Just a few weeks ago, in my 2018 year-end round-up of the most important legal technology developments, I noted that it had been a banner year for investments in legal technology companies, with the total hitting $1 billion.

Now, 2019 is off to a roaring start, with news of a $200 million strategic investment in Onit, a Houston company that provides enterprise workflow products for legal management, contract management and business process automation.

The investment was made by K1 Investment Management, a Los Angeles private equity firm that specializes in investments in high-growth enterprise software companies.

Onit said it will use the investment to scale its operations to meet customer demand, enhance its platform and products, build up its marketing and sales, and develop new products. Some of the investment was used to pay off early investors, but the majority is going to future growth.

“We are very excited to partner with K1 and their significant investment in our company further demonstrates the accelerating growth trajectory for Onit,” founder and CEO Eric M. Elfman said in a statement announcing the investment. “We believe that we are clearly proving that our approach to streamlining business process – creating better workflows and not better databases – fundamentally sets us apart in the industry.”

In 2018, the largest investment in a legal technology company was the $500 million secondary investment in Los Angeles-based LegalZoom by a group of private-equity firms. The largest direct investment was a reported $100 million in Beaverton, Ore., company Exterro by New York private-equity firm Leeds Equity Partners.

K1 was also behind one of 2017’s largest legal technology investments, the $100 million combination of Litéra, Microsystems, XRef and The Sackett Group into a single business.

Onit launched nine years ago, originally as a Web-based project management tool. Elfman and cofounder Eric Smith had previously founded DataCert, a provider of matter management and legal and IP spend management for corporate legal departments that was acquired by Wolters Kluwer.

Today, it provides software for legal spend management, matter management, contract management, legal holds, legal service requests, NDAs, and sales account management.

Onit produced a podcast in which Elfman provides details on the investment and what it means for Onit. Listen below.

I noted in an earlier post that the free Web-based project management tool Onit was preparing to launch a paid, premium version aimed at enterprise-level users. This week at LegalTech it did just that, introducing Onit Premium, an enhanced version of the free product designed specifically for corporate legal departments.

At the same time, Onit co-founder and CEO Eric M. Elfman reaffirmed what he had told me before, which is that Onit’s free version will remain free. “What you get in Onit for free now will remain free,” he said.

In targeting corporate legal departments, Onit Premium adds project-management features designed to help corporate counsel better manage matters and budgets and automate standard processes. Some of what it allows corporate counsel to do includes:

  • Automate legal processes that are currently handled manually.
  • Electronically review and approve electronic invoices from law firms and legal vendors.
  • Monitor alternative fee arrangements and compare monthly retainers with shadow bills.
  • Create custom templates to manage processes specific to a company and its legal department, such as to handle an employee termination or report potential IP infringement.
  • Build custom legal forms for company employees to use for such purposes as to request review of a contract or an NDA.
  • Create project budgets and monitor actual vs. projected expenses.
  • Built project templates with relevant notes, documents and project plan items.

Notably, Onit Premium is designed to be used to coordinate between in-house counsel and their outside firms. It can be used to monitor not only the status of outside legal work, but also invoicing and budgeting. It builds in processes designed to heighten accountability by outside firms, such as by requiring firms to route invoices through the senior attorney on a matter and having that attorney write a one- or two-sentence summary of significant accomplishments during the billing period.

Onit Premium is cloud-based, which means there is no software to install or start-up costs. Pricing is based on a monthly subscription.

One other note: The free version of Onit is now out of beta, Eric Elfman told me. As of today, the website still refers to it as beta, but it will be updated shortly to reflect the change.

In a post earlier this year, I wrote about Onit, the Web-based project management tool introduced as a beta at LegalTech in February. Designed for managing projects of any size, Onit includes a Legal Edition for legal matters and cases. “The beauty of Onit is its simplicity,” I wrote then, not to mention its price tag, which is free.

