Process War Heats Up As UnitedLex To Spend $100m on Digital Transformation

The war to decide who will be the dominant players in the legal process market has taken another step forward with UnitedLex, which is majority owned by the CVC Capital Partners private equity firm, announcing a $100m investment in digital transformation.

By any standards spending $100,000,000 on digitising a process-focused legal business is significant, even more so given that the funds for this are backed by a private equity firm the scale of CVC, which has $105 billion in assets under management – just to give a sense of the ‘power behind the throne’ at UnitedLex when it comes to executing its growth strategy.

But what do you spend all that money on? The legal process company said that the investment would centre on its Vantage platform and associated consulting capabilities.

It describes Vantage as ‘a holistic, turnkey platform [that is] purpose built to revolutionise the customer experience and transform the legal function into a first-class digital citizen’.

In English this means working with legal teams to digitise their workflows, doc creation and review processes, and integrate that with UnitedLex’s large number of human reviewers and contracting experts, as well as their own tech stack.

With Vantage, corporates can also ‘gain new self-service tools that can eliminate wait times, along with visibility into the work the corporate law department is performing on their behalf’, i.e. leveraging the data from the workflows to better understand the contracting process.

The company already works with legal AI doc review pioneer, Seal Software, although another interesting part of the news is probably this bit: ‘UnitedLex’s deep commitment to digital includes foundational investments in executive leadership, technology development, and delivery capabilities.’

That suggests they’re going to be doing some tech development of their own, and with $100m to spend they will hopefully be able to get some good results.

Another key factor is just how much of a consulting focus the group has now – and that clearly will only expand. As with many similar businesses, what started out as very much a ‘we have lots of people and we will do your process work’ approach, has evolved into something that is more akin to the Big Four, i.e. a mix of people with a process focus, plus tech experts, and consulting.

And, they will also be hiring more people – which seems to go hand in hand with their strategic goals around tech development. They said: ‘Technology investments include design thinking, software engineering, and product management, resulting in the next generation of UnitedLex Vantage.

‘Complementary investments in world-class talent in the areas of customer experience, change management, and transformation will help accelerate clients’ pathways to an optimised digital state,’ they added.

This in turn could create something of a talent war, as rival organisations such as Deloitte Legal and Elevate, plus Factor and Knowable, and plenty of law firms that have built process, tech, and consulting groups, all try to hire in top talent – and also retain the top people they already have. As seen with the recent hires into Elevate, and departures from it, the field is already getting busy with talent movement.

One example of a recent hire to UnitedLex is David Edelheit, the new Chief Digital & Transformation Officer, who was until July 2019 Big Four firm PwC’s Chief Operating Officer & Transformation Leader for Global Advisory. Just that level of hire in itself shows the direction of travel the company is planning on.

And, another top hire from 2019 is Sean Jennings, their new CTO, who was previously at Dell Technologies. He is ‘spearheading the creation of a revolutionary legal tech infrastructure’.

UnitedLex CEO, Dan Reed, said of the investment splurge: ‘UnitedLex is all in on digital, optimising the way legal departments work to deliver far greater impact to the enterprise. The role of technology in business is unquestionable, and Digital lies at the centre of that ecosystem. While Digital is a necessary evolution for all parts of the business, it is an even greater priority for the law department.’

What does this mean?

Simply put, the world of legal process is seeing a significant battle between both new and old players just as the addressable market grows and grows.

These players are not simple ‘LPOs’, but businesses that are now offering their tech infrastructure, tech consulting, legal ops consulting, and more. I.e. they have taken some lessons from the Big Four and are now applying them at scale.

These players are long-experienced businesses such as Elevate and UnitedLex, which started in 2006 and has 3,000 legal, engineering, and technology staff across 18 countries, the Big Four such as EY, PwC and Deloitte, and some of the more pioneering law firms, plus a group of newer businesses some of which came out of Axiom, such as Factor and Knowable. And that’s just a few. There are many others of all shapes and sizes spread around the globe.

Moreover, it would seem that all the moves we have seen recently, from EY buying Pangea3, to Deloitte building out its LMS, to Elevate expanding its consulting capabilities, is just the beginning of this war. There are many more stages that it will go through before we reach a new equilibrium in the market.

Interesting times.