The cloud law practice management company PracticePanther is announcing today that it has named Soumya Nettimi as its chief executive officer. Cofounder David Bitton, who has been CEO since starting the company in 2012, will remain with the company as chief marketing officer, and cofounder Ori Tamuz will continue as chief technology officer.

This is the second major news development this week involving a practice management company. On Monday. Tabs3 Software announced that it had acquired CosmoLex.

Nettimi began her career as a private equity investor at Blackstone Capital Partners in New York City. Since then, she has worked in a number of management roles, most recently as a senior product leader at Amazon Web Services. She has a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford Graduate School of Business and an undergraduate degree in applied mathematics from Harvard University.

Because of scheduling and travel conflicts, I was unable to speak with either Nettimi or Bitton this week. However, both agreed to answer questions I submitted to them by email. Their answers follow.

Questions for Nettimi

1. What was it about PracticePanther that interested you in becoming its CEO?

I was excited to join PracticePanther for two main reasons — the people and the product.

In just a few years, the team at PracticePanther built the leading solution in legal practice management software. I’m in awe of their passion, hard work, and dedication to our mission of making the lives of lawyers and paralegals easier. The people at this company are our greatest asset, and I’m thrilled to learn from them and lead them into the next chapter of growth.

Whenever I speak to customers, vendors, and other industry professionals, I consistently hear that PracticePanther is the most powerful and easiest to use product in the market. I am excited about the strong foundation the team has built and the opportunity to continue building on it. The potential of this company is limitless, and I believe we are just getting started.

2. What does your experience and knowledge bring to PracticePanther?

I started my career as an investor at Blackstone in New York City, where I worked closely with management teams on key strategic and operational decisions. Since then, I have held management and product leadership roles at Protea Investments, Serena & Lily, and Amazon Web Services, where I have built expertise in setting long-term vision and strategy, understanding and developing products that address critical customer needs, and hiring and motivating diverse teams.

I genuinely believe in “customer obsession,” one of Amazon’s leadership principles. This will be a key tenet of my management style at PracticePanther. I am excited to bring my range of experiences and fresh perspective, the team’s passion and dedication, and ASG’s expertise and community together to fuel this next chapter of PracticePanther’s growth.

3. What are your goals for the company over the next year or two?

The main goal for PracticePanther is to honor our mission of making the lives of lawyers and paralegals easier. In order to do this, we plan to continue to deliver the most robust and easy to use practice management solution coupled with best in class service. In the next few years, we plan to accelerate the growth of our business by investing in our team, releasing new features and updates, and looking for new and innovative ways to delight our customers.

4. Practice management is a competitive field. How do you see PracticePanther as distinct from its competitors?

I believe we are distinct in three main ways. First, we have the most robust, intuitive, and easy-to-use product on the market. Second, we innovate rapidly and release new features faster than any of our competitors. Third, we provide unparalleled levels of dedicated training and support to our customers. We also benefit from the shared knowledge, expertise, and resources of the ASG community. The team at PracticePanther focuses solely and wholeheartedly on our mission of making the lives of lawyers and paralegals easier, and this dedication comes through in the customer experience.

5. It appears you’ve never worked in the legal industry. Do you have any concerns that will hinder your ability to run a legal tech company?

I have a lot of faith in our team at PracticePanther and in our deep collective expertise. Though I haven’t worked directly in the legal technology industry, I have worked extensively with law firms of all sizes in my career to date. I plan to take a thoughtful approach to expanding my knowledge of the industry and understanding our customers’ pain points. Overall, I believe that putting my experience set and differentiated perspective together with the team’s legal expertise will only enhance our ability to serve our customers and the market.

Questions for Bhitton

1. Describe what your role will be now.

Ever since day one, I have always been heavily involved in sales and marketing, as that is my core expertise. I am extremely excited to be taking on the CMO (chief marketing officer) role full time, doing what I’ve always loved, and felt passionate about. My ultimate goal is to increase awareness of PracticePanther worldwide, increase the number of integration partnerships, and continue growing exponentially.

