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US giant Microsoft is to target the UK legal market.
Next year a number of products, as yet unannounced, will be launched. They have been designed specifically for UK lawyers, rather than adapted from US software.
The move is significant as it is the first time a worldwide IT supplier has targeted the UK legal marketplace.
Although suppliers like WordPerfect have had legal packages on sale in the US for some time, they have never launched such products in the UK. This is because it is seen as a small market.
Microsoft business developer Charles Emes says the move to launch a series of co-developed products, involving UK legal software suppliers, is part of a long-term plan. "We want to show that our applications are ideal for the legal marketplace. We want to make these products better," he says.
Emes adds: "Short term, we are working with a number of developers trying to build good integration with their systems. What we'd like to do in the short term is to add value to Microsoft Office through providing an extra dimension for our legal users."
The launches are presently confidential, but they are understood to include specific modules for different types of legal work and standard legal templates.
The company is also developing its on-line network, which could affect UK on-line legal suppliers, and is also considering launching products such as accounts packages.
Emes says existing Micro-soft software already has legal applications built in. The latest version of Word has a pleadings wizard and the ability to compare documents showing alterations made.
The company has also made moves to provide services to lawyers over ISDN lines.
Law Society IT head Christina Archibold says, "It's a very good development. I think the expertise is what the legal market needs."
BDO Stoy Hayward consultant Andrew Levison agrees, but says: "It would depend a lot on the products. It will also depend on the price. It will probably make the applications cheaper for the user."