The Latest Entry in the Legal Tech Platform Race Is a Law Firm

Oct. 31, 2019, 8:51 AM

Welcome back to the Big Law Business column on the changing legal marketplace written by me, Roy Strom. Today we look at why one major law firm took the matter of building a tech hub into its own hands.

One of the buzziest trends in the red-hot legal tech space is a simple concept with a vague name: the “platform” play.

Legal tech companies have gone on buying sprees lately so they can offer enough products on one “platform” to hold the attention of a busy working lawyer throughout the day. Document editing and drafting, transactions management, client portals, you name it. All under one “roof.”

So, where did AmLaw 100 firm Barnes & Thornburg turn when it was looking to develop a central hub to manage its lawyers’ work? Well, not to a legal tech company.

Instead, an internal team of legal operations professionals and software developers spent the better part of two years developing the firm’s own tool that it’s poised to publicly launch. Called CaseHub, it integrates the works—court dockets, case chronologies, to-do lists, real-time budgets and document drafting and review capabilities.

“It’s all right there,” said Charlie Edwards, co-chair of the firm’s insurance recovery and counseling practice who helped in the tool’s development. “I’m not opening and closing apps. I’m not searching emails.”

For Barnes & Thornburg, the CaseHub platform is part of a broader effort to deliver more efficient services to clients.

The firm in 2016 launched a branded legal project management system, BT ValueWorks, that has led to the training of more than 200 lawyers on legal operations. The firm has said the ValueWorks program was used to manage work accounting for about a quarter of its $406 million in revenue in 2018.

The CaseHub tool is currently being used to manage litigation matters. Brendan Miller, a practicing lawyer turned legal operations advisor, said the firm expects to eventually use it to manage any type of matter or project. Barnes & Thornburg this year launched a legal operations team aimed at designing more efficient work delivery systems.

“We need to provide better service regardless if the incentives are there,” Edwards said. “That’s a decision we made in January this year when we launched legal ops.”

For legal tech companies angling to provide a “platform” of solutions, Barnes & Thornburg’s build-instead-of-buy approach represents a missed sales opportunity.

The firm looked at legal tech offerings but “didn’t really find a legal solution,” Edwards said. Instead, the group spent most of their research on more mainstream workflow management software offered by companies including BaseCamp, Asana, and Slack.

“What I have seen in legal tech is a lot of people are developing products for single solutions,” Edwards said. “Transcript management products, docket management products, legal research products, and I can go down the list. But from a user standpoint, I have to have all those products and there is no central hub that organizes all that for me.”

Internally developed workflow management platforms are nothing new.

Perhaps the best-known effort was from the defunct virtual firm Clearspire, which in 2008 spent $5 million developing a product called Coral. Among other features, it allowed lawyers in disparate offices to “walk” down a virtual hallway to see if a colleague was available by peeking inside their virtual office.

It is striking that even now, at a time when the legal tech sector is receiving $1 billion a year in investment, law firms still feel they need to develop these types of tools on their own.

But the technology alone isn’t the cure-all that some firms might expect it to be.

Mark Cohen, CEO of legal business consultancy Legal Mosaic and a former Clearspire leader said Clearspire developed Coral because it was key for the firm’s decentralized workplace and its fixed-fee pricing model.

“You have to put the technology in the context of the business model and the structure it is operating in,” Cohen said. “And if the model and the structure are not customer-centric, the technology is not going to save the day.”

Worth Your Time

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On Law Firm Dropouts: The Washington Post writes about Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang leaving Davis Polk after five months in 1999. He bolted after not answering a late afternoon Friday phone call from a partner. The Post calls this a “small act of rebellion.” I really want to know more about the passive-aggressive “acts of rebellion” that occur within Big Law firms. Please tell me yours!

On Law Firm Regulation: My colleague Sam Skolnik writes on how a quirk in Washington, D.C., lawyer regulations is becoming a topic for study as states consider scrapping or altering ABA Model Rule 5.4.

On Law Firm Rebrands: Seyfarth Shaw’s brand has a new look and message. Kudos for the clarity here: “Long recognized as a leading labor and employment law firm and legal industry innovator, Seyfarth is now a full-service firm with 16 offices around the globe.”

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading and please send me your thoughts, critiques, and tips.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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