2. What led you to settle on Soumya? What do you believe she will bring to the role?

Soumya is firstly an incredible, humble, honest, kind, and genuine person, that instantly connected with our team and core values. When we first met her earlier this year through ASG, we were immediately impressed by her intuitive grasp of the business, ability to inspire and lead people, and track record of scaling businesses and teams. She shares the same vision and excitement for our business, our team, and our members. Her commitment to preserve and enhance our culture, and continue innovating our software, made her the stand-out candidate we could only dream of. We are confident she will bring her years of experience and obsession with customer and employee satisfaction to PracticePanther, leading to happier members, a more fulfilling workplace, and new exciting features for tens of thousands of lawyers in over 170 countries worldwide. We are so excited to have her leading our team for years to come!

When last I checked in with the practice management platform PracticePanther last March, it had just taken a “large” private equity investment. At the time, CEO David Bitton told me that the company had seen exponential growth over the prior year, doubling its customers. Since March, the company has rolled out a number of new features and integrations. I recently spoke with Bitton to catch up on the latest news.

He started by telling me that the company continues to grow. It has tripled its staff this year, to 50 employees. The PracticePanther software is now being used in 172 countries, thanks in part to the software being offered in multiple languages. It also has an API (application programming interface) that makes it fairly easy to set up integrations with other applications for lawyers.

Here is a recap of the major new features and integrations that PracticePanther has introduced in recent months.

Integration with Lawmatics

A product I’ve been meaning to review but haven’t yet is Lawmatics, launched earlier this year by Matt Spiegel, the lawyer who founded the practice management company MyCase and was its CEO until its acquisition by AppFolio in 2012 and then its general manager until 2015. Lawmatics is an innovative platform for law firms that automates client relationship management (CRM), client intake and marketing.

Now, Lawmatics is directly integrated with PracticePanther. With the integration, a firm can use Lawmatics’ to market to potential clients, follow-up with leads, and finalize the retention. Then, once the client retains the firm, all of the information that had been entered into Lawmatics on the new client can be sent to PracticePanther to automatically create an associated contact and matter.

Dedicated Outlook Plugin

As of this writing, this plugin was awaiting final approval from Microsoft and was expected to become available within a week or two. It will let users log-in to PracticePanther from within Outlook, where they will be able to see details about contacts and matters, add contacts to PracticePanther, log emails to PracticePanther, and track time for matters.

Dedicated Gmail Add-On

Add a time entry from within Gmail.

A Gmail add-on allows a variety of interactions between Gmail and PracticePanther. Once it is installed, then whenever you open an email, a PracticePanther panel opens to the right of the email. If the sender or anyone else included in the email is already in your PracticePanther contacts, you will be able to see that in this panel and also see the person’s full information from within PracticePanther. If they are not, you can click the add icon and a form appears with all the PracticePanther fields to add the contact’s information.

The add-in also lets users save emails directly from Gmail into PracticePanther or save them to a specific matter on PracticePanther. The add-in also lets users create new tasks and time entries from within Gmail.

Integration with Tali

I’ve written a number of times about Tali, the voice assistant that lets you log billable time via Amazon Alexa or Google Home. With this integration, users can now use Tali to either record time or log time through voice commands.

To log time with Alexa, for example, a lawyer would say, “Hey Alexa” to activate the device, then continue, “Tell Tali to log an activity for the Smith matter.” The device then asks the lawyer to describe the matter, to which the lawyer might answer, “Prepare for deposition.”

The information is stored in Tali, where it can be associated with matters in PracticePanther. From there, specific entries can be exported to PracticePanther or the “Sync All” button can be selected to push all unsynchronized entries to PracticePanther.

