Can Lupl become the legal world’s universal platform? That is the question. Duncan Weston, Executive Partner of CMS, believes so.
It is an ambitious project that seeks to one day bring together potentially all commercial law firms and all their clients in one digital meeting place, where all types of work can be conducted and managed.
It is also a system that embraces the ideals of multilateralism, i.e. no particular firm or client runs or dominates the platform; and universality, i.e. any firm, with any tech stack, e.g. any DMS, any doc analysis tools, or video comms system, can come onto the platform and work with other firms and their clients.
As you can appreciate, the scale of the idea is just so great that it can be hard for a lot of people in the market to truly appreciate what Lupl wants to achieve.
In fact, Weston, one of the architects of the project, has even produced a 300-page doctoral thesis on Open Industry Platforms (OIP) in the legal and professional services sector, which is something of an ideological blueprint for what its backers, which includes US firm Cooley and Singapore’s Rajah & Tann Asia, want to build.
Also, at this point it’s very important to stress that although the above three law firms have provided the initial funding for Lupl, it now has its own management team and will, as Weston explained, receive funding from many other sources in the future.
The goal, in fact, is for the founding law firms to move into the background, so that everyone in the market is comfortable with using the platform. I.e. this is really the absolute opposite of a proprietary piece of law firm technology, it instead seeks to be a platform for everyone.
One might say that CMS invested in Lupl not to make a fast buck, but because it really believes that a universal digital legal platform will help everyone.
Right, so that’s the groundwork. Let’s dig further into this.
First, aside from providing a digital meeting place where lawyers can engage with each other, share documents and transact a deal, what else does Lupl do?
This is how the company, explains things: ‘In Lupl, your work is organised in matters. Not email threads. Not chat messages. Not paper files. Not portals. And everything for the matter you’re working on today is there, in one place. Neatly organised and in context, whenever you need it. The conversations. The documents. The scope. The tasks. The status. Even the checklist you need when you want to double-check something. Everything.’
And it will also help everyone connect via every comms system. Or, as Lupl puts it: ‘So you live in Slack. But Mia, your outside counsel, lives in Teams. And Jeff, the tax counsel, lives in his inbox.
‘Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could work together on a matter without having to change their tools and systems? With Lupl, you can continue to be in Slack, and Mia can continue to live in Teams, and Jeff can continue to fire out his lengthy tax advice emails. Hey, you can even all use different document systems. And you can use Lupl to bring those pieces together in a way that’s specifically designed for legal matters. That’s why we plan to integrate with everything.’
So, a certain amount of workflow and matter management, plus universal connectivity across firms and clients. And, it does not try to own the information shared during a deal. As Weston noted to Artificial Lawyer, documents may be shared via Lupl, but they go back to the DMSs that they started in. Lupl is not trying to control anything, it’s trying to be an open space, with useful workflow tools added in if you want them, where you can do what you want, with whoever you want.
Even the pricing system is based on interactions between users, Weston added. And this comes back to the multilateral aspect, i.e. users get charged for how they connect with other parties, including competitor law firms who may be on the other side of the deal, rather than paying just for their use of Lupl in isolation.
‘It is a platform where lawyers from all firms and all clients can meet and carry on transactions and use their own tech,’ Weston summed up.
There are plenty of APIs and integrations, and Weston highlighted that they are also engaging closely with people at Microsoft’s Teams so that the popular communications software also works seamlessly with the platform – which clearly is going to be essential given how pandemic-driven flexible working looks like it is with us to stay.
But Why Do This?
We are used to seeing law firms invest in tech companies that may be of use to their own particular needs and client base. We also see law firms building tools just for them and their clients. But this is something else. It’s altruistic, it’s for the common good. And that really is different.
It reminds Artificial Lawyer of the growing movement toward standardisation across multiple aspects of the legal world. Such moves don’t favour any particular business, they help all of them. The same goes for Lupl.
As Weston put it: ‘It’s like having a football pitch that is for everyone, that allows all teams to come onto the field and play seamlessly.’
‘Those teams don’t need to change anything about what they do, (or what tools they use already), we can all work together.’
Another analogy that came to mind while we were talking was CMS itself. CMS, unlike many other global firms, has generally avoided cross-border mergers. Its culture has always been that CMS allows everyone to work together under one umbrella, from London, to Paris, to Düsseldorf, without necessarily having to be part of the same partnership.
One could say that this is the same multilateral spirit that has helped to shape Lupl. This site then suggested that ‘Lupl is the technological child of the CMS philosophy’, a take on things that Weston agreed with.
So, as to ‘the why?’ of it all, perhaps the answer is simply that Weston and the other architects of Lupl believe in it. They hope for a future where lawyers can come together to work in the best interests of their clients in a co-operative way, and not seek to own every part of the process.
Of course, law firms sell proprietary knowledge and expertise, that’s how they make their money. But, Lupl is asking the question: do you really need to try and own this part of it; the part where we all come together to work in this new digital environment?
Weston would argue that this has to be the future and we need to learn from the B2C world, including looking at platforms such as Amazon. Now, while Amazon is a retail platform, the bit that interests Weston is its openness, the way that sellers can all jump onto it for the benefit of themselves and the customers.
And on that point Artificial Lawyer asked if Lupl would eventually evolve into something like a marketplace, perhaps with a search function for finding the lawyers that clients need? That is not the plan right now, he said, but it could in theory be a future option.
Another area to explore in the future is gathering anonymised data from the interactions on the platform and providing this information to the users, like a form of Peer Monitor, which gathers data from across the market and then shares it back to the users, but without any names attached, so all can share in the benefits of the insights.
Can It Work?
The challenges are many. To start with there are many products that offer the ability to share docs and work in a digital space, from HighQ to a range of deal platforms and VDRs, as well as plenty of matter management systems. Although none really have the same multilateral and universal approach of Lupl.
Then there is the challenge of law firms thinking in terms of an OIP – an open industry platform that belongs to everyone and belongs to no-one. Law firms tend towards proprietary behaviour – it’s in their nature as knowledge businesses to control information, to control the tools they make, to control interactions with clients and other firms. In short, law firms like control.
Weston would argue that this doesn’t have to be the case. And, one could add that CMS – as well as several dozen law firm referral networks such as LexMundi and others – prove that lawyers can work together without having to control the whole show.
Perhaps if only every major independent commercial law firm in the world, which would be several hundred players, got onto this shared ‘football pitch’ then it will have proven its worth.
Also, for the clients, they have nothing to lose from getting onto Lupl, it should only make life easier for them.
The real challenge will be getting the giant global law firms to join, which have offices all over the planet, thousands of client relationships, and want to manage as much of this all by themselves.
But, perhaps if the clients jump on then even the global law firms will follow? And if that happens, eventually Lupl may achieve Weston’s dream of a universal platform for the legal market.
They formally launched in May this year and they are now in early adopter mode. But, Weston is already optimistic and added that there is ‘a massive list of people who want to do demos of Lupl’.
‘It’s an exciting time. Tech is an enabler for change, and we can all work together,’ he concluded.
Let’s hope that the rest of the legal world, especially the larger firms also buy into this multilateral message. Good luck to Lupl.