I recently posted that SAP appears to be entering the legal market. John Alber, technology partner at Bryan Cave and author of the outstanding article Delivering Actionable Information To Front-Line Lawyers, thinks SAP or any other Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for law firms is overkill. 

“More than one large law firm has now adopted an ERP. I’m not sure how these sales happened–who told whom what, but I seriously question whether these firms looked at the alternatives. Had they done so, I doubt they would have chosen an ERP. First, these firms have no idea how difficult and culturally jarring adopting an ERP can be. IT literature and lore is rife with horror tales of ERP implementations gone bad. They can be managed to a successful completion, but doing so requires looking at your business from the ground up and being prepared to change some fundamentals to make the ERP work. It’s one thing for an ISO 9000 company to undertake such disruption. It’s quite another for a law firm to do so. I don’t know any law firm that has the systems and processes in place to make an ERP work.

A decade ago, you might have been able to make a case for trying an ERP, because there were no alternatives. Nowadays, with the advent of powerful and relatively easy to implement data warehousing tools, I don’t see any reason for a law firm to adopt an ERP. It is far better to rationalize and smooth the data flows from existing applications (accounting, HR, conflicts, new matters, etc.) and then pull them into a warehouse. Modern data warehouses can integrate data from all enterprise applications and afford far more flexibility than an ERP, all at a minute fraction of the cost of an ERP. Our own financial dashboard is a great example of that. Front line lawyers get key performance information about their clients and matters presented in a way they can understand. We didn’t have to spend millions to get that, quite the contrary. Moreover, we now have a powerful and very flexible warehouse that we can use for all kinds of purposes.”

By the way, John took about a decade off from law practice to be CEO of a transportation software company, so he has pretty good perspective on business, law, and systems.