Custom Invoice Templates

PracticePanther users now have the ability to create multiple customized invoice templates. In addition to a default invoice template — which firms can use as is or customize to their liking — firms can now create as many additional invoice templates as they want. In particular, firms can construct the layout and fields in an invoice to adapt it to a particular practice area or case type. Thus, a firm could opt to have a different invoice format for each of its different practice areas.

Invoice customization also provides options for setting different defaults for payments, such as to always use trust balances to pay a particular type of invoice, for taxes, and for specific fields to include on the invoice.

Flat Fee Billing

In addition to adding billable time entries and expenses, users can now also add billable flat fees. Users can log flat fees upon completion of the services, rather than have to wait until the billing stage. Users can also log a discount and have it appear on the subsequent invoice. Flat fees can be logged to specific attorneys for reporting purposes.

A second option allows users to log multiple flat fees in a single operation.  This is done through a new “Multiple Flat Fees” page within PracticePanther, where the flat fees can be logged for different clients and matters and attributed to different attorneys.

Payment Plans

Panther Payment Plans is a feature offered in cooperation with the payment processing platform LawPay. It lets firms securely save a client’s credit card on file, and then automatically charge them a fixed amount against bills or retainer payments on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Restricted Login

With this feature, law firm administrators can restrict the ability of employees to log in to PracticePanther to specific IP addresses. This could be used, for example, to prevent certain employees from logging in outside the office or from a home computer. Only those with administrator credentials can set these restrictions.

Auto Suggest for Tasks and Events

Now, when a task or event is created within a matter, PracticePanther will auto-suggest names of attorneys or paralegals to whom the task should be assigned, based on those names having been previously associated with the matter.

Panther Software, Miami-based developer of the cloud-based law practice management platform PracticePanther, is announcing today that it has taken an investment from Alpine SG, a portfolio company of the San Francisco private equity firm Alpine Investors.

The parties are not disclosing the amount of the investment, but PracticePanther CEO David Bitton described it as “large.” Bitton and cofounder Ori Tamuz, PracticePanther’s CTO, will stay on with the company in their current roles.

Alpine specializes in investing in middle-market companies in the software, online and business services industries. While its investments span a range of industries, this appears to be its first in the legal sector.

PracticePanther has seen exponential growth over the last year, doubling its customers, Bitton told me during a recent interview. He believes that PracticePanther is now the third-largest cloud-based practice management platform and will soon be second-largest.

(Customer numbers are hard to verify for practice management companies. The consensus seems to be that Clio is largest, MyCase is second largest, and Rocket Matter is third or fourth.)

Bitton attributes that growth to both customer service and his platform’s ease of use. Alpine will help them do even better on both fronts, he believes.

“The reason we love Alpine is that they have a people-first approach,” Bitton said. “The goal for them is to help us be a better company and provide even better service.”

The funds will be used for research and development to further expand PracticePanther’s functionality and third-party integrations, as well as for marketing.

“We are honored to be partnering with PracticePanther and such a talented team,” Mark Strauch,

partner at Alpine and chairman of Alpine SG, said in a statement announcing the investment. “David and Ori have built an incredible product and company. We are excited to work together to continue growing the business and delivering an exceptional customer experience.”

PracticePanther was founded by Bitton and Tamuz in 2012. In 2015, it raised $3.5 million in a private funding round of mostly friends and family. In 2016, it expanded its product internationally by adding a translation engine that automatically switches languages based on the user’s IP address.

PracticePanther also recently announced an integration with the deadline calculator LawToolBox.

The practice management platform PracticePanther is today launching a suite of accounting tools that includes comprehensive integration with QuickBooks Online, including synchronization of all trust and operating payments, expenses, checks, invoices, and contacts from PracticePanther to QuickBooks Online.

