Doug Sawers of Access Legal: “I think a successful SaaS company has to be relevant today and more relevant tomorrow”

I think a successful SaaS company has to be relevant today and more relevant tomorrow. I’ll keep saying it but innovation is key, if you’re providing software as a service it has to be ahead of where your customers are going. As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create […]

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I think a successful SaaS company has to be relevant today and more relevant tomorrow. I’ll keep saying it but innovation is key, if you’re providing software as a service it has to be ahead of where your customers are going.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Doug Sawers.

Doug Sawers is Managing Director at Access Legal. A transformational leader in the technology, leisure and business services sectors, Doug has around 30 years of experience with 20 of these years leading businesses through change, acquisitions and sale.

His roles have included leading private, public and PE-backed organisations, both B2B and B2C, in 15 countries. Doug joined The Access Group in 2020 to establish its Access Legal division, which is set to expand rapidly over the coming years, with a focus on a blend of best-in-class technology, employee engagement and customer involvement.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’m a Chartered Accountant and have been running SaaS businesses for the past 20 years, with a strong background and focus on HR solutions.

I joined The Access Group in 2020 with the purpose of establishing the Access Legal division and offering solutions that solve some of the biggest challenges faced by legal firms and lawyers.

We want to enable firms to focus on growth and profitability and support their aims to attract and retain the best legal talent. While for lawyers, it’s about helping reducing inefficiencies, streamlining and automating process to elevate bottlenecks in their day-to-day practices and offer tools that help them build stronger client relationships.

Tell us about the background of your business, how it got started?

Access Legal’s ambition is to offer something different. There are a number of good point solution providers to the legal sector, but in the mid-market there has been a lack of providers who can offer a broader, integrated range of solutions that enable departments across law firms to work seamlessly together. Fragmented applications can cause inefficient processes, which eat into lawyers’ already stretched time, and at firm level can provide barriers to growth and increase operating costs.

So, we saw an opportunity to be able to provide a more rounded offering — supporting finance, HR, learning, compliance alongside the essentials around case and practice management. Essentially a solution right across their law firm to help them build stronger client relationships, remove inefficiencies and workload challenges and better attract and retain the best legal talent.

The Access Group has long been established as a leading technology provider in the UK and our financial and HR divisions had a number of legal customers. With the acquisitions of Riliance and Socrates in 2019 (providing legal online training and compliance software) and Eclipse and DPS in 2020, at launch Access Legal already had a UK customer base of 3,500. This represents around a third of the market, supporting practices of all sizes and specialisms, including firms like Eversheds, Winn Solicitors, Wolferstans and The MAPD Group.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

Innovation. The Access Group has an ethos of harnessing both customer and market feedback to help with its product roadmaps and for Access Legal it will be no different.

We have around 900 developers working across all sectors and products at The Access Group so there is so much talent we can draw from to enhance and bring innovation into our legal offering.

Integration is also key. The legal sector suffers from a fragmented experience of technology, which we all know will have had a detrimental impact on business over the past 12 months. Firms aren’t looking for a quick fix solution any more to tide them over through the pandemic; they are looking for a long-term technology partner that offers a joined-up approach, understands how lawyers and clients can best work together in a post-Covid world, and provides scalability to support growth.

Our roadmap is very clear and demonstrates how we can be that partner. Today, the breath of our offering supports and respects every aspect of a firm’s operations. In time, through Access Workspace for Legal, we will unlock even greater efficiencies and challenge that fragmentation that limits so many firms by offering one all-round solution.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive?

For our clients, we want to offer peace of mind. We know they need to concentrate on what’s important to them — their clients. We want to help them make a smaller number of technology decisions and place their trust in Access Legal.

What we offer today and what we will offer in the future will change in line with the needs of law firms. Our commitment to continuously developing and sharing our roadmap with customers should help legal professionals sleep well at night knowing the tech innovation is provided for them as part of our service.

We want to provide lawyers with all the tools they need to focus on their cases and clients and remove the need to go through the pain staking time consuming and often confusing process of researching and choosing a new software provider.

Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Our initial customer base has been built through law firms who already used The Access Group for other solutions like HR or finance tech and then through significant acquisitions.

As mentioned, our customer base today is around 3,500 and we will continue to grow quickly through acquisitions as well as organically.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful SaaS company?

I think a successful SaaS company has to be relevant today and more relevant tomorrow. I’ll keep saying it but innovation is key, if you’re providing software as a service it has to be ahead of where your customers are going.

The product, the proposition and the strategy also must be realistic and drive to simplify a process for customers. For example, given client relationships are critical to law firms increasing fees earned, Access Legal’s case and practice management software helps to streamline client interaction and communication.

A SaaS business’s offering needs to be easy to understand commercially too. If your customers don’t know the benefits of investing in it to their business, then it’s likely they won’t. It’s your job to make that clear.

Your core applications and solutions you offer must be well designed, include future flexibility and scalability, and have an easy-to-use interface that your customers can pick up and run with after initial training.

And it’s important to remember that you may be offering multiple software solutions, but the service element can really make a difference. Continually updating your software’s functionality and providing new releases not only supports your customers day-to-day but shows you’re vested in making their roles easier and their firms more commercially profitable.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

From working with law firms in other areas of The Access Group, we knew the market well already and we could see that in terms of technology providers, it was vastly under served.

Although there are a number of good point solution providers, there is a real lack of technology partners who can provide a broad range of solutions that are going to help legal firms bring their teams together, and remove the barriers and bottlenecks that are restraining efficiencies across the business.

That’s a key part of the opportunity and the challenge Access Legal’s offering is aiming to solve for legal firms as we help them to unlock their potential to ultimately boost employee engagement and retention and improve the overall experience for clients.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The business’s launch has been really successful. Following the acquisitions mentioned previously, our customers already make up a round a third of the market so we were able to really identify the issues affecting firms of all sizes working in law, and work that into our strategy.

One of the key internal challenges for legal firms we pinpointed is integration. The legal sector as mentioned suffers from fragmented experience of technology, and fragmented solutions which don’t work in harmony can create inefficiencies that provide barriers to growth for the business, and frustrate legal practitioners. This can then lead to bigger issues around profitability, client satisfaction and talent retention.

It will be one of our biggest challenges to help more legal firms embrace integration. We are confident that our innovation and roadmap clearly demonstrates to law firms how by partnering with us and taking advantage of our all-round solution, we can help bring their teams together across the business, creating a smoother end-to-end experience for both the team and clients.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

The launch of Access Legal has gone well — customers have bought into our strategy and direction. Whilst it is early days they can see this is centered all around innovation and providing better support. Right from the offset we have included customers in conversations around our product roadmap, brand and strategy to not only validate our direction but take them on the journey with us.

We want them to know that their challenges and experiences are what is driving the software and service we provide to them. We are confident in this strategy and I think from my experience of working collaboratively, we know this is the best approach as a SaaS provider. Ultimately the product has to serve the purpose.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Whilst Eclipse, DPS, Riliance and Socrates have been in the legal market for some time, Access Legal as a group has only just launched and we are still just in our infancy. Like in any business we imagine as we grow and the business develops over time, there will of course be lessons we learn that will guide future strategy.

This will also be influenced by the marketplace and the evolving challenges of legal firms who will rely on us to take technology innovations and development off their plate so they can focus on providing the best service possible to clients.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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