The year(s) ahead for practice management

Thomson Reuters practice management systems
Eric Sugden
Vice President, Engineering, Thomson Reuters, Legal Practice & Productivity

The following content has been pulled from the publication Legal Innovation & Technology Today, “Looking ahead and beyond — 27 Industry Experts” (Cite: Pt, C. C. @. (n.d.). Legal IT today. Legal IT Today. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently posited in a speech that we are likely to see “more digitization over the next 10 years than the last 40.” Think about that for a second: four decades representing the emergence of mobile phones, social media, video telephony — all delivered in a quarter of the time.

I think the same prediction arguably could be made when it comes to practice management in the legal sector. Law firms are facing increasingly steep challenges in practice management today, which will continue — and perhaps increase — in 2022. Historically, the front office of lawyers, paralegals, and legal professionals handled the client-facing work while the back office managed the business side with billing, financial tracking, and solutions for a long time, sticking to age-old arguments that law firms must retain all access and control over their data and just can’t trust it in the cloud.

This is, of course, despite the fact that the majority of major companies around the world — that is, their own clients — have now moved at least part of their tech infrastructure to the cloud. I think it’s very likely that 2022 may be the year that the slow and often reluctant march to the cloud for the legal sector finally accelerates.

Thinking about this in terms of the standard cycle of change and tech adoption, it seems to me that we are about to enter the “late majority” phase and law firms are starting to wake up to this. Those who don’t start to at least think about making this shift will not benefit from where all the innovation is taking place, so the risk of being truly left behind is increasing.

Hand in hand with this is realizing the true power of things like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Everyone’s talked about this for a long time, but often ignored is the fact that what’s required to make it really work is lots of data and lots of computing power — both of which, in reality, require use of the cloud.

More generally, the next few years are also likely to see a distinct move toward more automation for routine practice management functions, tasks and workflows — both driven by AI and otherwise. One of the reasons this is really possible now is because of the increasingly open architecture of practice management solutions, including our own 3E, which offers many APIs to connect disparate systems in ways never before possible.

The potential applications here — whether it’s billing, time keeping, analytics, or matter or client intake — are really exciting. In particular, there are some very interesting innovations happening in areas like using data and AI for predictive time entry in a truly “smart” way. Looking further ahead, it’s entirely possible that we could see the end of the manual timesheet in the legal sector by 2025 — the prospect of which would likely delight many lawyers around the world.

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