New Zealand’s market for legal practice management software is a very competitive one. Locally-based companies compete for market share with international offerings. One based in Christchurch has come into the market in the last decade, and is capturing significant market share. OneLaw focuses on delivering robust, innovative accounting and information management systems. OneLaw’s Chief Architect Doug Thomson and Sales & Marketing Manager Emma-Jane McLennan talk about their company, and the future for practice management technology.
What prompted you to produce another practice management system for the New Zealand market?
Doug Thomson: I’ve been involved in the legal tech industry since 1987, and it was in 2009 that the idea of OneLaw began. One of the most popular systems at the time was reaching the end of its useful life, and its retirement announcement prompted several practice managers to approach me. They were worried that they didn’t like any of the alternatives on the market, and given my lengthy experience in the area, they asked me to create something for them. So, between myself and my business partners we had a wealth of industry knowledge and contacts, and big opportunity on our hands. What better environment could you wish for in starting a new business?
Who did the development, when, and what were you focusing on delivering?
Doug Thomson: We wrote the first line of code in May 2009, and haven’t stopped developing since. OneLaw has used a mixture of in-house and contract developers, to eliminate key-man risk. During the design process we always draw on the wealth of experience within the OneLaw team, as well as valuable input from our customers and Law Society inspectors. When you’re developing IP it’s important to consider multiple viewpoints, and be ruthless about keeping the system simple and powerful. Our primary product design focus is on improving productivity of users.
Who makes up your market now? How many customers do you have?
Emma-Jane McLennan: Before the end of this year we will have transferred customers from every major competing system in New Zealand. We’ve currently got just under 100 firms using OneLaw, with forward installations booked to exceed this significant milestone. In the early days, OneLaw appealed mostly to small and mid-sized firms (less than 40 users or so) but as we continue to develop, the market appeal is broadening. We had a significant capital raise last year, which we are using to drive development of new functionality in the next two years. This will promote OneLaw into the mid-tier market and beyond, and we are already noticing a significant number of larger firms approaching us.
What do you see as the future challenges and developments you will need to come up with for the New Zealand legal market?
Doug Thomson: I think that there are three main challenges for law firms in the near future:
Firstly, an increase in compliance/regulatory overhead, as we have witnessed with the recent extension of AML/CFT legislation to cover law firms. We will be able to help out with smart tools to help in this area, in terms of reducing the impact, but the additional workload will have an impact on firm profitability unless fees increase.
Secondly, traditional legal services, such as conveyancing, that are transactional and very similar from matter to matter will continue to be commoditised, with increasing downward pressure on fees. We can help maintain profit margins in this area by increasing worker productivity and driving risk out of the process through automation of procedures and standardisation of output via document production and automated client communications.
Thirdly, improving worker productivity is at odds with a business model that is centred on selling time. We believe that there will be an increasing trend toward value billing and/or agreed fees for work, reducing the reliance on the timesheet. We are very well positioned in this area as it is already possible in OneLaw to record and bill value as well as time, and to automatically capture value for certain tasks, rather than relying solely on the timesheet as a measure of effort or value to the client.
You hear a lot in the market about robots replacing lawyers, but we don’t believe that at all. While automation will change the way the law industry works, there will always be space for humans. Our job is to ensure our software will serve those humans both now, and into the future.
What aspects of your product are you most proud of?
Doug Thomson: When developing software you can include all the ‘bells and whistles’ you like, but if they are buried in a complex user interface the features will not be used and your development investment will have been wasted. I believe that we have squeezed every ounce of user-benefit from our development spend.
We make sure we stick to our software and do what we do best. We’re developing a partner network to connect with other best of breed systems – for example, why would we create our own general ledger, when we could connect with Xero?
Emma-Jane McLennan: We are immensely proud of two main things: Our fantastic product, and top-notch support. These two things form the focus of our business, and the inevitable result is happy customers. It’s a simple formula.
Our customers know they can pick up the phone or email us, and they’ll get expert help quickly. There’s no massive wait time, our New Zealand-based team prioritise working with customers to ensure they are getting the most from our software. It is more of a partnership than a vendor/customer relationship.
We believe we are the first practice management system in New Zealand to offer free online resources through our new OneCommunity platform. With a single click from within the software, you will find training videos and articles, development voting, forums, complete system documentation, event signups and support ticketing. It’s a game changer.