. But when you offer the service, you’re met with some unexpected resistance. Sometimes a client can’t authorize new software licenses without the review and approval of their internal IT group. Or an extensive and time-consuming security review might be mandatory. More often than not, these become insurmountable roadblocks.
Now let’s imagine that we’ve developed the same technology-based solution for the client, but it’s been designed as a Salesforce App within the Salesforce Ecosystem/Marketplace. Well, in the year 2019, there’s a good chance the client is already a “Salesforce Company” with thousands of employees on an enterprise-wide license. All of a sudden, you’re on “their platform.” In this scenario, an implementation can easily occur by deploying some enterprise-level licenses within the Company.
Thus, we are no longer swimming upstream in the Copper River each spring in order to sell the next generation of our products. Rather, the setting for this story is a tranquil lake, a place where our product is already an approved, vetted application that will allow corporate law firm employees to instantly communicate in a close, productive environment with their colleagues in other internal business units (Sales, Marketing, R&D, Finance, etc.).
“PaaS can position law firms as thought and service leaders within the profession.”
PaaS makes it possible to sell customized legal technology solutions that fits the standards and protocols of very large and complex organizations, which is likely the client base of a large number of Legal Evolution readers.
Before we delve too much into PaaS, it would be useful to briefly review the evolution of legal technology platforms, particularly for lawyers and other allied professionals working in the legal field.
Phase I – Client Hosted
Almost two decades ago, when I first started working at Tananbaum Keale, my first assignment was supporting legal case management for a large corporation (Fortune 500) that was running its own system.
Like most large companies that produce or manufacture something, product liability litigation had become a cost of doing business. Thus, it was something that needed to be managed for both cost (litigation expense) and quality (liability to the company). To accomplish this, the client needed a better way to track cases and monitor legal expenses (by law firm, type of case, geography, etc.). In turn, it wanted to use the data to work more closely with outside counsel to obtain better and more predictable case outcomes.
The leadership of our client was exceptionally forward thinking, someone I greatly respected. It didn’t take me long to recognize that their groundbreaking ideas were a service model we could emulate and offer to our other law firm clients. Didn’t all corporate law departments need to track data and generate accurate reports for their stakeholders and partners — entities like the Finance Department, Insurers and Auditors?
The answer was, of course, a resounding “Yes.”
Phase 2 – On Prem
Essentially, that’s what led me to create a team charged with developing a legal case and cost management product on the next platform. Our law firm launched a technology subsidiary named Xerdict Group LLC and a branded product named CaseEnsembleTM to meet the needs of this new market. In the beginning, some fourteen years ago, CaseEnsembleTM was hosted in our law firm’s data center (a.k.a. on-premises or on-prem).
This wasn’t easy to accomplish. Until fairly recently, most law firms were not in the business of developing legal applications. Yet, fourteen years ago, it was essentially unheard of.
“On-Prem is slowly being phased out, but it’s still a big piece of the law firm data pie.”
Luckily, however, within Tanenbaum Keale, I was supported by the same type of innovative, forward-thinking leadership that I enjoyed for the client we supported. Together, our team developed a business plan, a prototype application outlining the services we believed were of the most value (tracking cases, common calendaring, collaboration on documents, jointly tracking and managing matters) and sold the concept to the firm leadership. Thankfully, they understood and supported what was, at the time, an innovative if not radical proposal. When Xerdict was founded, our launch point was an on-prem platform.
Things went really well for CaseEnsembleTM on that platform for several years. Perhaps if we took one giant leap and dared to frame our efforts within the context of the historic NASA period leading up to Neil Armstrong’s historic step on the moon in July 1969, this might be thought of as the Mercury and Gemini era for Xerdict. Through the company, we had the opportunity to work closely with our clients to understand their needs. This enabled us to build customized applications to improve processes, streamline workflows and generate useful collections of reports. We’d experiment, within reason, with our architecture to help improve client service. And we almost always helped clients save money, often by transferring ministerial data entry and maintenance tasks from attorneys to lower-cost professional staff within our firm.
Our clients seemed pleased with the results, as Xerdict has done well as an operating business.
Phase 3 – Cloud / Software as a Service
After a while, I began to realize that certain economies of scale resulting from our success presented technology-based opportunities to improve.
For example, our systems were on-prem, hosted in a data center within the law firm on the West Coast. We were obviously a law firm, not a 24×7 Tier 3, 4 or 5 Data Center. But increasingly, the needs emerging from clients located beyond the Continental United States presented operational challenges. We didn’t staff our data center 24×7. Thus, sometimes coverage for European clients or East Coast clients with early morning needs could be challenging.
Now, you might say that perhaps we should’ve considered that in our original infrastructure decision. While you could be right, it also might be the case that on-prem was our garage of sorts, which worked until we outgrew that framework. Just like the newlyweds who now have five kids. Things change over time.
