Making Sense of Elite 3E

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Making Sense of Elite 3E

Everything You Need to Know About Elite 3E


About the author: Scott G. McCarthy is the Director of SMS IT Group in Los Angeles, CA. Mr. McCarthy has been working with Elite Enterprise and 3E for well over 15 years. Mr. McCarthy can be reached at or at the SMS IT Group at 323-792-2796.

Before We Drill Into the Details

If you work in a mid to large size law firm, chances are you are running either Aderant Expert, Elite Enterprise or Elite 3E to handle your time and billing. Aderant and Elite have dominated the legal time and billing space since I have worked within the legal market with smaller players taking market shares around 2 to 10{ce92d213718bf382776617a85d6b0fddfd46b8b53e7ce8d6080f3edcd619f511}. For the most part, Aderant and Elite own the space. Just take a look at the market share statistics in the latest legal technology survey and the figures will back up these statements.

Before I get into the details of this article, I want to say that both Aderant and Elite make excellent time and billing systems as do the smaller players in the market. You can’t go wrong picking either system and there are niche players in the market that fit specific needs who also make excellent systems. Building and supporting a time and billing system is a difficult and exhausting undertaking. I truly admire those people who get up every day to build and support these systems.

A Brief History of Elite 3E

For many years, Elite (who is owned by Thomson Reuters) built and sold Elite Enterprise which is an excellent client/server type system. It sits on a traditional SQL backend and has a Windows GUI client that talks to the database. It has reporting as well as the ability to connect in 3rd party reporting systems. It does a great job with the GL, time, billing, etc. Overall, it’s a great system – but it’s getting old and having a hard time keeping up with the complex evolving legal space. Elite knew they could only take Enterprise so far and had to build a new system from the ground up to be able to deliver what firms were asking of their T&B systems.

Personally, I think it was a brilliant move. So Elite set out and built a web-based T&B system on the latest and greatest technological platforms available and delivered. For a few early years, they struggled to get conversions right and the market heard about all the horror stories of firms going live with problems. But Elite was always honest about these issues and worked through them. Eventually, they got a handle on it and now have a good grasp of the system with some very talented people.

Now, Elite is trying to convince its existing Enterprise customers to move to their new system and new potential customers on other systems to come over to this new shiny system. We are going to talk about 3E and whether you should consider it for your firm. I am going to speak from my own personal experience and a good deal of what is in this article is just my opinions and experiences – not fact – just my own experiences and knowledge.

What’s So Special About 3E? Why Should I Consider It?

Elite 3E is a massive and complex system. When I first sat in a sales demo, my head was spinning because it was so different and had so many options. It was such a foreign concept it took me a while to get a hold on it. But massive and complex can be a good thing. One of my favorite features of 3E is that the workflow is baked into the heart of the system. Many firms and people miss the importance of this feature. Workflow was available in Elite Enterprise but it was done through a third party product and never really delivered the way many expected because it wasn’t baked into the product. Elite 3E has a very powerful workflow engine built into the core of the system.

Workflow Engine

Why should you care? If you are a firm that still passes paper around to open a client or matter through your new business intake (NBI) process, you can now automate this process through the workflow. Imagine a secretary entering new matter information and this entry kicking off a beautifully orchestrated series of events that requires absolutely no paper. The system automatically checks to make sure the client doesn’t have an outstanding balance over $20,000 and if so, asks the managing partner for permission to open regardless. The system then runs conflict checks and your conflict clerks examine the results and click a button if there is a potential conflict. The conflict information gets routed to the relevant attorneys and they report back by click a button on their dashboard or by replying to an email. Instead of a matter taking days to open it now takes hours.

Imagine having an AR write off process in place that is fully automated. Where write offs are routed to the person(s) tasked with examining such write offs and clicking buttons on their electronic dashboard to approve or deny each request; all without having to distribute one single piece of paper around the office. I think you get the picture now.

3E workflow allows you to automate repetitive tasks, eliminate paper pushing and repetitive data entry. It makes your firm more efficient and allows you to focus on billing rather than bureaucracy. I have seen firms use this feature to beat their competition through efficiency. While your competitors are drowning in paperwork, delays and data entry your firm is effortlessly burning through administrative tasks at the speed of light.

Workflow is probably, in my opinion, one of the greatest feature of 3E. The days of billing high rates or charging $200 more per hour because you are Acme & Acme are over. Efficiency is a key aspect of making your firm more competitive in an ever increasing competitive landscape. Recently, when I received my MBA, I sat through an international business course that spent a good deal of time teaching MBA students how to negotiate rates with law firms and how to use electronic billing to their advantage. As people are more educated on interfacing with firms, efficiency is a key element of staying competitive.


