Ever since Legal Tech ” was born to the world “, more and more providers of related programs advertise with the product description to represent an innovative “platform solution”.
But what does “platform” mean in concrete terms and why is it so important as a software provider to provide such a solution?
“What is a “platform” in the context of digitization?
First, a difference should be made between the context in which the term “platform” is used.
Platforms in the B2C market
In B2C (Business-to-Consumer) business, the term “platform” is generally used to describe a central ” one-stop shop” on the Internet where services of a specific category are bundled and offered.
The best known examples outside the legal market are Amazon (as the “sales platform”) or comparison portals such as Check24.de.
A number of such “platforms” have also been created for legal (advisory) services, e.g. flightright.de for handling compensation payments in the event of delays in flight traffic or anwalt.de and advocado.de for mediating lawyers via the web. Most recently, Lexfox drew attention to its investment in the mid-million range in order to establish a platform for legal advice in labor law, tenancy law and general consumer law.
Platforms in the B2B market
For providers of software solutions in the B2B (Business-to-Business) segment, i.e. with the target customers being law firms and legal departments of companies, the term “platform” means something different.
In this area, the term is strongly technologically coined and is intended to express that, when using a platform application, either different solutions from one provider work together perfectly and that this software was designed and developed to communicate with programs from other manufacturers via standardized interfaces.
This article focuses on platforms in the Business-to-Business market.
Relevance of platform technologies in the context of the digitization of law firms and legal departments
Is it important at all whether a LegalTech solution can be used as a platform for other applications, or whether a program is “platform-compatible”, i.e. can work with platform offerings from third parties?
Short answer: Absolutely yes!
Not so long ago (…don’t worry that there will be no history of the Brothers Grimm) almost all software solutions for legal advice were developed as “monolithic blocks”, i.e. the user had to live with the functionalities which had been implemented by the manufacturer of the program. If something was missing, then users were dependent on the ” mercy ” of the provider to (hopefully) integrate the desired features in a later version.
Even worse than the dependency on the function implementation, however, was the fact that due to the lack of standard interfaces, it was practically impossible to combine different programs. As a result, each application had its own “solution “, and in particular used its own data storage, keyword: “data silos“.
This caused, for example, that after creating a new mandate in the case management system of a law firm, the case data, processors and access rights had to be entered manually once more in the document management system (DMS) of another provider, since both solutions did not communicate with each other or did not communicate sufficiently with each other.
Every change to the project data and/or participants also had to be tracked manually in both systems.
This not inconsiderable additional effort was so far mostly just justifiable, since the number of programs in use in the individual law firms or legal departments was “manageable” (mostly “only” file management programs and DMS).
Since in the future, however, different software tools with “pointed”, i.e. very special areas of use, will be used more and more frequently in the context of digitization, the additional effort for multiple data storage will become uneconomical and thus unacceptable.
As can often be heard and read at relevant conferences and in articles on the subject of ” digitizing the legal market ” on the web, the use of new technologies in legal advice requires a careful analysis of internal work processes, otherwise a “bad analogue work process becomes a bad digitized work process“.
Identifying the status quo
In addition to these analyses on an organizational level, I believe that the existing IT infrastructure and software landscape should also be examined with regard to “platform suitability” as part of the preparatory measures and, if necessary, possible solutions to any deficits discovered should be sought.
A possible (very rough) checklist for determining suitability should include the following questions in particular:
- Which user management system is used in the law firm/company (e.g. Single-Sign-On (SSD), Active Directory, Azure AD)?
- Which software applications are already available and which interfaces do they have (e.g. SOAP, REST)?
- Which is the leading application in the context of mandate processing?
By “leading system” is meant the application which has (or should have) “data sovereignty” over the majority of all case-relevant information.
- Which authentication and authorization mechanisms are supported by the “leading” applications for connecting third-party programs (e.g. user password, OAuth/OpenID)?
- Which interfaces for data exchange are available and in which format (e.g. JSON, XML, CSV, Excel) is the information offered (is there any documentation for this at all)?
- What adjustments are likely to be necessary in terms of interfaces and connections in the short, medium and long term, and what resources can be accessed (software manufacturer, software companies authorized by the manufacturer, internal development department, external consultants)?
Benefits of a platform check
With the use of such an inventory, the decision-making process within the scope of selecting suitable LegalTech solutions at the technical level is considerably simplified, as the test period of an ” intended application” can already be better planned, prepared, carried out and evaluated.
If the interfaces between the applications (office software and LegalTech solution) are known and available, they can be activated already in the test phase, which considerably increases the practical relevance of the evaluation (nothing is worse than a test in the “parallel universe”, which has little in common with daily work).
If the necessary connections are still missing, then the provider and the law firm know how to classify this to a realistic extent when assessing the test setup and can qualify the expected implementation costs of the software introduction more validly.
Possible consequences of the results of a platform check
If a review of the current IT and software landscape comes to the conclusion that data exchange with software solutions from legal tech providers is practically impossible at the present time because the software used does not provide “out-of-the-box” interfaces, this is unsatisfactory, but fortunately not a reason to dig a new grave for the topic of “digitization” (would not bring anything either, it won’t go away ;-)).
If the manufacturer of the applications used so far cannot be convinced to open the software to the necessary extent for communication, there are some companies that can implement such a connection option – authorized by the software provider.
If you cannot get any further along this path, then you should seriously promote a change / exchange of the software used so far to solutions that have the necessary interfaces.
The applications of the future are based on modular components that cannot be used without extensive interface connections.
This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)