After talking about it for more than a year, Thomson Reuters Elite is preparing to launch Workspace within the next month. Workspace is Elite’s attempt to bring together distinct but related products within an environment where they share a common workflow and a common look and feel, across both web and mobile devices.

Elite President Cary Burch

Elite President Cary Burch

Initially, Workspace will integrate just two Elite products, Elite 3E for financial management and MatterSphere, a Microsoft Office-based matter-management platform, and will also connect directly into a firm’s document-management system. Later this year, business development tools will be added to the mix. Other products, functionality and third-party integrations will be added over time, along with the ability to connect into Westlaw, West km and similar products.

If you are not familiar with Elite, it is a suite of products for law firms and other professional services firms that handle financial management, matter management, business development and risk management. Within the legal field, Elite’s customers are mid- to large-sized law firms and corporate legal departments. Its customers are in 34 countries, with some 800 customers in North America, about 400 in Europe (mostly in the U.K.) and about 60 in Asia and the Pacific (mostly in Australia).

Thomson Reuters acquired Elite in 2003, but the company had been around for some 60 years before that. Since TR’s acquisition, Elite has rolled out new products of its own and also acquired other related products, most recently MatterSphere, a product that has an established customer base in the U.K. but that had no U.S. customers until this month, when the law firm Foley & Mansfield signed on to use it.

As it now stands, Elite’s line-up includes 11 products. Unfortunately, given their different pedigrees, the products do not share a common look and feel. To some extent, that cannot be avoided, given that their tasks vary from handling back-office finances to managing front-office legal work. But to the extent Elite can provide a more consistent look and feel, it hopes to do that.

Enter Workspace. Elite is positioning this as the next generation of how these products will look and how they can be brought together in a common workflow. The initial release of Workspace will be “modest,” according to Elisabet Hardy, vice president of product management at Elite, and Eric Sugden, Elite’s CTO, who gave a briefing on Workspace to a group of journalists last week.

Over time, more will be added to Workspace, they said. While the initial release of Workspace will be web-based, a mobile version is in development, in keeping with Thomson Reuters’ broader plan to focus on mobile devices when developing new products. Both the web and mobile versions will be persona based, meaning that the user will be able to configure menus, pages and content to the user’s personal preferences.

Mobility and the Cloud

In fact, a lot of what I heard at last week’s briefing was reminiscent of what I heard last January, when TR unveiled new tools for litigators, corporate counsel and small firms. As I noted then, the emphasis there was that all new products would be designed around a common theme, that of integrating related products and services through the cloud and mobile devices in order to simplify and streamline a lawyer’s day-to-day workflow.

Last week, the Elite executives who briefed us echoed the same theme, saying that future development will focus on mobility, the cloud and the user experience, all with the goal of connecting people, processes, tasks and information in a unified workflow.

“Law firms have been forced to open the doors to mobile,” Elite President Cary Burch told us. “The next-generation workforce demands mobility.”

Of course, all that mobility and all those different mobile devices out there raise a very real security threat for law firms. For that reason, Burch said, Elite is placing greater emphasis on security going forward. It has appointed a chief security officer to focus on how to both make its own systems more secure and build greater security into its platforms.

One question on the minds of some Elite customers is whether there is a future for Elite Enterprise. Enterprise is Elite’s legacy financial management platform, while Elite 3E is its newer, cloud-based financial-management platform. “Enterprise is here for the foreseeable future,” Burch said at our briefing. Enterprise users constitute a “sizeable part” of Elite’s customer base, he noted.

At the same time, Burch and other Elite executives made it clear that future development will focus on 3E. In fact, Burch revealed that the Elite division within Thomson Reuters had just completed its internal transition from Enterprise to 3E. “We’re drinking our own Kool-Aid,” he said.

One reporter asked Burch about competition from cloud-based practice-management platforms such as Clio and Rocket Matter. Burch responded by contrasting Elite’s size and experience. “They’re small and entrepreneurial,” he said. “But they’re also learning some of the challenges of being small.”

“It’s good to have competition, but we want to compete with ourselves,” he continued. “We have all this tacit knowledge. We can invest and innovate.”

Since neither the questioner nor Burch mentioned Firm Central, Thomson Reuters’ own competitor to Clio and Rocket Matter, I asked him where that product fit in with Elite’s offerings.

Firm Central is for firms of one to 10 lawyers, he said. “We take it from 10. As law firms grow, we can give them the ability to scale up.”

By way of disclosure, please note that Elite paid for my airfare and lodging to attend the Miami conference. The above is not intended to be an endorsement of any Elite product but rather a report of what I learned.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.