Interview with Richard Hugo-Hamman, Executive Chairman of LEAP

Interview with Richard Hugo-Hamman, Executive Chairman of LEAP

Richard Hugo-Hamman is Executive Chairman of LEAP – the biggest software provider to the conveyancing industry in Australia. LEAP launched in the UK in October last year so Today’s Conveyancer caught up with Richard to find out how it’s going….

What’s your background Richard and how long have you been with LEAP?

“I was a lawyer years ago – I had a legal practice in my native South Africa and we did lots of conveyancing. I was a very early adopter of IT and found that the technology side of the business suited my personality better – the law tends to look backwards whereas the software industry is very forward-looking. So I’ve been involved in legal software full-time since 1992 and I love it. It’s thrilling to see how technology can help people.

“I joined LEAP 10 years ago – there were 27 of us then and we made a plan and executed it. There are now 240 people working at LEAP software and we support more than 12,000 small law firms and licensed conveyancers around the world.”

Why do you think Australia leads the world in terms of conveyancing software?

“Well I don’t know if that’s true or not but I do know that about 4000 firms use LEAP for a conveyancing transaction every week.

“For starters, we love what we do and we’re culturally obsessive about feedback – not just the negative stuff but sitting with our clients in their offices understanding how they work. Our exclusive focus is small law firms and licensed conveyancers. This has been tremendously beneficial because we have not been distracted by the demands of large ‘conveyancing shops’ – it’s our job to help the little guy be more efficient and profitable and the popularity of our software indicates that we achieve that.

“When conveyancing fees were deregulated in Australia there was a very early realisation that the only way a law firm could make conveyancing profitable was through great technology so, in the early to mid-90s, a lot of talented people began work on that. And we did it – we made the conveyancing process super-efficient. We estimate that LEAP is used in about 60% of annual conveyancing transactions in Australia.

“This is highly specialised – we’ve been doing it for more than 20 years – and we are continually revising our software. We’re innovative and pro-active and that’s how we got to the top of the market in Australia and stayed there. But our focus on the needs of conveyancers and licensed conveyancers in small firms is perhaps the key. To succeed, we need to be obsessive.

“I am sure that the firms that use LEAP make more money and have more satisfying work lives than those that don’t. As for sole practitioners, LEAP is very often the only business partner they have so we play a vital role in their lives.”

What makes the UK an interesting market for you?

“The UK and Australia share the same legal system and many lawyers who qualified in the UK practice in Australia. The conveyancing process is very similar in both countries so the work is immediately recognisable to a conveyancing solicitor in either jurisdiction. We tested our software here in the UK and all our research showed that LEAP was likely to be popular with small law firms that do conveyancing. It also gives us the opportunity to grow the company beyond Australian borders.”

As well as launching LEAP over here, you’ve made a few acquisitions over the past couple of years?

“Yes, it’s impossible to learn about a new market from scratch so the safest way for us to enter the UK was to acquire local knowledge through acquisitions. This gave us a good client base to start with but – more importantly – great local people who know a lot about how small law firms work in the UK. And now these experienced people guide us so we don’t make dumb choices. LEAP bought Peapod in the UK in June 2013; then acquired Edgebyte in 2014 and Perfect Software earlier this year. We are still supporting all those products so we have about 2,400 paying legal firm clients in the UK now.”

So how has the UK taken to LEAP?

“Well, we launched in October 2014 – exactly 12 months ago – and more than 300 law firms have purchased LEAP in the past year. The feedback from UK lawyers has been great – just read the testimonials on our website – but it’s a very compelling system. In five years’ time, we expect to have 3000 UK law firms using LEAP. We’re ambitious but we know we have the best product on the market. Our development team has more than 50 software developers working exclusively on LEAP and is creating world leading software for small law firms. We’re innovating all the time.”

What makes LEAP such a good system?

“What we have done better than anyone else in the world is combine the case management system and the accounting side of conveyancing in a single application. Because we listen so obsessively to feedback the software is remarkably practical and easy to use for anyone familiar with the conveyancing process.

“LEAP’s other major advantage is that it’s a true cloud product so it can be used anywhere, making it tremendously appealing. Simplified IT with massively lower annual IT hardware, licensing and support costs is very attractive to small firms. Interestingly mobile phone use of LEAP in the UK is double what it is in Australia. Perhaps people in the UK spend more time on public transport or sitting in their car on the M25 but the accessibility aspect of LEAP obviously really works for them.

“Another major advantage of the system is that we introduced integrated searching in Australia back in 2001 and that means that you can order searches direct from our case management system – it’s seamless. The result is automatically returned to the document management system and the cost is automatically debited on the matter ledger. It is incredibly convenient, reduces errors and saves costs.

“We brought integrated searching to the UK in August 2015 – we integrate with InfoTrack, and it’s proving to be tremendously popular. Already more than 50 clients in the UK are using our integrated search system and they’re very happy with it.

“We also spend a lot of money on customer service. We work constantly on online support assistance and have a physical helpdesk with operators that speak to people from our office in Twickenham.”

Do you have any plans to visit the UK, Richard?

“Yes, I visit the UK regularly and will be over again in mid-November – I’ve actually spent most of the past two years in the UK. On each trip I get out and meet clients to hear from the coalface, as it were, how our software is being used. It is vital to understand the local market.

“Many lawyers in small law firms in the UK feel that they are caught in a vice between overbearing compliance requirements, the legal aid agency and disproportionate negative publicity when something goes wrong for one of their number.

“We can help them. In my experience most lawyers in small law firms are remarkably dedicated to helping people; they do most of the pro bono work and they help their clients through important transactions like buying and selling a property – mostly honestly and with integrity. It is our job at LEAP to provide them with the productivity tools to do the work profitably and the business organisation framework to make compliance a natural consequence of running a firm well. We want them to enjoy the practice of law more and removing administrative and organisational stress is the way to do that.”

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