Last week it appeared that launching your own alternative legal service provider is catching, as Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) became the latest firm to announce that it is launching a new service – BCLP Cubed – that integrates volume legal services and legal operations support with its complex legal work. Given the launch of ALSPs by Greenberg Traurig and Eversheds Sutherland in the last few days, there has been a temptation in the market to lump these new ventures together, but they are quite different.
BCLP Cubed, which will be led by partner Neville Eisenberg as the full-time CEO, will bring together the firm’s volume delivery teams in Manchester, UK, and St. Louis, USA, and Cantilever. They will work alongside BCLP lawyers to create and deliver the new integrated solutions for clients. BCLP’s chief innovation officer Katie DeBord developed the concept with Eisenberg and will head up the product development team for the new service. Unlike Greenberg Recurve and Eversheds Konexo, BCLP Cubed is not housed in a new corporate structure, and not, therefore, an own-ALSP.
BCLP says the new service will encompass an integrated platform for delivering end-to-end solutions with the objectives of speeding up transaction cycles, reducing costs and providing data insights, resulting in a direct benefit for the firm’s clients. The firm is already engaged with a number of clients in developing end-to-end solutions for commercial contracts, real estate asset management and loan agreements.
Eisenberg said: “BCLP Cubed will provide a one-stop-shop service for those classes of legal work which our clients want delivered in a systematic, technology-enabled and process-oriented way. I am confident that the combination of this platform with our depth of legal experience and global reach will produce a compelling proposition for corporate legal departments interested in a new approach.”
BCLP says the service will provide a ‘closed loop’ for continuous improvement via a single legal supplier who can collect and analyse all the data within their legal work – as clients wake up to the value of analytics (for which you need significant data, aka more transactions) it is smart to bring this offering within one platform.
It’s not revolutionary: law firms are increasingly looking for ways to leverage technology and better processes and workflow (hopefully not in that order) to avoid losing the more commoditised portion of their transactions but firms such as Herbert Smith Freehills and Baker McKenzie have long provided an integrated alternative legal offering, combining technology and legal expertise. HSF’s ALT is now located in nine hubs around the world, providing a 24/7 service thanks to its ‘follow the sun’ arrangement. In Belfast, Bakers in 2018 announced that it was growing its workforce by 150, reaching a total of 450. Baker’s Belfast Center tackles high-volume, large-scale projects including e-discovery, document review, M&A due diligence and legal research to enable our firm to provide routine legal services to clients rather than outsource them.
Contrast that with Greenberg and Eversheds, where the ventures are, or in the case of Eversheds soon will be, an entirely separate business, which will arguably be able to conduct itself more like an ALSP in terms of costs (being entirely protected from the law firm’s costs and billing structure), recruitment, and the way they sell tech-led services. Partners do not know how to sell subscription services, as we have previously attested to in the launch of Clifford Chance Applied Solutions, and that was no doubt a contributing factor in the launch just after the turn of the century of Allen & Overy’s ahead of its time online subscription businesses Aosphere.
The big question, and the one that law firms ought to be asking themselves, is whether an integrated or external offering is, or will, be most attractive to the client.
In the U.S., corporate legal departments have in some cases already exceeded their 2021 projections for use of ALSPs from two years ago and a fair number of corporations ask their law firms to use ALSPs on their behalf, according to a report by Thomson Reuters in collaboration with Georgetown University and Acritas. An external ALSP, when the next recession hits and in-house teams are cut with work redirected elsewhere, will arguably be an easier sell. In the case of Greenberg’s Recurve, it will also be able to get external investment, which it is looking to do.
For BCLP, giving the repackaged internal service a name and clear brand is sensible – in the same way as a client might give work to an ALSP it can give work to BCLP Cubed – while it might sound trivial to some, the name has the right ring to it as well. It also perhaps helps BCLP to avoid concerns over brand devaluation for some of its higher-end work.
We shouldn’t forget that BCLP has been here before, with a few lessons to be learned from its experiences in growing and then selling LOD (Lawyers on Demand). In 2012, a pre-merger Berwin Leighton Paisner announced that it was transferring the LOD business, founded in 2008, into a separate company, while maintaining close ties with BLP. “BLP will remain an integral part of the LOD offering to general counsel and their in-house legal teams,” the announcement said.
What happened in the following years was that LOD outgrew BLP and wanted more investment and to expand internationally, which it has done rapidly after being acquired last year by Bowmark Capital.
The bolder move right now is arguably to launch and grow an external ALSP. But there is a serious risk that in trying to be all things to all clients law firms will lose their focus. Finding the right degree of separation or conversely integration and workflow is key, and it’s far from easy.