Although Enterprise had reporting and the ability to generate most any report you needed, it usually took an IT person using a powerful reporting tool to generate the data you were looking for. 3E now has powerful reporting tools built into the system where you can literally drill down to the penny. For example, 3E has a reporting tool called “matter group inquiry” where you can pretty much see any data you want without the need for anyone in IT to even get involved. Just drag and drop what you want. Because of 3E’s unique database structure, it has incredibly powerful reporting tools where you can look at any data you want without needing to spend a ton of money on IT. The average person can learn how to use these tools pretty quickly and get data back. Imagine having a dashboard in front of you that shows the firm’s profitability by office drillable by attorney in an almost real time fashion. 3E can literally give you a full view into what is happening in your firm.

Not only that, I have used 3E’s reporting tools to help firm’s figure out their core client base. For example, I had one firm that insisted their biggest earners were larger financial clients that spent over $150,000 a year on legal. After running through the data, it turned out a majority of their probability was from their smaller clients who were billed less than $20,000 a year. They immediately changed their marketing strategy once they knew this. If reporting is used properly, you can learn who you’re most profitable clients are, who to market toward, and what attorneys are truly bringing in profitable work.

Flexible Data and Development Environment

Elite 3E was also built around an environment that allows you to highly customize the system. Need to build a custom application right into 3E – no problem. Need to change a screen or layout, done very easily using the toolsets. Not only does it have a great programming interface, it is also built on Microsoft BizTalk which allows you to easily import and export data. 3E is unique in the fact it has a dedicated interface that allows you to build any bridge to importing and exporting data through the system. Many systems I have worked with require you to pay for an interface every time you want to import or export data in and out of the system.

For example, many firms have used BizTalk in 3E to quickly import all their vendor invoices using electronic files provided from the vendors. Gone are the days of accounting clerks manually entering vouchers and processing invoices one by one from vendors. 3E also easily connects to existing systems including your cost recovery systems from copiers, scanners and phones. All that data gets sucked into 3E and a designated person simply reviews the data and allows import into the system.

Again, if these features are used to their full potential, your firm can add further efficiencies and eliminate laborious work which allows your staff to focus on higher level tasks such as analyzing your data and helping steer billers in the right direction using data.


One of my biggest gripes about T&B systems is the weak template systems and the ability to customize pre-bills, invoices, check templates and reports. 3E has a dedicated server called an EDG server which is a full template development environment which allows firms to fully customize any template from checks to invoices. You can even build advanced logic into templates usually called smart templates. For example, if there are no hard or soft costs on a bill, you can tell the template not to show that section. Or can you build logic in that changes the look of a bill for one type of client versus another. Elite 3E has a very powerful template system and one that gives you total control over anything you want to do.

I implemented 3E at one firm that decided to output pre-bills/bills and automatically place copies in the document management matter folder so attorneys knew exactly where to go to get their pre-bills or review final bills. All without anyone from accounting spending any time printing and distributing the pre-bills. The attorney would simply go to the pre-bill folder under the matter in the document management system to view and edit the pre-bill.


One of the newest features I love is their new monitoring system. Elite recently added a monitoring system that allows you to watch over the actions and activities going on inside the system. If someone deletes a GL account, you can go into the reporting system and see exactly who did it and when. It has the ability to monitor and report on any and all activities and gives you a detailed insight into what is going on inside your system. What a great feature!

This System Sounds Amazing! What’s the Catch?

In my opinion, Elite 3E is a truly amazing system. It’s very powerful and can pretty much automate your entire firm if you spend the time and make the effort to do so. However, because 3E is a big system, it can be complex to purchase, install and configure. 3E takes a great deal of money and manpower to put in place and for a firm to reap the full benefit. However, you also have to look at how much you are going to save in the long term by investing the time and energy to automate and eliminate manual processes. Below, I am going to discuss some of the things you should consider with Elite 3E and the pros and cons of each item.

When considering 3E, I highly recommend you hire someone who is an expert with 3E who can help you evaluate, negotiate and implement the system and who can work hand in hand with Elite to ensure your firm gets everything out of 3E you expect – and you stay on budget while you do it.

Elite 3E is Complex

Like I said above, 3E is a complex system. Even evaluating and understanding how best to implement 3E to the way your firm operates can be a daunting task. You have to look at the unique operations within your firm and make sure your firm accounts for everything you do and that the system can handle such tasks or whether a customization needs to be built into the system to handle them. For example, some firms might handle complex banking work that has a unique billing process which the system cannot handle out of the box. All these things need to be taken into account and should be done before you even sit to negotiate a purchase. Again, an Elite consultant or expert can help you navigate these issues.

