Simmons & Simmons explained that they had approached Wavelength and that from first discussions to deal completion it had taken about three months in total – which is a fast M&A process by law firm combination standards.
The firm would not comment on the exact nature of the transaction, but has confirmed to Artificial Lawyer that the Wavelength brand will live on and the group will operate as a business unit inside the international law firm, as Simmons Wavelength.
As part of Simmons & Simmons, Wavelength will introduce new services and solutions for clients around the globe, by utilising its diverse blend of legal, data, design and engineering skills drawn from in and outside the legal profession.
Peter Lee, co-founder and CEO of Wavelength, told Artificial Lawyer in an interview: ‘[Why do the deal now?] We knew we would have to scale eventually and we have worked with Simmons & Simmons before. We share a similar vision focused on solving problems that involve large data sets.’
Jeremy Hoyland, Managing Partner at Simmons & Simmons, also told Artificial Lawyer: ‘We approached Wavelength because we wanted to provide a better offering for our clients. All the big firms have been struggling with this area [of legal technology].’
‘Wavelength has a lot of people who can help with this, and it would have been hard to grow such a capability organically,’ he added.
He also noted that this was only the second ever M&A deal the firm had done with another law firm, the last one had been in 2001 during what was a period of rapid globalisation.
[ Note: a full write up of the interview with Lee and Hoyland will be published tomorrow in Artificial Lawyer. ]
Lee added in a statement: ‘We are extremely proud of the impact we have been able to make for our clients by applying our design thinking, data science, and technology skills to real challenges faced by legal teams. At the same time Simmons & Simmons is seeing increasing demand for our skillsets from within their client base and this transaction provides us with an excellent opportunity for us to scale together.’
Drew Winlaw, co-founder, COO and Chief Legal Engineer of Wavelength, commented in the same statement: ‘We have built an energetic multi-disciplinary team who thrive on solving complex challenges with legal data and legal processes. Joining with Simmons & Simmons provides us with opportunities to serve an established client base, powered by the support and capital to help grow our team to meet the rising demand for legal engineering, legal operations, and legal design services around the world.’
Wavelength will continue to be led by Peter Lee and Drew Winlaw from offices in Cambridge and London offering their unique blend of data engineering and creative design to deliver positive change in the legal sector, at scale.
And, Hoyland at Simmons & Simmons, added in the same statement: ‘This is an exciting opportunity for the firm and one that will give our clients a clear advantage. It demonstrates that we are serious about delivering smarter solutions for our clients and that we are driving change for the better in the legal market. I look forward to working with the Wavelength team and to introducing them to our clients.’
So, what does it all mean?
First, it’s another sign of consolidation. Although in this case Wavelength was on the advisory and product development side.
The law firm/legal engineers, based in Cambridge, UK, has grown rapidly since they started in January 2016. It quickly went from a handful of people to around 30+, with a recent hire in the shape of Erika Concetta Pagano who moved over from the US in April, where she had been a director at LawWithoutWalls, and several others.
The group had a very clear mission to not just advise on legal issues, but to help law firms with ‘legal engineering’ matters, which included product development.
It’s interesting that it was Simmons & Simmons that has taken on the firm, as Wavelength clearly had good relationships with several major firms, including Magic Circle firms.
Why do this?
One reason is simply that running a fast growing business eventually becomes a burden if you are also a professional trying to give help to clients. As part of a big law firm the team can focus on their work, and not get bogged down by the operational aspects of the business.
And, as noted above, Simmons & Simmons approached Wavelength. This was an incredible opportunity and not one many at the small, but growing, business would have wanted to turn down.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that Lee and Winlaw will now both become partners at the major City firm. And no-one easily turns down the offer to be a partner at a City law firm.
Overall it’s a little bit sad to see such a pioneer absorbed, but it also marks an exciting chapter for a tremendous team of people who have done great work across many aspects of legal technology. It’s certainly a huge boost to Simmons & Simmons.
For readers who don’t know Simmons & Simmons that well, here are some facts:
- Simmons & Simmons has around 280 partners and 1,300 staff working in Asia, Europe and the Middle East across 23 offices in 19 countries.
- Simmons & Simmons’ industry sectors are: Asset Management & Investment Funds, Financial Institutions, Life Sciences and Telecoms, Media & Technology (TMT) and Energy & Infrastructure.
It’s been a City stalwart for decades, and is one of the leading commercial firms here in the UK. While a number of rivals have created incubators and launched whole suites of new legal tech tools for clients, it’s perhaps been a bit quieter about its achievements in the area of legal technology – although this latter aspect is clearly going to change…!
The move really shifts the firm’s position as a player in the legal innovation space – that is for sure.
For the partners/shareholders of Wavelength it’s unclear at present how the deal was structured, e.g. no cash exchanged as would be the case in a traditional law firm combination, or if they did a cash deal for the legal engineering business.
One aspect to consider is that Wavelength was a limited UK company, i.e. not a traditional partnership, so a cash purchase would have been possible.
[P.S. for those not used to law firm partnership mergers, normally when two partnerships combine there is no cash value paid and no financial transaction as such. The two partnerships simply combine to create a larger entity with a single partnership which together now own the integrated business.]