New features in today’s release include:

  • Support for multiple operating and trust accounts. Users can add multiple bank accounts within PracticePanther and link them to the corresponding accounts in QuickBooks.
  • Bank account reconciliation reports. Users can reconcile a bank account within PracticePanther using a new built-in reconciliation report.
  • Manage trust accounts in QuickBooks Online. Although QuickBooks Online does not natively support trust accounting, PracticePanther has built a way to support trust account synchronization. It does it by creating a trust account as a trust liability on the balance sheet, and then sending all trust payments from PracticePanther to QuickBooks Online so users can now see their trust account balance by contact and matter inside QuickBooks Online.
  • Reconcile your trust account in QuickBooks and have it match up the trust payments in PracticePanther with the trust payments from your bank account.
  • Run a profit-and-loss report in QuickBooks that will show you the trust account payments as well.
  • Write and print checks directly from PracticePanther, or send the check to be printed from QuickBooks.
  • Sync all items and services sold to QuickBooks Online so you can see them as “Products/Services” in QuickBooks and run reports on them.

Setting up the QuickBooks integration takes just a couple of steps from within PracticePanther’s settings page. Once you authorize the integration, you connect your bank and credit card accounts from PracticePanther to QuickBooks. Users can create any number of bank accounts.

Once you’re done setting up, then payments and invoices are automatically synced with QuickBooks. Any updates you make to an invoice in PracticePanther will also update to the QuickBooks version of the invoice. For payments, both trust and operating account payments are synchronized.

These new accounting tools provide several benefits for PracticePanther users, CEO David Bitton told me earlier this week. Most importantly, they will help you know that your books are correct, that you are getting paid, and that you are paying your bills on time. They can also help catch bank errors that could cost you money, he said, and help prevent possible fraud by employees or others.

To read more about PracticePanther, see these posts.

PracticePantherIntake

Until last year, client intake was a forgotten component of most practice-management systems. Then, seemingly all at once, three different client-intake products were launched: LexicataIntake123 and Rocket Matter Intake. More recently, LexisNexis Firm Manager added an intake templates feature, although its templates cannot be sent to clients for them to fill out. Overall, most practice management platforms either do not have client intake or, if they offer it, they do so through integration with Lexicata or Intake123.

Today, the case management company PracticePanther.com will be introducing its own version of client intake. The killer feature here is that it is built directly into the platform – not a third-party integration – and is included in the platform’s subscription price. In addition, there is no limit on the number of forms a firm can create or on the fields that a form can contain.

With today’s announcement, PracticePanther will now come with a built-in form builder that anyone in a firm can use to create, edit, view, and delete intake forms. A firm can email the forms or embed them directly onto its website, where they can be filled out by prospects and new clients. The forms are mobile friendly and responsively designed to work on any device.

When the form is filled out, a new contact and matter is automatically created in PracticePanther. The attorney or paralegal also receives an email and task notifying them of the new information.

Once the form is submitted, law firms can generate entire documents with their clients’ information, like contracts and retainer agreements, saving even more time.

“Attorneys and paralegals have been wasting a lot of time manually entering their clients’ information into the computer,” said David Bitton, CEO of PracticePanther. “We’re automating that process. Law firms can now hand their clients an iPad, instead of a notepad, to fill out their personal information. Instead of trying to decipher their handwriting, the form on the iPad will automatically create a new contact in PracticePanther, saving the law firm countless hours each month.”

You can see a video of how it works at PracticePanther.com.

How much do lawyers earn? The folks at PracticePanther.com have gone through the data and created this infographic showing earnings by practice areas. The data comes from the American Bar Association, as well as Glassdoor, Salary.com, LawyerEdu, and the National Association for Law Placement.

Topping the chart are IP attorneys, who earn an average of $155,037. The lowest-paid practice area is immigration, where attorneys earn an average of $62,250.

It is not clear how current these numbers are. The ABA’s compilation of statistics on lawyers’ salaries includes data from as far back as 2003 and the NALP numbers are from 2011. That said, these figures appear to be the most recent data available on lawyers’ earnings.