Again, complexity is not a bad thing. It means the system can handle most anything you throw at it but you also need to spend the time and planning to make sure you design the system to handle it. Because 3E is flexible and powerful, the tradeoff is that it takes time and effort to initially set it all up.

Elite 3E Requires Powerful IT Systems

Because 3E has so many parts and so much power, it does require powerful IT equipment to run. And this translates into having an IT person who knows how to set it all up and keep it running. Because 3E uses a newer SQL language called OQL, even a firm’s IT people are going to have to learn some new tricks to support the system. A firm should factor in the equipment costs, customization and support costs with 3E. If this all looks daunting, I again advise firms to conduct a quick ROI study and measure what you are spending in your day to day repetitive tasks compared to what your investment is going to be with 3E. Often I find that a firm ends up saving in the long run even though 3E does have higher end equipment and IT support requirements than most systems and that’s because it can do more. A powerful system requires powerful equipment.

3E Can Take More Time & People to Implement

Firms need to keep in mind that 3E can take longer to implement and bring live than some other systems and that’s because it does more. As an example, workflow is a very powerful feature but someone has to sit and document the firm’s workflow, figure out how they want it to work in the system, and have someone program and test it. I advise firms to come up with realistic timelines and budgets and limit what you look to accomplish on go live. I often recommend you break up the project into 3 phases: Phase 1 being bringing the basic system live along with critical customizations and features along with Phase 2 and 3 tackling your efficiency and enhancement items such as electronic pre-bills or NBI workflows. You have to remember that you are not installing a traditional time and billing system but a complex and powerful system that happens to include time and billing.

As a general rule, a medium sized firm can expect to hire one person to act as the project manager and oversee the firm’s interests and internal planning. This person should be dedicated full time to the project and work between the firm and Elite. You should also plan out your accounting department’s time and make sure they have dedicated time to put into the project along with keeping up with day to day work. I often advise firms to synchronize this project with the managing partner and have him or her understand that the firm needs to balance out the day to day demands with the demands of the project. I have seen projects fall off track because of lack of planning or time because they weren’t prepared for the complexity and time required to implement 3E.

Firms Need a Long-Term “Guru” & Experts

In order for firms to keep the Elite project on track, they need to plan to have the project manager stay on through all the phases or hand over the work to a qualified internal person once go live is done. Getting through all the implementation phases requires someone who owns the project and drives it to completion. This person also needs to watch the budgets, look for potential pitfalls, and work with accounting to plan the system properly. Because 3E will run a large portion of your firm after it is live, it needs attention. What’s better – keeping 6 people who manually enter data all day or 1 person who streamlines that process and eliminates the need for such repetitive work? I am sure the answer is obvious.

Because of its complexity, 3E also needs highly skilled experts to help implement the system. A firm can expect a couple people to focus on conversion, another on templates, and one on project management. Putting 3E in place is a team effort.

It Takes a While to “Get It”

Even when a firm’s staff spends time in training, testing and planning, it can take a while until each member of your firm starts to actually fully understand the system and its complexities. I will watch a firm go through a project and will watch the staff struggle through the training and testing and then one day they just “get it”. All the learning finally comes together and they understand the system and the benefits of it – but it does take time.

It’s important to put enough time into training and be patient with everyone on your team because it’s a lot of information to adsorb and a lot of moving parts to deal with. Eventually, everyone will understand it and understand the power of it.

What’s the Bottom Line on 3E? Should Our Firm Consider it?

Overall, I really like 3E. Once it’s in place and running, it’s an amazingly powerful system. It can really give your firm a competitive advantage in the legal market through efficiency and allow your billers to focus on actually billing. But you have to have a realistic view of the amount of work it’s going to take to put in place. Like the old saying goes, no pain no gain right? You also have to look at whether your firm can benefit from the major points of 3E; the workflow, reporting, import/export, web interface, etc. And I wouldn’t recommend making that decision through this article! If you are considering replacing your time and billing system, bring in an expert and evaluate 3E and other systems.

Thomson Reuters did invest heavily in building 3E and it’s a very unique system in the legal space. It’s web-based and it’s got powerful workflow and reporting all sitting on the newest technologies. It’s definitely worth considering. As a general rule, the more you expect to get out of the system, the more you are going to have to put into it to get there. And you also have to keep in mind that generally a time and billing system has a lifespan of 15-20 years so it’s usually worth putting the time and money into the project if you know you are going to get results back for 15 years.

I have seen firms use 3E to its full potential and automate almost every task through the use of all the various tools the product offers. The results, in some cases, have been amazing. But those firms also had a realistic view on what it would take to get there and had the dedication to see the project through to the end.


Scott G. McCarthy works for SMS IT Group LLC at and can be reached at with any questions or comments.


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