Industry interview with Aderant: Front runner
This blog post was also featured as an industry interview in the July 2016 issue of Briefing. To read the issue in full, download Briefing.
One of the biggest overarching trends in technology for legal business is the placement of greater power in the hands of those closest to the business coming through the door every day. Fee earners know they need to have more transparent and collaborative conversations with clients. For that they need easier, faster access to the most up-todate information on how work is really happening.
Software providers must respond to that drive above all others – and for Aderant the hiring, in 2014, of Chris Cartrett as senior vice president of strategy and growth is a clear sign of its ongoing commitment.
“I was especially fortunate to arrive at a time when we had embarked on a strategy of investing very heavily in front-office focused applications that can help lawyers to work much more efficiently,” he says. “I was excited to be joining a very strong company anyway, but a lot of new products were ready to roll out when I arrived, so the timing really couldn’t have been better.”
Power of three
Aderant has also enjoyed eight consecutive quarters of record growth since then, as Cartrett and his team have evolved both products and processes to help firms focus on this fee earner-centric future.
“If you take something like billing, in the past it was very much treated as a back-office function,” he explains. “Our top goal is always to help clients speed up WIP to cash, but we’re now seeing much more front- and back-office integration, and even collaboration between firms and clients.”
Collaboration, he says, is one of three big trends that should be shaping firms’ technology choices to stay competitive in the market come 2020.
“For example, clients are calling for greater transparency about how matters progress, so the firms are demanding more analysis to gain a deeper understanding of their matters. One big area of investment for Aderant is in collaborative pricing tools. Those are already proving an extremely successful driver of our business.”
The second trend sounds more back-office – but the result, again, is a set of tools that lawyers can use to improve their individual efficiency at work.
“Profitability is under new strain, so firms also need to automate more processes – breaking a business process or piece of work into smaller steps, and deciding which could be done more efficiently in a more standardised way.”
And lastly, firms want their lawyers to have access to all of these tools more of the time – true mobility. “They need access to information and workflows, wherever they are, whenever they’re needed,” says Cartrett.
A good illustration of the trends converging is the company’s new billing application, coming in autumn 2016. Financial progress is one of the most obvious examples of where a firm’s clients may well want to collaborate and have more insight into a process.
“There hasn’t really been a new billing application for around eight years,” says Cartrett. “But whether it’s new demands concerning e-billing or complex split billing arrangements, firms are challenged to meet client demands and they’ve often responded by creating custom processes outside the billing desktop. We’ve therefore overhauled our billing application, as well as introducing new mobile features, to help them move forward.” This is available to all Aderant Expert clients as regular maintenance, with no need for data conversion, he explains.
However, Aderant isn’t just investing in developing new products. Cartrett has also recognised a need for it to invest more in people. “We want new customers to select us because they genuinely recognise how happy existing clients are,” he says. “For that we need to invest in their experience with us as strategically as we invest in products.”
For example, he has established a new network of ‘client experience teams’, who offer firms more support for increasing their levels of technology adoption. These are people whose sole job is to help a firm’s people understand the software it has already bought, he says. “They set up in a spare conference room, and lawyers can walk through the door, quickly download an app and receive an instant tutorial.”
This team also offers more strategic advice. “A common obstacle to productivity is where a firm doesn’t upgrade to take advantage of new apps in time,” he says. “The client experience team can advise on optimum scheduling to solve this.” Overall the business improves its asset management, with less last-minute urgency.
But Aderant collaborates with its clients throughout the relationship – including at the very outset. A ‘product innovation committee’ of user firms offers input on new projects upfront before giving regular feedback as a product develops. A diverse range of firms come together (over 40 in the case of the new billing app) to ensure each change reflects the right real-world business challenges.
Clients then have more confidence that they can implement the IT investment to best effect, says Cartrett. “They really have some skin in the game, and that improves adoption. Our business has achieved impressive growth – but I firmly believe the key to that is customers feeling as though they’re very much part of the full process.”
Of course, whatever the future brings, firms need confidence that they can implement new technology and processes with minimum disruption and see a rapid return on their investment. Time to initial implementation is always crucial, says Cartrett. “Not only can Aderant boast a record zero ‘failed implementations’, but we’ve also been able to move clients over from top competitors, where they’ve failed to complete the implementation, and bring them live within 12 months – that’s huge ROI.”
More consistent process in areas such as documentation helps, but he says success is largely down to the software (especially app access) easing upgrades.
It’s clear that investing in collaboration and agility is as integral to Aderant’s growth strategy as it is to the strategies of firms it’s helping to push forward into the future.