A trio of leading law firms in the U.S., Europe, and Asia have chipped in millions to support a new legal tech platform they say will help firms and their clients work through the often tricky process of collaborating digitally on complex projects.
Lupl, funded by Cooley, CMS, and Rajah & Tann Asia, has been in the works for more than a year and has been beta-testing for a couple of months. It’s a cloud-based operating system for legal projects that will be available for integration with a range of legal departments, law firms, and other technology providers.
The three firms have invested a total of just over $10 million, a company spokeswoman says, and though the public release isn’t scheduled until early 2021, the company has already built out its workforce. Lupl, which says it’s the first open industry platform for legal matters, has signed on about 50 employees, including a tech team of 36.
Law firms and the law departments that seek their services have often operated in largely separate spheres, including in terms of their technology, though there have been some efforts within the industry to build in more alignment. Though Lupl isn’t the first product to connect in-house lawyers to law firms on projects, the company says their open platform fills an important need in this space.
Lupl aims to synchronize everything that goes into legal projects, including documents, communications, and technology applications. The goal of the platform is to have law firm attorneys and legal departments share a secure, cloud-based work space to collaborate more efficiently on complicated, high-stakes legal matters such as mergers and acquisitions.
“Lupl wasn’t built for one side or the other,” said Adam Ruttenberg, a Cooley partner based in Washington. “It was built for the legal ecosystem.”
The need for a tool like Lupl has long been clear, say three advisors to the startup, to reduce communications hiccups between law firms and their clients, and to help alleviate time pressures often placed on in-house counsel operations by corporate higher-ups.
The ultimate goal of corporate legal departments is to help make sure that the company’s business decisions are implemented quickly and efficiently, said Lupl advisor Heidi Gardner of the Gardner & Co. consultancy. “Outside counsel should be fully aligned with this.”
Tools to enable speedier collaboration like Lupl could be key to fixing the problem, said Gardner, also a distinguished fellow with Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession.
Collaboration tools that do at least some of what Lupl does, including a company called Workstorm, and individual law firm extranet portals, have been around. But Lupl founders say their tech boasts an “open approach” that means any legal department and law firm can use the software, and all tech providers will be able to integrate with it via open APIs.
Lupl’s legal department advisory board includes attorneys from companies in a range of fields, including Deutsche Bank, Airbnb, Turo, and Unilever.
The need for collaboration tools is greater than ever for what might be a counter-intuitive reason, said Matt Pollins, Lupl’s chief commercial officer who joined the venture from CMS: the explosion of legal tech startups in recent years.
The issue with the range of new software to solve different legal industry issues is that the tech more often doesn’t integrate. “This causes headaches,” said Pollins.
At the same time, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic only reaffirms that finding new ways to collaborate remotely through the cloud may be key for the industry’s long-term health, he said.
Though Lupl is funded by the three firms, it is an “independent vehicle,” said Duncan Weston, CMS’s Frankfurt, Germany-based executive partner, and not directly connected to the firms.
Venture capital shops and strategic investors have inquired about buying in, but Lupl has so far turned them down, said Ruttenberg.
Though Ruttenberg and Pollins say Lupl’s revenue model is still a work in progress, the company does have a go-to-market strategy. Initially, the plan is to target the 200 highest-grossing U.S. law firms, and their equivalents in Europe and Asia, said Ruttenberg. From there, company founders are betting that corporate legal departments will be eager to join in.
The idea to pursue a startup was devised during a chat in the fall of 2018 between Weston and Ruttenberg, they say. But the broader notion had been on Weston’s mind far longer.
“It’s a project I’ve dreamed about for many, many years,” he said.