Law firms developing their own legal tech products is becoming an increasingly important area of growth, and Simmons & Simmons have amassed an impressive 37 product ‘flavours’ that they now sell to the market.
Fancy getting your hands on a tool to help with ESG, MiFID, tax codes for investments, or trademarks, or a couple of dozen other areas? Then you can jump onto Simmons’ Product Dashboard and have a browse, searching for legal tech tools by sector and service area.
You pick a tool, learn some more about it from the website, then you can register your interest and book a demo. After that, well…you can subscribe to it.
And this is just one part of what Ben McGuire, (pictured above) Partner & Managing Director, Simmons & Simmons Solutions, looks after. Solutions came into existence some time ago, but it is really expanding now. It includes six main areas:
- Flexible resourcing, branded as Adaptive,
- eDiscovery consultancy,
- ‘New Business’, which takes ideas and brings them to life,
- ‘Products’, which handles ‘off the shelf’ tech products,
- Service Excellence, which helps with things like project management and pricing,
- And, Wavelength, ‘the world’s first regulated firm of legal engineers’, focused on helping clients with operational matters, focusing on data, policy and legal design.
All in all, it’s the kind of interconnected set of capabilities that you would now expect from any major commercial law firm. I.e. that good old traditional advice on its own is no longer enough, at least not for a growing number of major law firms.
The Solutions group is also generating a decent revenue. McGuire told Artificial Lawyer: ‘Solutions revenue for 2022 should be around £18m to £20m in total, and we are now aiming for around 30% growth year on year.’
And that’s great to see. Not everyone’s ‘more than law’ projects have resulted in a solid financial performance. And there are some that have ‘dabbled’, one could say, and then lost interest. Simmons however has made this a real business.
That said, Simmons made £437m ($590m) in 2020/21 as a firm in total. Yet, £20m is not to be sniffed at, and it would be a small but important contributor to firm revenues – and partner profits. Plus, beyond the money there is much more going on.
As McGuire explained: ‘The idea of Solutions is to have all of this available in one practice group. But, the aim is not to build a cash cow, but to apply data science and our other capabilities so the firm can be more competitive everywhere.’
The core purpose, he underlined, was ‘to enhance’ what the firm did, and that this was reflected in how they approached product development: ‘Does it fit the firm’s strategy, is there demand, and can we build it?’
And that is a key challenge, because with so many options, a multi-faceted business group like this could head off in too many directions and end up creating things that were not needed. But, McGuire is acting not just as an innovation lead, but as a manager – a strategist and a deliverer, making sure the Solutions group stays on target and maintains its goals, which always have to lead back to helping the firm as a whole to in turn help its clients.
He then noted the importance of a global approach. And this is a key challenge for larger firms. I.e. the London or San Francisco offices of a firm may be doing excellent innovation work and with plenty of local buy-in from partners and clients, but move out to other parts of the broader network and it’s a different story.
McGuire concurred that regional differences were significant and that, for example, some parts of Europe just were not into buying certain services, such as flexible lawyering. However, the Asia-Pacific region was very receptive to this and they had expanded their Adaptive group to Hong Kong.
But back to the products.
There are several points here. First, they have been developing products for some years. This is not a new thing for Simmons. What is new is the rate of expansion. McGuire noted that they plan to build and bring to market around four new products per year.
As noted, the Product Dashboard presents 37 different tools, although one could group many of them together into a smaller group of product families.
One recent tool McGuire is especially excited about is Rocketeer, ‘the world’s first AI trade mark lawyer’, which has a specific focus on ‘word marks’, i.e. the brand names, rather than the physical appearance. It can:
- ‘Predict the outcome of a conflict between word marks at the EUIPO in seconds – saving you time and money
- Enhance human decision making – Rocketeer gets it right over 90% of the time, better than most experienced trade mark lawyers
- Advise with confidence – receive an instant explanation for the prediction based on thousands of previous cases, with examples to validate it
- Compare long lists of goods and services in moments, drawing from tens of thousands of data points and AI to assess the scope of conflict faster and more accurately than a human lawyer.’
The product started with a partner at the firm who came up with the idea and it then grew internally over a couple of years through the product team and input from a specialist 3rd party NLP expert.
McGuire returned to the key point: does it fit firm strategy, is there demand, and can we build it? The answer for Rocketeer was: yes.
He then pointed out that the gestation of such projects begins in a very open way. ‘There is no management gateway [to present product ideas]. Creativity cannot be stifled by just one or two people,’ he added.
I.e. anyone can come up with an idea across the firm, if it fits the key criteria above, then they’ll build it.
So, where is this all going? Clearly Simmons will always be a law firm, it is not trying to be a software provider ‘instead’ of providing expert legal input – however software provision is now part and parcel of the value a commercial law firm brings to its clients. It’s an integral part of the whole.
Moreover, these products demand the expert input of Simmons’ lawyers. They are infused with the experience and know-how of the partners. And that’s why they work. The products are simply software extensions of the capability that already exists at the firm, but these products can handle needs that are high volume, or high frequency in nature.
And it’s working. As McGuire concluded: ‘We have even received commitments from clients to buy some of the new tools we are working on – before we have even built them.’
Simmons must be doing something right.