In a move sure to shake up the market for practice management software for mid-sized law firms, the cloud practice management company SurePoint Technologies has acquired Cole Valley Software, developer of ContactEase, a popular client relations management (CRM) software for law firms.

The companies say that the acquisition creates the first legal technology platform integrating real-time CRM into practice management and financial data, which they say will allow firms to more holistically manage and develop client relationships.

The acquisition comes eight months after the private investment firm Aquiline Capital Partners acquired a majority ownership stake in SurePoint.

Tom Obermaier

Tom Obermaier, chief executive officer of SurePoint — known until its 2020 rebranding as Rippe & Kingston Systems — said its customers have been asking for CRM as the next feature to incorporate into its SaaS-based platform, which also includes financial management, payment processing, mobile timekeeping, billing, business intelligence, and real-time reporting. In his conversations with customers, the one name that kept coming up was ContactEase.

“Our two companies share a similar trajectory and history, a corresponding middle market client base, complementary values and corporate cultures, and the ability and desire to merge two state-of-the-art platforms into one groundbreaking best-in-class solution for all legal management and marketing needs,” Obermaier said.

Cole Valley President Jennifer Whittier said, “Incorporating ContactEase into SurePoint’s easy-to-use platform made sense for the next phase of our technology’s growth onto the cloud. Our approach to bringing visibility to every facet of contact connection will now include essential financial data, generating new avenues for lawyers intent on developing a thriving book of business.”

Whittier joins SurePoint as general manager of the ContactEase business and all ContactEase employees have also joined SurePoint.

Although both companies primarily serve the mid-sized firm market, they shared fewer than 40 firms in common as customers. With this merger, the combined customer base is 600 law firms.

Killer CRM App

In an interview ahead of today’s announcement, Obermaier and Whittier said that ContactEase’s CRM product will continue to be offered on a standalone basis, but that it will also be fully integrated within the SurePoint suite.

Jennifer Whittier

“We think there is a killer CRM app for legal still to be built, and we look forward to partnering with Jen to go do that,” Obermaier said.

That next generation, both he and Whittier agreed, involves enabling firms to link multiple data points on prospects — whether those prospects are current clients or potential ones — from CRM, finance and practice management, in order to better predict which prospects may be most promising and fruitful.

“By taking the data that SurePoint has and combining it with the capabilities and data that ContactEase has, it gives us a foot up to getting that next generation of prediction built into our CRM system,” Obermaier said.

Whittier, who was director of marketing at a midsized law firm before joining ContactEase in 2009, said that marketing teams are often hampered by their lack of access to financial information.

“A lot of times, what we see operationally is the marketing team is trying to help the lawyers succeed with the use of CRM, but they don’t have access to the financial information,” she said. “When we thought about our longer term goals and the aggressive roadmap we had, we needed to find someone we could partner with to be able to grow the product and invest at the level that was needed. So this is a really nice fit from a number of different perspectives.”

In a recent essay Whittier wrote, she put it this way:

Integrating financial system data with CRM contact information will allow lawyers to obtain a complete picture of the client relationship with the firm. Enhancing this financial data with fully integrated marketing automation tools will highlight the level of engagement the contact has with the firm. Combining both touch points, financial and marketing, allows management to measure the level of investment to obtain a new client – leading us well down the path towards establishing ROI.

“How do you know where to look if you don’t have financial information?” Obermaier added. “What are your best performing cases? What are the rates you normally charge? What are client profiles that tailor to that financial performance? All of that really tells you where to look and what clients to prospect.”

Integrate CRM and Financial Data

With this acquisition, SurePoint says, it becomes the first legal technology platform to integrate real-time CRM into practice management and financial data.

Obermaier said that, while there are integrations between other CRM modules and other ERP modules, those are not real-time integrations, as will be the case here.

“It’s not real-time, it’s not the same data set combined, which I think is where the real power of the data comes from,” he said. “I think that’s pretty unique and we’re excited about that opportunity.”

The challenge mid-sized firms face is having to deliver a big-law product at a mid-law price, and combining data into a single corpus is critical to that, Obermaier said.

“The future of supporting mid-law firms so they can continue to message on the big-law side is very much bringing great automation and prediction to help them out. In order for that to work, all that data needs to be housed in one locale, in order to empower it and tell the lawyers what they don’t know already.”

Cincinnati-based SurePoint was founded in 1982 as Rippe & Kingston Systems. It said its 2020 rebrand was done to better align the company’s name with its commitment to delivering cutting-edge enterprise solutions that help law firms unlock increasingly higher levels of efficiency and financial performance.

ContactEase, based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was founded in 1991 by Jeff Reade. Its CRM product integrates with Microsoft Outlook, HubSpot and Salesforce.

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.