It was an announcement that came as a surprise to the market, including Business Integrity’s clients, when Thomson Reuters last week disclosed its acquisition of the document automation company and its flagship ContractExpress solution.

Business Integrity, which this year signed up Ashurst, Clifford Chance and DWF as clients alongside existing clients such as Allen & Overy and Eversheds and corporates including Asda and Reckitt Benckiser, will become part of Thomson Reuters’ legal business stable. Until recently Thomson Reuters rival LexisNexis has used ContractExpress to underpin all its document assembly products and services, including Lexis Draft and Lexis PSL.

The Thomson Reuters deal, which has received a mixed reaction from clients and competitors, will mean ContractExpress sits alongside brands including Practical Law and Westlaw, raising further questions about Thomson Reuters’ ambitions in the legal market both at a micro and macro level.

Practical Law Company (PLC) already operates contract automation solution FastDraft, leading to speculation among clients and competitors alike that FastDraft will be replaced by ContractExpress, a superior product.

Beyond that, other options include integrating ContractExpress with products such as risk management tool World-Check and in-house e-billing solution Serengeti.

For in-house clients the acquisition has been welcomed and at Reckitt Benckiser, vice-president and general counsel within group legal affairs and compliance, Claire Debney told Legal IT Insider: “I would hope that it could lead to more integrated solutions as these solutions offer so much on their own but can offer much more if integrated in a way that can provide seamless solutions – for example ContractExpress with World-Check built in to verify each party that you create a contract for (this is one on my wish list) then integrate it all in Serengeti (another one on my wish list).”

However, the reaction among a number of law firm clients, who found out about the deal through a generic email on the morning of Friday 2 October, has been one of initial frustration, as they try to work out how the acquisition and potential integration of the product will affect contract automation internally and in many cases their plans to offer clients a white labelled version of ContractExpress.

While Thomson Reuters is publicly-listed and both parties were subject to confidentiality agreements, one top 30 ContractExpress client told Legal IT Insider: “It caught us completely by surprise, which is not the greatest experience for a customer.”

A further client added: “The worry that I have is that Thomson Reuters has a track record of buying stuff and then it goes into a bit of a hole.

“I have yet to see a statement from Thomson Reuters as to how it all fits together.”

Thomson Reuters had yet to formally comment at the time of going to press, however Business Integrity’s co-founder and EMEA vice-president Richard Newton said: “This is fantastic news for ContractExpress clients. The reaction we have had from our clients has been really good.”

It is certainly early days, in a deal announced only on 1 October. But in a press release last week the publishing giant said: “Thomson Reuters has a vision for growing and investing in Business Integrity and will continue to support its innovative template automation tools.

“Business Integrity’s leading solutions make an excellent strategic fit and a natural complement to the strong brands and content owned by Thomson Reuters, including Practical Law, Westlaw and its innovative legal software and services offerings.”

Thomson Reuters’ managing director Jan-Coos Geesink added: “The acquisition of Business Integrity helps support our vision of a more efficient and connected legal ecosystem that incorporates powerful technologies and workflow solutions. It complements our existing core offerings and allows us to share new capabilities with our customers around the world.”

The ongoing concern among law firms is where, at the macro level, Thomson Reuters sees itself in the market – a concern raised in January 2013 when it acquired PLC, a leader and potential law firm competitor in client know-how. A top 30 law firm client said: “If you look at the products that Thomson Reuters are starting to assemble, they sit across so many part of the supply chain – what is the strategy behind it?

“Are Thomson Reuters playing in the space of supplier of products to law firms or are they now competing with law firms?”