Lawyer-Salaries-Infographic-by-PracticePanther

What have been 2015’s most important developments in legal technology? For the past two years, I’ve posted my picks of the top developments in legal tech (2014, 2013). With another year under our belts, it’s time to look back at 2015.

What follows are my picks for the year’s most important legal technology developments. As in past years, the numbers are not meant to be rankings — all of these are important in their own ways. I also refer you back to my prior years’ posts, as much of what I said in them remains true today.

1. Case Law Gets Democratized.

democritizationTo my mind, the biggest legal technology story of the year was the joint announcement by Harvard Law School and Ravel Law of their Free the Law project to digitize and make available to the public for free Harvard’s entire collection of U.S. case law – said to be the most comprehensive and authoritative database of American law and cases available anywhere outside the Library of Congress. As someone who has covered legal and information technology for more than two decades, this was a day I’d long hoped would arrive. Harvard’s vice dean for library and information resources, Jonathan Zittrain, summed up the significance better than I could when he said: “Libraries were founded as an engine for the democratization of knowledge, and the digitization of Harvard Law School’s collection of U.S. case law is a tremendous step forward in making legal information open and easily accessible to the public.”

This news comes at a time when legal-research start-ups continue to develop innovative ways to access and contextualize legal research. Ravel Law is one example, with its visualization tools that show the connections and relationships among cases. Casetext is another, which just this year introduced such innovations as its crowdsourced citator and its LegalPad writing and publishing tool. Developments such as these are helping to realize a long-held vision of the Internet – that it will make the law more accessible and comprehensible to everyone.

2. Analytics Take Center Stage.

Drury_Lane_1674The second-biggest legal technology story of 2015 was the acquisition of Lex Machina by LexisNexis. It was a significant deal in itself, but even more so for what it signals about the direction in which legal technology is headed. Why would one of the world’s most-established legal information and technology companies want this small, six-year-old Silicon Valley start-up? The answer, in a word: Analytics. Lex Machina has developed and refined sophisticated analytics that open new windows into court data. It takes data from the federal courts’ PACER system – dockets, court filings, orders – and lets users extract information, patterns and trends that would otherwise be invisible. It provides insights into lawyers, law firms, litigants, judges and courts that inform decision making and strategy.

So far, Lex Machina has done this for only intellectual property law, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. And there is no reason to confine such analytics to court data. There are troves of freely available government information that could harbor all sorts of invaluable information for legal professionals. Even beyond government data, analytics are already being used by lawyers in e-discovery, budgeting, fee negotiations, settlement negotiations, and a host of other applications. Lex Machina is by no means the only legal company in this space – PacerPro recently launched a new analytics tool called Litigant Profiling and Ravel Law offers its Judge Analytics – but its acquisition underscores the growing significance of data analytics in law.

3. The Duty of Technology Competence Goes Wide.

heads-in-the-sandIn 2012, when the American Bar Association formally approved a change to Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to make clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology, I described it as a sea change. But the Model Rules are merely models. Unless and until they are adopted by the states, they have no binding effect on lawyers. It is significant, therefore, that 20 states have now adopted what I call the duty of technology competence.  In 2015 alone, the Model Rule was adopted in nine states and became effective in another two that had adopted it late in 2014.

Why does this matter? Because there is no more hiding from technology. You can no longer competently practice law without at least a rudimentary understanding of technology, the Internet and social media. You need to know enough to recognize what you don’t know and to withdraw or bring on help when circumstances warrant. It is safe to say that, a year from now, the majority of states will have adopted the duty of technology competence. Even in states that do not, courts are increasingly signaling their impatience with lawyers who lack basic technology skills. There can be no more Luddites in law.

