Law firms make good money drafting contracts. Absent a dispute, however, executing a contract ends a law firm’s business on that contract. That has long struck me as a lost opportunity. Why only set up the rights and obligation; why not also track and help enforce them?
In my 2004 post Embedded Law Systems, I asked why law firms don’t help companies manage their contracts. The answer seems to be that law firms don’t view contract management as legal work or, if it is, as too low margin.
Times are changing – Scottish law firm Brodies recently developed and released contract lifecycle management software BOrganised. I recently spoke with partner Grant Campbell and commercial manager Ed McElroy to learn more about it.
Grant joined Brodies in the mid-1990s, was elected partner in 2000, and previously served on the management committee. His practices focuses on tech, outsourcing, procurement, and commercial services. As a lawyer advising on commercial contracts, he saw that clients were not properly managing contracts. So the BOrganised idea comes from his client experience. The firm hired Ed, with a background in financial services and product development, to help develop the commercial offering.
Overview of BOrganised Contract Management Software
The firm spent four years and invested considerably to develop BOrganised, which is built on Dot.Net and MySQL. It is delivered as a web service because the firm found most clients prefer not running more software on their own systems. It was launched commercially in the fall of 2014. It helps subscribers manage executed contracts; by design, it does not offer contract drafting or workflow features.
Users upload an executed contract and then enter information such as the parties, effective date, term, key contract terms, and a summary. Data entry occurs across several tabs in a straight-forward web interface. Users can also link to other contracts and indicate whether a document is a master service agreement, statement of work, amendment, or a stand-along agreement. Subscribers can configure numerous options, including granular user permissions.
Software features include notification of key contract events, easy searching and reporting, and forums to discuss issues concerning the contract (for example, how it is being executed). The firm is planning to launch a major revamp of the user interface shortly.
Why the Firm Developed Contract Lifecycle Management Software
I asked why the firm developed its own contract life cycle management (CLM) software, noting that clients can choose from many mature, commercial-off-the-shelf products. From a competitive perspective, Grant cites Brodies deep credibility in contracts and commercial legal support. This perspective gives the firm a leg up over commercial software developers. “We are not just another IT supplier; we have a deeper relationship with clients based on carefully developing our firm brand over many years.” says Grant.
From a functional perspective, Grant points to the focus and simplicity of BOrganised. As a practicing lawyer, Grant frequently helps clients acquire CLM software. He reports clients typically buy systems with “huge functionality that capture all sorts of data”. He observes buyers succumb to the temptation to populate all the data to enable all functions. That sounds great in principle he says, but in practice, capturing all the data is quite burdensome. That leads to two distinct dangers. First, users take short-cuts rather than enter all the data. That means information about contracts can be wrong. And second, there can be so many features that users miss using the critical ones.
Keeping the system simple also helps with wider adoption he says. The CLM advocates are never the only stakeholders. They must bring on board many others, first to license, then to use CLM. Keeping CLM simple – and having a law firm involved – encourages broader adoption.
To keep BOrganised simple, the Brodies development team was mindful to cover the basics well and offer flexible configuration options but not go overboard. The software makes loading contracts fast and offers a simple approach to key functions.
Grant points out that CLM penetration is still low, so there are abundant greenfield opportunities. He regularly finds even large organizations have no purpose-built CLM. Instead, they operate with a patchwork of systems, often just spreadsheets and Outlook. They may think they are good at managing contracts. But reality often belies the perception: contract management is often the work of a couple of people, from memory. So BOrganised is often the first CLM system a company buys. For them, even a system with relatively simple functionality is big step forward.
We can debate whether BOrganised portends more law firm software or is merely an outlier. I, for one, though, expect more, based on the rise of law firm R&D units (granted, I do feel vindicated that – finally – a law firm is offering CLM service). I also view BOrganised as a great example of software that creates sticky client relationships. When a law firm does a client’s commodity or run-the-company work, it stands a good chance of getting any related high-stakes or bet-the-company work.