Why Wavelength sold to Simmons

This article first appeared in the July/August Orange Rag.
Up there with the biggest stories this year is the acquisition of Wavelength by Simmons & Simmons, which sparked a good few questions, mostly as to why Wavelength would sell at a time when every law firm and their dog needs and doesn’t have legal engineers and data scientists.
At the time of the acquisition, we interviewed Simmons’ managing partner Jeremy Hoyland on the “hows, whys and wheres” of the acquisition and if you haven’t read it yet you can do that here: http://legaltechnology.com//latest-news/wavelength-law-simmons-managing-partner-jeremy-hoyland-discusses-the-hows-whats-and-whys-of-the-acquisition/
We’ve since had a chance to speak to Wavelength co-founder Peter Lee about the acquisition, and he had this to say.
Peter, what led you to sell Wavelength to Simmons at a time when you’re in big law firm demand?
“We can still work with other law firms and we intend to do that. But joining Simmons give us a really good opportunity to scale massively into the space.
“When we started in 2016, legal engineering was a white space and we believe we were the first people to do what we call legal engineering. We were fortunate that we were the first movers and we scaled without investment to 30 people in Cambridge and London. But I always knew from the day we started that this was a hot area and we’ve observed over the past few years that other players like the Big Four and other ALSPs have realised the data approach to law is popular and valuable. I just thought the window would be five to seven years. We always knew we’d have to scale in some form or other, either by taking private equity funding or joining forces with a bigger platform. Obviously, there are pros and cons of both but our preference of those two naturally was to join a bigger platform and the reason for that is that it allows us to keep true to our culture and the way we are structured.
“The rapid growth of the corporate counsel market means that the time frame has been reduced. What you find is that the big legal departments tend to have bigger problems to solve – the scale is bigger, like GDPR or LIBOR. In order to service the market, we need to grow our numbers and international reach. What we do isn’t bound by jurisdiction and one of the reasons we were so keen on Simmons is they have a really good international footprint.
“We’re not just being absorbed and spread through the business, we are a separate legal entity.”
Did new hires such as Sophia Adam Bhatti and Erika Concetta Pagano know you were being acquired?
“Sometimes when we’re hiring people it takes months. We started talking to Simmons not that long ago – it was a fast process because we’ve been working with them for some time so it just feels really natural. It was more like an evolution. We’ve been doing a lot of work around Libor remediation and in November we went to their partnership conference to help educate them on legal technology, which was great.
“Because of the way we’re structured as a separate entity where Drew [Winlaw] and I still lead and manage in a lot of ways, it’s not that big a change. But the deal gives us more opportunity for those guys to do the sorts of deals they want to do leveraging Simmons’ big network.”
How will you work for other law firms?
“The law firm market is big and there are some firms that won’t want to work with us anymore and some that will. We are a law firm ourselves and have been since we started.
“But the likely increase in corporate work aligns with how we see our sales pipeline evolving, because of organisations like CLOC and people in corporate teams becoming empowered.”
Why has Ben Gardner left and is the rumour true that there was a fallout?
“No! Ben left simply because his passion has always been in pharma and he got an amazing opportunity to work for AstraZeneca. His PHD was in biochemistry and he worked at Pfizer for many years before Linklaters. This opportunity to work with really large data sets in the pharma sector came up. He left on very good terms with Wavelength and was out celebrating with us last week.”
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