4. Technology-Assisted Review Becomes Mainstream.

computerman2It was less than four years ago that U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck issued the first-ever court decision to approve the use of technology-assisted review in e-discovery. It has been barely six years since the terms “technology-assisted review” and “predictive coding” first began to see use within the legal profession’s vernacular. Yet this year, Judge Peck issued another TAR decision in which he declared TAR’s use to be so widely accepted by judges that it is now “black letter law.” Whereas lawyers were initially reluctant to use TAR for fear of inconsistent results or judicial rejection, 2015 was the year in which TAR took root in the mainstream of legal technology.

The reasons for this were both practical and scientific. As its name suggests, TAR uses technology to assist in the process of reviewing electronic documents for discovery. “Assist” is a wimpy word here, because TAR can dramatically reduce the numbers of documents lawyers ever have to set their eyes on – and therefore dramatically reduce both the time and cost of discovery. With cases today sometimes requiring review of millions of documents, TAR’s impact can be huge. Those savings in time and cost form the practical argument for its use. On top of that, scientific evidence supports its effectiveness. The seminal study on this, published in 2011, showed that TAR was not only more effective than human review at finding relevant documents, but also much cheaper – producing at least a 50-fold savings in cost over manual review. Subsequent studies have reinforced these findings and shown that a particular TAR protocol called continuous active learning is superior to other forms of TAR.

This was the year in which these factors – judicial approval, practical benefits and scientific evidence – gelled and made TAR a mainstream technology.

5. Artificial Intelligence Comes to Legal Research.

Efile RobotIn the early days of 2015, a team of students at the University of Toronto created a start-up to bring artificial intelligence to legal research. Using IBM’s Watson – the computer most famous for winning Jeopardy! In 2011 – as their platform, they launched ROSS Intelligence, an AI system that they say can answer lawyers’ natural-language legal-research questions, such as, “Can a bankrupt company still conduct business?”

Initially, ROSS “learned” only a small subset of Canadian law. But in July, after receiving funding from Y Combinator, its developers moved, at least temporarily, to Silicon Valley and set their sights on the much-larger U.S. market. In addition, the global law firm Dentons announced that it was making an undisclosed investment in the company. ROSS’s developers say it can provide a lawyer with a highly relevant answer to a legal research question posed in natural language. The more it does, the more it learns and the better it gets. It can also monitor legal developments for changes that can affect your case, instead of requiring you to monitor a torrent of legal news.

Will ROSS and its progeny someday replace lawyers for legal research? I have no doubt it will at least someday become an integral tool in law practice. Whatever the future of AI in law, 2015 can be recorded as the year it got started.

6. Podcasts Enjoy a Resurgence.

1200px-Broadcasting_a_radio_play_at_NBC_studioIn a post last March, I wrote about The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Legal Podcasts. “They were the next big thing. Then they weren’t. And now they are again,” I said, looking back over the 10 years I’ve had my own podcast, Lawyer 2 Lawyer, on the Legal Talk Network. If podcasts were looking hot earlier this year, when New York magazine proclaimed the Great Podcast Renaissance, they have only gotten hotter as the year has progressed, to the point where the Nieman Journalism Lab is predicting that podcasting is about to explode.

I’m not sure I’d use the word “explode” to describe podcasts in the legal sector, but they are clearly taking off. In fact, for the 12th edition of his annual Blawggie Awards last week, Dennis Kennedy decided not to talk at all about blogs and focus exclusively on podcasts.  Once a regular blogger, Kennedy wrote that he now sees his podcast, the Kennedy-Mighell Report, “as the primary outlet for what he was once writing on my blog.” At the Legal Talk Network, which hosts my podcast, there are now a variety of podcasts on a range of topics, including podcasts from both the ABA Journal and the blog Above the Law. In the post from March that I referenced above, I listed a number of legal podcasts that had launched just since the start of 2015. If you do not already listen to legal podcasts, it is a good time to start.