So interestingly, for Xerdict it was concepts like service and availability, rather than client-facing system functionality, that drove us to our next platform, one where we ran our applications hosted in a certified data center with a round-the-clock operations center. That was essentially our undertaking to place CaseEnsembleTM into the Software as a Service (SaaS) model.
“The Cloud – Xerdict’s figurative One Giant Leap For Mankind.”
The SaaS platform was a true game changer for us. Continuing the space analogy, in our small world, SaaS is our Apollo program. The advantages fall into three categories, all of them accruing to the benefit of our clients: (a) better case and cost reporting, (b) superior case outcomes through sophisticated modelling and, when possible, earlier resolution, and (c) closer collaboration between clients and outside counsel that enables operational excellence in all phases of legal work.
(a) Better case and cost reporting
As a platform for CaseEnsembleTM, SaaS allows for the rapid expansion of computing resources on-demand to support our sophisticated client requirements. The customized service we receive from our hosting company, and the total control we have over our environment, is the perfect blend for Xerdict. The suite of assorted services in the SaaS hosting framework — redundant high-speed Internet connectivity, security and intrusion detection offerings, multi-level monitoring — collectively provides us with the foundational elements required to step up our product offerings in ways we never imagined.
Well, what is the practical meaning of this all technical jargon?
Well, consider one example within my firm. We have several clients with large plaintiff portfolios – numbers of matters in the thousands, tens of thousands and beyond. These clients have more sophisticated needs than most. They seek assistance generating case reports and business-intelligence type analytics to project and analyze costs. And especially since Sarbanes-Oxley, these financial and analytical reports require increasing levels of logging and backup justification to support the information that is transmitted to professional accountants and auditors and used to set reserves. Some clients use our system extracts for actuarial work performed by outside consulting firms. Each client is a bit different and there is no “one size fits all” service offering. For Xerdict, customized service is where it’s at.
That being said, it’s important to note that the sophisticated client service model is not constrained to the tracking and reporting of data relating to past events. Actually, the far more exciting aspect of a legal case and cost tracking application is the ability to use data to proactively manage cases and obtain better outcomes.
(b) Superior outcomes
What do I mean by that? As an example, Tanenbaum Keale offers a resolution counsel service supported by a number of exceptionally skilled attorneys. The goal, of course, is more favorable results sooner. So, how does this work?
Well, without exception, you have to start with great data — clean, accurate, and complete. Although we take a customized approach to each action and litigation, the underlying data architecture enables us to compile data sets from the widest possible number of relevant matters. Among the data points we may track are demographic information about each litigant, the nature and type of product at issue, court and venue information, employment history, medical history, plaintiff law firm data, settlement history and, as desired, data needed to address governmental and private liens associated with each individual plaintiff. In turn, our attorneys and other experts are provided with a framework that can model and evaluate different integrated litigation and resolution strategies that might be pursued a various points of time in litigation’s lifecycle.
How does this help better resolve matters for a client? Here’s an example of the shift from the qualitative to the quantitative world which supports more favorable outcomes.
In the “olden days,” a plaintiff attorney might make a blanket statement indicating something like “I’ve got 5,000 claims each worth $20,000, so this is a $100 million dollar portfolio.” While some might still be trying to do that, data analytics allow us to move to a data-based framework.
So, using this example, algorithms within CaseEnsembleTM can easily be applied to examine the 5,000 plaintiffs in question. We might determine, just as an example, using the product, plaintiff and medical information stored in the Oracle database within CaseEnsembleTM, that 500 of the plaintiffs might have claims worth $20,000 in settlement but the other 4,500 are far less valuable and may pose little litigation risk to the client. Although the collection and analysis of a massive amount of data may seem like a daunting task to many in-house and law firm lawyers, from the clients’ perspective, it is a problem worth solving, as millions in legal fees and settlement dollars hang in the balance.
(c) Closer collaboration
In addition to better case and cost reporting (which makes complexity more manageable) and better case modelling and analysis (which facilitates better legal outcomes), an SaaS platform enables closer collaboration between legal departments and outside counsel.
“Collaboration between corporate law and outside counsel offers tremendous opportunities for savings.”
Like many, I study the need to improve workflow and processes in the legal industry, especially between business partners like corporate law departments and their outside counsel. Yet, in the SaaS-platform era, the number opportunities has increased dramatically.
What are some of the most common examples? Sharing calendars among a client, national counsel and local counsel is an important one. When lawyers go to depositions and can post information about the deposition in a collaboration platform, it is like a mini-Salesforce type of application within the legal industry. Using workflow combined with an email notification engine triggered by system events to better manage discovery requests with different stakeholders (local counsel and company employees) is another huge win. Finally, the law firm billing process is another opportunity for improvement. I’ve constructed CaseEnsembleTM implementations for clients to assist in auditing their bills from other law firms, making sure, for example, that only approved timekeepers work on a matter, that timekeepers are billing at the agreed upon rates, and that billing rules (e.g. no billing to general matters, proper rates for expenses, caps on hours billed per day) are enforced.
