Role Reversal as Litera Buys Tech Product from Law Firm

In an unusual role reversal, leading Australian law firm Gilbert + Tobin has sold its digital disclosure tool that it built internally to the ever-growing legal tech platform, Litera, in what is a rare example of a large software company buying an innovative solution lock, stock and barrel from a law firm. Such a move could also be a world first, the firm claims.

Normally it’s the tech companies licensing their tech to lawyers, not lawyers flogging products they’ve built to tech companies.

As to whether this is a world first, that depends on how you define it. But, as one eagle-eyed reader* has noted, NetDocuments in 2018 bought Chapman and Cutler’s Closing Room deal management application. Chapman is an AmLaw 200 law firm. So, maybe it’s fair to say this is the second such deal – and perhaps more are lurking somewhere in the legal tech archives.

The acquisition complements Litera’s existing technology suite, which streamlines the process of managing transactions within a secure, collaborative workspace, the tech company said. The sum paid has not been disclosed.

The tool was built by Gilbert + Tobin’s Legal Service Innovation and Technology teams, in collaboration with its Corporate Advisory and Intellectual Property groups.

The Gilbert + Tobin tool digitally verifies disclosure document statements, provides real-time data on the verification status, and syncs verification changes into a master document.

This then creates efficiencies through the automation of the verification process making it less labour-intensive. The result is faster, more efficient and accurate verification of documents, the law firm said.

Commenting on the sale, Partner and Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer, Caryn Sandler, said: ‘It has been a rewarding experience to see this tool evolve from an original idea into a sophisticated technological product. With our team’s dedication and expertise, the tool is now ready for the next stage in its journey, in the capable hands of a leading global legal technology company.

‘To my knowledge, Gilbert + Tobin is the first and only law firm to have developed and sold its own software of this kind to a company such as Litera. As a firm with a strong commitment to innovation we will continue to develop and leverage our IP.’

Rachael Bassil, Partner in the Corporate Advisory team, added: ‘We are excited to see the tool go from strength-to-strength under Litera’s leadership. Litera can appreciate the tool’s potential. We look forward to seeing more clients and lawyers benefit from this technology, enabling them to work smarter and focus on their commercial objectives.’

Is this a big deal? In terms of one business buying an application from another business this would not raise eyebrows, but..…when well-known and very experienced tech companies such as Litera are buying tools built by law firms – the likes of which one might expect them to build on their own – then that is an important development.

It in turn raises all kinds of new opportunities for other law firms to consider in terms of building to sell.

More and more law firms are building their own tools. Often they generate additional revenue from them, e.g. Allen & Overy’s AOSphere suite of expert systems which are sold on a subscription basis, and then we have Clifford Chance Applied Solutions and Reed Smith’s Gravity Stack, and there are others.

But, to see the law firm sell a solution outright to another entity, now, that is a new way of looking at the business of law firm tech development and turns the law firm into more of a kind of VC fund that fosters new products and then sells on their interest in them at a later date.

[ * thanks to Zach Abramowitz, the startup investor, for his great memory! ]