7. Microsoft Re-Surfaces.

Surface-Pro-4Microsoft products have long dominated the legal profession. More than 90 percent of lawyers use some version of the Windows operating system and most lawyers use Microsoft Office for word processing and email. So I do not mean to suggest that Microsoft was in any way losing its footing among lawyers. However, there were indications that the tide was slowly turning against it. Windows 8 was so unpopular that lawyers clung to their earlier Windows 7 or even Windows XP operating systems (until Microsoft this year finally pulled the plug on XP). And as the widespread popularity of iPhones and iPads introduced lawyers to the iOS environment, some lawyers were beginning to migrate their entire offices to Apple systems.

But two developments this year brought Microsoft back into its long-favored status. One was the official release in July of Windows 10. It was hugely successful compared to past OS roll-outs. Not only were there no major glitches, but virtually everyone seemed to love the new architecture. Windows 10 took the best of Windows 7 and 8 and achieved and achieved a truly better, faster and more modern operating system.

The other development was the surprising (to me, anyway) popularity of the Microsoft Surface line of tablets/PCs among lawyers. It is being adopted by lawyers in a range of practices, from a local prosecutor’s office to one of the world’s largest law firms, Clifford Chance, which is buying the Surface Pro 4 for all its lawyers. And it is getting good reviews from sources such as Daniel Siegel in Law Practice magazine and Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy in their Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast.

On top of those developments, Microsoft has been helping third-party vendors to develop legal-specific applications for its Office 365, such as the LawToolBox court deadlines app, and its communications platform formerly known as Lync (now Skype for Business) has proven popular with law firms. All in all, for Microsoft in legal, it’s been a good year.

8. The Legal Industry Gets an IPO.

ipoFor all the activity in recent years in legal technology innovation and start-ups, there has been a dearth of legal technology IPOs. That changed this year with the IPO in June of AppFolio, the Goleta, Calif.-based company that owns MyCase, the cloud-based practice-management platform, in which it raised some $74 million. I could not think of a major IPO in the legal industry in recent memory until my friend Sean Doherty, writing at Above the Law, mentioned the 2013 IPO of e-discovery and litigation support company UBIC.

Of course, even AppFolio has only a partial connection to the legal industry. Its core business is a cloud-based property-management platform for residential and commercial property managers. With its IPO, it planned to expand that business into other industry verticals. The IPO was expected to have little impact on the MyCase part of the business, Jason Randall, executive vice president of AppFolio, told me earlier this year. “We were marching on a mission before the IPO and we’re marching on the same mission after the IPO, which is giving our customers a great product to use. We’ve been heavily investing in that since day one and that hasn’t changed.”

Still, it signifies the strength of the legal market for investment. As Randall put it when I spoke with him: “We believe in this market. By buying MyCase to begin with and heavily investing in it, as we have and will continue to do, it shows our confidence that this is a great market to be in and that it is one we are committed to.”

9. Legal Blogging Hits a Plateau.

colorado-plateauAs was the case with Mark Twain 118 years ago, reports of blogging’s death have been greatly exaggerated.  But even if blogging isn’t dead, it may have hit a plateau. According to the ABA’s 2015 Legal Technology Survey Report, growth in blogging among lawyers is virtually stagnant. Overall, the percentages of law firms with blogs and of lawyers who personally blog have remained largely unchanged over the past three years. Similar findings were reported by the 2015 Am Law 200 Blog Benchmark Report, a report on large law firm blogs prepared by the blog company LexBlog. While it reported a significant increase in large-firm blogs since 2007, it found only minor growth in the last three years.

However, it would be a mistake to equate the number of blogs with the importance of blogs. As I told the ABA Journal recently and wrote here earlier this year, I see blogs as more important than ever within the legal industry. I’ve cited the prominence and influence of SCOTUSblog so many times that they’re getting sick of hearing me mention them. But ask yourself where lawyers are turning for information. In increasing numbers, they are turning to blogs. Yes, some blogs are dying. But others are thriving. And meanwhile, established legal news publishers are shuttering publications or rolling through owners. Blogging will continue to evolve in the years ahead, but it’s not going away anytime soon.

