Hogan Lovells and automation consulting services business echo.legal have entered an innovative partnership that will combine legal advice with a deep bench of on tap automation expertise. It is envisaged that the pair may enter joint client pitches together.

The collaboration is being led by Hogan Lovells’ respected global head of knowledge management, Katja Ullrich-North, and echo.legal founder and managing director Richard Newton. Newton is one of the best-known names in legal automation, having founded Business Integrity, which developed automation solution Contract Express (now part of Thomson Reuters).

Speaking to Legal IT Insider, Ullrich-North said: “The backdrop to this collaboration is that at Hogan Lovells we have been working quite heavily on document automation internally and put a huge amount of resource and time into it. Automation is well established and lots of groups within the firm are using, for example, Contract Express.

“We’ve seen a lot of demand from clients and lawyers who want to offer document automation to clients as a way to enhance client relationships. So, we spoke to Richard about a strategic alliance where we can extend our offering.”

She adds: “Most firms are seeing increased pressure on price and we want to be innovative in how we deliver our services and are looking at how automation fits in with that wider objective.”

Ullrich-North began speaking to Newton about joining forces thanks to echo.legal’s “proven lawyer-led methodology” and she says: “There’s a value in doing automation with more predictability where we can offer it to the client in a very defined way.”

Law firm automation projects often falter because of lack of resource and while Hogan Lovells has four document automators – three in London and one in New York – Ullrich-North says that echo.legal will be able to provide support where the international firm doesn’t have the bandwidth.

The new partners are looking at ways in which they can share client relationships, including bringing each other in on new wins and potentially entering joint client pitches.

From echo.legal’s perspective, the start of any automation project involves looking at the readiness of the documents and often coincides with a refresh. Echo.legal has a partnership with Thomson Reuters but having worked on a major LIBOR repapering exercise for a financial institution recently, Newton says it became clear that where there is a gap is legal advisory capability.

He told Legal IT Insider: “In the first phase of the project we were just working with the central contracts team who are quasi-legal, and it was time consuming because there was no model. In the second phase the client decided to get a review by an external law firm. We brought someone in, and we were able to tool them up and explain how we work and that when we redraft the documents it will make the process simple.

“We have delivered phase two in half the time and it struck me that what we need is to partner with a law firm that, in that situation, can do the legal work and drafting with automation in mind.”

The partnership was signed six weeks ago. It is driven by the knowledge team and sits between knowledge; litigation support (headed by Mollie Nichols); and practice operations, led by Oliver Campbell.

Other collaborative partnerships driven by Hogan Lovells include that with Cognia Law and FTI Consulting to provide clients with a ready-made LIBOR re-papering solution.

The partnership isn’t exclusive and the plan is that it will grow organically led by demand at Hogan Lovells and echo.legal. Ullrich-North said: “It will depend on the relationship with the client but where it’s an existing Hogan Lovells client I can’t see why we couldn’t bring Richard in. We’re lining up conversations with Richard internally so that our lawyers understand the nature of the collaboration and what we can offer to clients.”

caroline.hill@legalitlabs.com