A look at the Platform as a Service (PaaS) model
The SaaS model is incredibly powerful and useful. It’s perfectly suited to provide the service and scalability necessary to achieve operational excellence in all phases of litigation while also driving better case outcomes.
But now we’re seeing a new phenomenon. Within the software industry, behemoths such as SAP, Salesforce, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and others all have their eyes on dominating the software world. What is their strategy? For the most part, it is to provide a wide array of applications on their platform in an effort to increase their market share. The graphic below summarizes some of the key benefits of PaaS.
Again, recognizing the primary readership of this piece are legal professionals, not technologists, let me cite some examples to illustrate this concept.
Consider, for example, AWS. Most of us think of AWS as a cloud platform company where you can host data and servers. That’s, of course, true but they also operate an application “Marketplace” where others can place their offerings. In the end, AWS is hoping to attract more and more computing to their extensive platform via this strategy. This is akin to apps on a smartphone but for managing the complexities of global enterprises.
Another example is Salesforce. This Silicon Valley software giant is known for being the predominant software company in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) space. It has 150,000 customers with close to 4,000,000 installs, but it wants more. Many, many more.
Essentially, what this means is that Salesforce, who offers a software package relied upon by salespeople making calls and marketing people within companies, wants to expand its’ offerings. Salesforce is looking to break into other functional areas like manufacturing, finance, operations and others. Including legal!
Interestingly, Salesforce also offers a “Marketplace.” But unlike the AWS Marketplace, a location where companies host their internally developed applications, Salesforce offers an “App Store” for business users, similar to the Android and Apple App Stores we access on our mobile devices. As does SAP (primarily as an Enterprise Resource Planning – ERP – software company) and Oracle (primarily a database company). These are strategies, made via marketplaces, to recruit partner companies to facilitate expansion into different areas of the software industry.
“The Salesforce ecosystem is rich, but there is ample room to squeeze into the legal vertical.”
Salesforce’s strategy is to build functional clouds — they currently have many, including their Government Cloud, Financial Services Cloud and Health Care Cloud — to expand their market share into other functional areas where its customers have needs. But Salesforce doesn’t have a Legal Cloud — at least not yet — and therein lies the essence of the Platform as a Service (PaaS) opportunity.
Platform as a Service – Built In Advantages
As noted earlier, PaaS applications offer many significant inherent advantages. Stated in a different way, a law firm can leverage this approach to be integrated into a client’s key platform, allowing the corporate law department to easily communicate with other company stakeholders using the technologies present within an application (e.g. within Salesforce, the Chatter instant message like functionality).
It is very important to remember as we make communication “easier” that there exist some unique considerations within the legal field, including the key concept of maintaining privilege. However, skilled legal professionals are sensitive to this and will strike the right balance. Whatever the platform — think companies like Google, AWS, Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, SAP — those truly unique benefits exist. In my opinion, aligning yourself with leading software customers and large institutional buyers of legal technology is the place to be.
[Editor’s note: I recently connected with a group of law firm general counsel who are currently grappling with this very issue. On the one hand, they are being told that the operational benefits and efficiencies of the Cloud are too big to ignore, even for legal. On the other hand, these GCs are profoundly worried about protecting client data against, for example, government subpoenas. That said, Ken is right — the lawyers will have to sort this out. wdh]
Now, it is important to note PaaS is not the only innovative idea relating to marketplaces out there in the legal industry. For example, there’s an entity known as PartnerVine with a vision to help law firms host and sell their legal products. See Post 072 (explaining PartnerVine origins and business model). This is a service targeted towards the legal industry, a very interesting concept designed to pull together legal applications in a common portal. PartnerVine however, is something a bit different from the PaaS concept of offering legal software within the ecosystem of some of the world’s largest software companies.
In the end, I believe PaaS is truly a “best of both worlds” type of approach for the legal technology industry. It presents the opportunity to offer all the legal best practices honed via decades of experience in the field within the preferred platform of a large, institutional client. It’s hard to imagine an approach in today’s world with a higher ceiling — it offers both advanced legal expertise and the ability for law firms and corporate legal departments to more efficiently connect with their colleagues using the preferred software platform within their company.
Do I believe PaaS will replace cloud platform implementations? Actually, I don’t.
Certainly, PaaS offers wonderful opportunities to be tightly aligned with institutional clients, which is awesome. I know, at Xerdict, we are hoping PaaS transcends the Apollo platform analogy and becomes something even more audacious, perhaps the CaseEnsembleTM architectural equivalent of a future NASA mission to the a faraway galactic destination like the Red Planet!
But it can not be forgotten that SaaS offers the ability to be customized and the benefits of such freedom and independence, which is often the only way to deliver specialized and targeted functionality to a client.
There clearly is a place in the legal technology world for both PaaS and SaaS applications.