10. Practice Management Continues to Expand.

practicemanagement2You would think that I would be done talking about practice management. After all, in my 2013 post, I wrote it was the year in which practice management “went mainstream,” thanks to the growing crop of sophisticated and established cloud-based practice management platforms. Then last year, I again included the continued growth in the use of practice management applications as a major development, noting in particular that these applications were evolving from maintaining a narrow focus on simple practice management to becoming something wider — providing a variety of integrated tools and services that address an array of functions within a law office.

But here I am again, continuing to be amazed at how this segment continues to thrive and evolve. We still have new platforms raising financing and getting launched, such as PracticePanther; we still see the more established platforms continuing to build out their products, and we even saw the parent company of one platform complete a successful IPO (see #8 above). And then came the recent news from Microsoft that it had decided to open-source its practice management platform, Matter Center for Office 365. Practice management is not a sexy topic, but it continues to be one of the hottest – if not the hottest – areas of technology growth and development in the legal industry.

practicepantherdashboard

I have written about a lot of cloud-based practice management platforms, but one that’s somehow stayed off my radar is PracticePanther.com. The Miami-based company got my attention this week when it announced that it has raised $3.5 million in funding and is offering its service free for the rest of the year.

PracticePanther describes itself as “on a mission to create the easiest and most intuitive law practice
management software.” It is an all-in-one platform that offers a range of features, including client and matter management, calendar management, time tracking, billing and invoicing, document generation, online payments, and task management.

It also integrates with a number of third-party applications, including Gmail, Google Calendar, QuickBooks, Exchange, Stripe and PayPal for payment processing, Box, Outlook, and Office 365.

The company was founded in 2012, offering a business-management platform called PayPanther. Founders David Bitton, now CEO, and Ori Tamuz pivoted the product to law practice management about 18 months ago after hearing their wives, both lawyers, complain about the difficulty of using other practice management platforms.

Tamuz worked part time but recently came on board full time as chief technology officer after selling another company he co-founded, Nova Point of Sale, a cloud-based point-of-sale platform, which was recently acquired by Granbury Solutions.

Tamuz also brought the group of private investors — himself among them as lead investor — that provided the $3.5 million in funding.

They are offering the software free for the remainder of the year. until Jan. 1, 2016. Starting in January, the price will be $39 a month per user. There will also be an option to pay annual at the rate of $29 a month per user.

Aiming to Keep it Simple

I spoke to Bitton and Tamuz this morning and they told me that they are dedicated to building a platform that provides all the features lawyers need but that is fun and simple to use.

“We follow KISS — keep it simple stupid,” Tamuz says. “We want lawyers to just sign up and know what to do.”

All the core practice management functions are baked into the platform. But the company is also offering integrations with third-party platforms because they want their users to be able to continue using the programs they are comfortable with. “If you’re using Outlook, I want you to be able to continue using Outlook,” Tamuz says.

They also don’t want to reinvent the wheel when someone else is already doing something well. They cite their integration with the document storage and management site Box as an example. “We love Box, so we built an incredible integration with it. You don’t ever have to leave PracticePanther to work on documents within Box.”

The company just opened a full API (application programming interface) that allows other third-party developers to integrate with their system. They also integrate with Zapier, which allows further integrations with a range of third-party applications.

“We want to do it all and we want to do it all best,” Tamuz says. “Whatever we don’t do best, we want to integrate with the people who do do it best.”

Bitton and Tamuz also tout their platform’s security. The platform runs on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and all the data is constantly backed up in real time.

They also make it easy for users to export their data with an export button on virtually every page of the site, they say.

“Whenever someone asks us how we’re different, I tell them that we try to be the easiest, most user friendly, most intuitive software to use,” Bitton says. “Being very simple is the entire goal of our software.”

Adds Tamuz: “We’re not here to be the number three or number two platform.”

I have not used PracticePanther but I plan to try it out and provide a full report when time allows.