Linklaters’ billing held up by new IT system

Linklaters‘ chief executive Jim Wadia admitted last week that the firm had not processed a single bill in May on its new SAP IT system, which began rolling out last month.

Wadia claimed it had always been the firm’s plan not to bill in May.

“The bills up to our 30 April year end went out in the usual way,” he said. “Then we told the partners that in May we wouldn’t be billing. The first bill on the new system went out on 3 June and since then we’ve been ramping up the number of bills processed.”

Linklaters is expected to survive a month’s blip this close to year end. Wadia,however, also denied that the firm had ramped up the number of bills processed in April. “There has been no diktat to reduce WIP [work in progress],” he claimed.

Managing partner Tony Angel also categorically denied that Linklaters’ groundbreaking new system had already run into problems. “It’s on time, to budget, and it was always going to be the case that we wouldn’t be able to get the bills out as we transfer the data from one system to another,” he said.

Linklaters is the first law firm to implement a SAP system. Traditionally firms have plumped for systems such as Elite, CSM from Solution 6 or Axxia. However, as the largest firms continue to grow, it is tougher for these legal-based systems to provide complete functionality.

As one technology specialist put it: “SAP is generally used by big businesses. The larger firms clearly now take the view that they too are global enterprises with thousands of employees and millions of pounds of turnover, usually in multi-currencies. They feel they need to scale up.”

Clifford Chance is in the process of implementing a similarly ambitious practice management system from Oracle Financials, with Keystone providing legal functionality. It will also be the first of its kind and is due to go live later this year.

Finance director Chris Merry revealed that the system was “undergoing final configuring and system testing”, but refused to comment on Clifford Chance’s investment. Industry estimates put the cost at around £10m. Law firms typically spend between 5 and 7 per cent of turnover on IT.