Interview: What’s happening at Epona?
Epona Legal is one of the leading companies helping legal professionals to make the most of Microsoft’s Matter Center for Office 365. Jonathan Watson asked Epona’s managing director, Bart van Wanroij, why this option is proving increasingly popular for many firms.
What is Epona Legal’s mission?
The core of the company is delivering software and services to legal professionals. Our flagship product is a document and email management system (DMS) that uses Office 365 (SharePoint). It does very well. Office 365 as a Legal DMS is attracting around five new clients per week, sometimes very small ones, sometimes large, by which I mean more than 500 users.
One of the things that separates us from other SharePoint vendors is that we have a very specific focus. We are only interested in the legal professional, whether at law firms or corporate legal departments. And in our view, in- house professionals are becoming more important than ever before, because they operate in organizations where all of the non-legal users are also utilizing Office 365.
Why are people choosing Matter Center for Office 365?
Microsoft’s account managers in each country have been approaching their corporate clients about Matter Center as all of their top 100 customers have legal departments. When Matter Center is demonstrated, there is a huge uptake. In a large company, the legal department might account for only 20 or so people in a workforce of over 100,000 or so. Would you then get them a bespoke, very specific DMS hosted in the cloud, or would you say actually, there might be some interaction between legal and the other business users in the organization?
To me, that’s a no-brainer. Corporate legal is already all over Office 365, which is a horizontal platform; it’s better to have a perfect legal DMS that is based on that. It might be different if you are looking at a very large law firm and their core business is based on a particular DMS. That’s a very different choice, where you might opt for what we could call ‘the Ferrari option’.
Does it offer better value?
We’ve been able to reduce project fees to 10% or less of some of our competitors. There’s a McDonaldization process going on. A couple of years ago, we did a DMS project for a law firm for €140,000. Today, one offer we just sent out is for €2,500, and that’s for doing more than we did a couple of years ago. It is very difficult to compete at this price. We can offer this because we have McDonaldized the process. You just push a few buttons and you’re there. Our offering is completely vendor– independent because in essence, the biggest choice our clients need to make if they go cloud – which they all do in the end – is whether their cloud is Apple, Google or Microsoft.
For legal, that is very easy to answer. At this point, except for the Acrobat products, most of the choices they make are 100% Microsoft-oriented. We tell them there is no vendor lock for Epona. We are not so relevant for them – their biggest choice is to remain in the Microsoft family of products and services.
What have been the biggest changes in the market you have seen in recent years?
The major trend we are seeing now is servers being moved away from the local network and growing confidence, even in legal, in hosted, externally sourced cloud services. In the beginning, we created custom software; then we created products; now I consider what we deliver to be more of a service. That service includes certain products at this precise moment, and these products will probably evolve over time for the specific needs of the user we are catering to.
Between 2006 and 2010, we were an iManage consultancy, but then we found that a lot of people left law firms for general counsel positions at corporate legal departments. The first thing they said when they got there was: where’s my DMS? So they would call us and ask us to come over and install the iManage product right away.
We tried, but the network architects at companies that had 60,000 users and legal teams of 100 said: why not just do it with SharePoint? Some clients gave us the budget to create something that looks like a DMS on SharePoint, so that’s what we did. That meant we were forced to leave the iManage partner program, because we were seen as the competition. But we had to respond to client demands.
Nowadays our clients’ demands supersede the traditional subfolder with documents and e-mail in Outlook. They want machine learning features, such as feeding a document to Office 365, say a pleading, and then being able to ask Office 365 what other pleadings are in the system without any need to add metadata or other search keys to that document. With Office 365, I have no need for very expensive external technology. Why pay twice for something that Office 365 already has?
What should we watch out for from Epona this year?
What we are seeing now is a trend to switch from SharePoint as a DMS repository to the full consumption of all Office 365 capabilities. For example, we’ve been awarded a large subcontract to connect 21 of the largest law firms in the Netherlands to the digital courts. We will be connecting their document management systems integrally to those workflows.
What we want to do this year is help our clients with legal project management at task level. The enterprise task is going to land in a law firm in Office 365 in a very convenient way and we’re using Groups and Teams in Office 365 to help with that. And if professionals are not having conversations at the level of tasks, they can’t do realistic enterprise resource planning (ERP). We want to solve the ERP element in the equation by looking far more at the task level or other than that, the document or email level, within the matter. Email will disappear at some point, just like faxes and telexes, and we need a completely new technology to save conversations from various different channels into the matter. Even the client can be part of the same matter, so that could produce even closer co-authoring and collaborative scenarios. That’s the trend we’re seeing, and we’re just choosing Office 365 Groups and Teams to do it with. Helping clients to utilize Office 365 to its fullest extent as legal professionals is our main goal for the next couple of quarters.
Bart van Wanroij, Director at Epona Legal