In my prior post, I reported that Linklaters is building its own knowledge management software. Reading this article prompted me to think about the decision to make versus buy software, a decision most organizations face. Law firms and law departments are no different.

For many categories of software, the decision is obvious. It’s hard to imagine “making” e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation software. But for many software categories, the decision is less obvious. For example, some law firms have created their own document management software and some law departments have created their own matter management systems even though commercial products are available for both.

As a general rule, there are seveal reasons why I believe it is better to buy than to make:

  • Vendors typically develop deeper expertise than any one customer can.
  • Vendors have incentives to keep products current, both by introducing new features and updating them so that they work with new operating systems or new versions of companion software.
  • Vendors are better positioned to provide support and maintenance.
  • Developing software is not an easy process and most law firms and law departments are not structured to facilitate the process. Keeping internal developers focused on a project in the face of competing demands (development or maintenance) can be hard. Furthermore, documenting home grown systems sometimes never happens.
  • Nonetheless, there are times when developing software makes sense. For example, it may be less expensive because an organization will only create a fraction of the features that the vendor choices provide. Or the needs of the customer may be unique and tailoring the vendor product not worth the effort.

    It would be interesting to know what drove Linklaters to make rather than buy.