Clifford Chance and Microsoft plan new dawn for legal market IT

Million-pound joint venture allows Microsoft way into the legal sector

Clifford Chance is targeting significant cost savings with the launch of a technology platform backed by Microsoft.

The magic circle firm has been working with the ­technology giant, which is considering a concerted push into the global legal market, for several months.

It is mulling plans for a new document management system (DMS) based on Microsoft’s SharePoint software suite of products,
a package contained in Microsoft Office.

IT specialists claim the increased functionality of a SharePoint-based system, coupled with the savings derived from buying a
one-off licence, could mark a seismic shift in the legal technology market.

“The quality of the Microsoft product set is ­constantly evolving and there’s no way a firm can ­dismiss this as an option,” said Derek Southall, head of strategic development at Wragge & Co.

Last week Lewis Silkin became the first top 100 firm to launch a SharePoint-based DMS system, known as Excalibur. The widely well-received product ­utilises IP devised by Lewis Silkin’s ­in-house ­technology team.

Unlike Excalibur, Clifford Chance’s deal with Microsoft is understood to involve the software company funding the development of the new platform in exchange for the kudos of working with the UK’s largest law firm.

Clifford Chance would not comment on industry speculation that the project has cost in excess of £1m so far, but did confirm the ­business relationship, which it added was “early in the development stage”.

“Microsoft and Clifford Chance have signed a joint partnership to develop a matter-centric DMS, the first of its kind in the legal ­industry,” the firm said in a statement last week.

The firm would not ­comment on whether it had decided to replace its ­current DMS provider, Open Text, with Microsoft’s new system.
Simmons & Simmons director of business transformation Abby Ewen said the use of SharePoint for a variety of functions was becoming increasingly ­common among firms.

“We launched our new intranet on SharePoint 2010 in December, and our new website, which we recently put out to tender, will ­probably also be on it,” Ewen said. “We believe it will become a ubiquitous part of the infrastructure.”

That potential ubiquity has raised questions among IT specialists about the extent of Microsoft’s ambition in the legal market.

“Microsoft’s known for having partners and then swallowing them to get ­market share,” said one UK law firm IT director. “This is something they’re obviously going after, and not apparently with much stealth.”