From Russia With Love
Russia has been blamed for many things this year, so we will add our column’s absence this summer to the list. As much as we may have been distracted by summer travel, it was in some ways an inspiration. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia gave Kamlani an amazing opportunity to see not only a vibrant and thriving Moscow, but also firsthand insight into World Cup soccer, where players who typically play for professional teams, primarily in Europe, return to their “home” countries to represent them in the World Cup tournament. Not more than several weeks before the tournament, a national coach selects players with various areas of specialization (goalkeepers, defenders, mid-fielders, forwards) and quickly tries to build a well-oiled synchronous machine. As with any team sport, the winning teams have the best mix of strong players covering all aspects of the game. Russia, notoriously presented a phenomenal goalkeeper who enabled the Russian team to advance much further in the tournament than anticipated; but ultimately, lacking the strength in other key areas, the Russians were unable to make it to the final rounds. The Russian goalkeeper got Kamlani thinking about legal tech — what good is one amazing component if you cannot integrate the other necessary pieces to achieve a desired result. In soccer, you need an entire team of players covering all aspects of the game to win a tournament; in legal, you often need several components integrated together to achieve a desired outcome.
So far in 2018, we have seen quite a number of Russian goalkeepers in legal tech. Most can’t quite grasp why they are not able to gain traction in the marketplace — a contract workflow tool with a digital signature management function; a data analytics tool that predicts the length of time that will pass over the course of a litigation; an email security tool that blocks a sender from sending an email to an unintended recipient. The difficulty is that if these niche tools cannot be integrated into a larger suite of products that provide a holistic solution, the intended buyers are not able to achieve a successful outcome.
Is the law firm or the general counsel supposed to serve as a coach, identifying the best components and then figuring out how to make them all work together? There often isn’t enough scale or capital or technical bandwidth to support that function. Consequently, if you look at the practice tools inventory of a typical AmLaw 200 firm today, you will find dozens of such components most of which are largely unutilized.
In the transactional space alone, we have seen tools that assist the lawyer in automating the process of turning a template into a contract tailored to a particular transaction through a questionnaire; a tool that enables a lawyer to compare third party documents to the lawyer’s own form; a contract workflow tool with a digital signature management function; a tool that reviews a contract and alerts the lawyer to section reference inconsistencies or missing defined terms; a tool that analyzes data extracted from a portfolio of contracts to enable a lawyer to identify best practice clauses for a particular purpose — the list goes on. While a few of these tools have achieved some real scale, the general notion that a transactional user is going to utilize each of these tools separately apart from Microsoft Outlook and Word; iManage, Adobe Acrobat, etc. is likely as much of a pipe dream as my new Russian friends had for their team to win the World Cup because of their goalkeeper.
This week, we saw Atrium, the one-year old hybrid legal tech law firm startup, receive $65 million in funding to build the World Cup winning team of legal tech — a well-oiled synchronized technology engine coupled with a legal team that can seemingly address all aspects of the transactional process.
While the jury is still out (so to speak), it may well be that players like Atrium, that are able to put in the capital and effort to build a full-fledged solution, have what it takes to enable the disparate legal technologies that exist in the market today to come together in one holistic solution that truly changes the way lawyers practice law.
David Perla is a managing director at Burford Capital, and Sanjay Kamlani is a managing director of 1991 Group.