Aderant blazing a trail in legal

Date: 07 Mar 2008


Don Howren, Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing for Aderant, has been in the software business for twenty years and the legal world for four. Starting life as an accountant, he grew up in Virginia. He worked as an accountant as he says “for a couple of years” before heading into accounting software in 1985. His experience spans vendors valued at $2billion to start up’s and players as big-name as Sage.

Through the course of his career he got a chance to look at the legal world and has a unique view of its approach. “It was so elegantly simple what law firms do. I realised if we could increase cash cycles the results would be huge.” So when an opportunity came up at Aderant, who are known mainly for their time and billing application for law firms, he knew he wanted to be involved.

Don, who has a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, says his accountancy background helps him in his role. “I have an appreciation of what law firms do and can talk about non functional elements.” He says. “I prefer not to demo software but just talk business with clients.”

I ask about the increasing pressure on law firm tech spend and a recent appeal from one law firm practice manager for software companies to change their pricing models in a difficult economy. He doesn’t pause and responds. “I agree, the law firm business model is under assault and costs are rising. We understand we can’t raise our rates but also think law firms need to be more efficient in how they deploy technology. We’ve developed a tool kit to bring lower cost of ownership to firms because we know the IT department gets pressure if we don’t deliver a business value proposition. We need to help law firms analyse their clients and work out acceptable strategies for taking them on in fast and smart ways. I only need five bits of data for instance to get key indicators about whether the firm is on track financially. We want to teach clients the time, not how the watch works.” He says repeating a phrase that I imagine is often used.

Talking about their business intelligence offering, Don says: “For some firms BI is just a better way to distribute data but I always ask what the context of the data is and what the firm is trying to accomplish before we sell to them. Lawyers are very smart but the drawback is that the law is risk adverse.” Don think this creates a challenge for IT staff and business heads making a business investment in IT. “If it goes bad, the finger gets pointed at IT. It means the risk /reward of changing systems is hard. IT Directors would sometimes rather jump out of a window than buy a new app’. He says. And I suspect he is only half joking.

2007 was a great year for Aderant, says Don and with their new UK law firm, Farrer & Co deal announcement, it must be building up for a pretty sexy 2008. “We’ve really built the foundations for success and standards going forward.” Says Don. We want to embrace Microsoft using their workflow foundations at the core, to bring prices down. Our products are embedded in Office which means they are waiting ready to use and only fee paying when you deploy them. Says Don. “Its all part of our maintenance contract and client don’t have to do anything but the maintenance.”

Aderant have stopped concentrating on ways to sell to clients and are increasing free elements on offer, particularly on updates. Multi year maintenance contracts are also on the table. “We know budgets are tight and we’ve got to focus on our value proposition but if we increase efficiency in IT and slash billing then we think we can help balance internal tech budgets.”

And his final shot? “Aderant works. You can go live in less than a year. We have successful go-lives on time and on budget.”

We have different scales for a firm in the Netherlands compared to a big City law firm. We always ask how many IT staff law firms have so that we can see if our applications can be rolled out effectively.

When I joined we needed to review Microsoft to galvanise in our strategy. We are the only legal vendor doing that. We are building industry standards. It makes life easier because there are no vendor changes.(Aderant partner with Flosuite and Metastorm still).

Clients see a Microsoft future. We aren’t a tech company, more a business strategy one. We get our tech from Microsoft and spend more time looking at data, like how much is it actually costing the firm if an associate leaves.

Issues for law firms

“We are all involved in a people business but our human capital assets walk out the door every night. Work life balance is very important to retain staff now. Our consultants are all over the world. When they hit burn out we rotate people to rest them. Business of law is changing. New attorneys v old. They all approach stuff differently. Free agent mindset.

We have great support stats. Clients know when they have an issue that there is someone there with high quality expertise to help. Need to be really focused. Its the time beyond the dating stage.

Good support mentality. Long term costs of ownership, Year over year benefit of the app. World class support. We minimise business risk. Minimise disruption. One firm did it over a weekend. Its fast but doesn’t disrupt the engine of the firm.

New wins: Wragge. “Great user group with their own website.”

Aderant has 250 people. 11% increase in market share. Don participates in board meetings. Did their largest deal in 2007.

Don surfs and golfs.

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