Later this week, Onit will roll out a major redesign aimed at helping users focus quickly on what is most important, with a minimum number of clicks.  In a sense, that simplicity I wrote about was too simple, co-founder Eric Elfman told me in an interview this week. “It was so monochromatic, it didn’t help focus people on the most important information.”

Below is a screencap showing Onit’s appearance when I tested it last March and as it still appears today. Below that are screencaps showing the new design. As you can see, the new design is a dramatically different approach.

The new design uses a series of “swim lanes” to show the various types of information available on Onit. While the page header and footer remain fixed, the workspace in the middle of the screen can be expanded or contracted to suit your needs. Each “lane” can be opened or closed and additional lanes can be added. They fit vertically on your screen, so no up-and-down scrolling is required. If you add more boxes than fit on your screen, you can scroll horizontally. Boxes can be open and closed with a quick click.

The first screencap of the new interface shows the new dashboard — the first screen you would see after logging in. Current projects are listed in a box to the left. These can be sorted by name or activity and also tagged. The next box lists all recent activity on all projects, with icons that indicate the type of activity. The next two boxes list tasks and team members.

As Onit is currently configured, it is necessary to drill down into each of your projects in order to work with tasks, notes, documents and other features of Onit. With the new interface, all of this can be done from the dashboard. Click a task, for example, and it opens directly from the dashboard.

Onit retains the features I described in my earlier post, such as the ability to “nudge” team members, to add notes and updates using a special e-mail address, and to follow projects using RSS feeds. A user can set notification preferences to be sent an e-mail each time a project is updated or as a daily digest of updates.

Notably, Onit remains free to use. “There will always be a free version,” Elfman told me. In November, Onit will roll out a paid, premium version aimed at large, enterprise-level users, such as corporate legal departments. Other paid versions are planned for next year. But for modestly sized projects, the free version will remain.

I sometimes hear lawyers complain about applications that take a one-size-fits-all approach to their design. The new Onit workspace is appealing for its fluidity and ability to be customized. It lets the user choose which information is important to view and it then presents that information in a visually direct format.

[Disclosure: Onit is currently a paid advertiser on this blog. It was not an advertiser when I first reviewed it in March.]

The old Onit interface.
Onit's new design, showing the dashboard. (Click for larger view.)

Onit's new design, showing ability to open task without leaving dashboard.
Onit's new design, showing project main page.
Project page showing quick-add drop-down menu.

Introduced as a beta at LegalTech in February, Onit is a Web-based project management tool described as being for “anyone and everyone who manage projects – big, small, business, legal.” It specifically includes a Legal Edition designed for legal matters and cases. During its beta period, the system is free for anyone to use. Even after its formal launch, slated for April, the basic legal edition will remain free.

Because Onit is Web based, there is no software to download or install and it can be deployed in just minutes. Sign up using an e-mail address and receive an activation code within seconds. Once you receive the code, it takes just a minute more to launch a project, requiring only that you give the project a name. From there, invite participants, create a project plan, establish a budget, and add documents, notes and updates.

The beauty of Onit is its simplicity. Use it to manage multiple projects and coordinate multiple participants. Each project gets a home page where participants can plan, collaborate, budget and share. Participants can provide status updates in the same way they would using Twitter or Facebook, or by sending an e-mail to a special e-mail address that Onit creates for each project.

The project home page provides an overview of the project’s current status, upcoming tasks and events, and spending against budget. It also contains the project plan, all notes, all documents and financials, and a list of all participants. If a participant is overdue for a status update, one click sends the person a “nudge.” The entire project is searchable.

Onit promises apps for iPhone and BlackBerry that will allow access to these same features. As of this writing, the apps had not been released.

The founders of Onit, Eric Elfman and Eric Smith, are no strangers to legal management technology. They were the co-founders of DataCert, a leading provider of matter management and legal and IP spend management software for corporate legal departments.

Given that Onit is free and simple to use, requires no special software, and can be used for any number of projects and with any number of participants, why wouldn’t you get Onit?