It’s been a few weeks since Lupl first launched, becoming the most talked about legal tech product or venture for a long time, partly because it’s backed and driven by three major law firms and partly because it promises to do what no other legal IT vendor does – matter synchronisation. From speaking to people since the launch, it’s clear that many are still very unclear of what that means.

Lupl is the brainchild of founding firms Cooley, CMS and innovative Singapore firm Rajah & Tann, which came about after a conversation between Cooley partner Adam Ruttenberg and CMS partner/former managing partner Duncan Weston. Speaking to Legal IT Insider, Ruttenberg said: “Lupl started because Duncan  and I were doing a project for a client and we said ‘if we are going to solve this is can’t be that all law firms have their own portals and it can’t be via a client portal – we have to allow everyone to do it by themselves – we realised that can’t be done so we convinced our respective firms and others and started doing research and putting together an advisory board.” The firms also approached Rajah & Tann – between them the three firms quite deliberately cover Europe, the US and APAC.

That was two years ago, and while we started to hear about Lupl just before the launch, it was kept extremely quiet, with Ruttenberg commenting: “We realised it wouldn’t have credibility if we announced before we were ready.”

Lupl is headed by chief commercial officer Matt Pollins, who is a partner at CMS but moved across to Lupl about a year ago and has been helping to lead conversations with law firms and general counsel about how they handle legal matters.

Pollins told Legal IT Insider: “It was critically important to avoid the trap that other legal tech falls into – client-law firm friction. We had to make sure we’re solving the painpoint of both, and in order to do that, before we started writing one line of code, we needed to make sure we identified those and that they are solvable. So we sat down and said ‘let’s recruit a set of clients and law firms and we spent six months talking to them about the painpoints and how we could solve them.” Lupl put together a client advisory board incorporating clients from different industries and spanning very large Fortune 500 companies to small start ups: legal departments of one to 500+ across banking, real estate, life sciences and technology and Ruttenberg says: “We wanted all of their different perspectives.” And Pollins says: “We also spoke to paralegals and people in legal operations. Not just partners but trainees – what works for one doesn’t always work for others.”

Ruttenberg, meanwhile, spent six months with developers building wireframes with the advisory board. “They’d say ‘yes but don’t do it that way or it will drive me nuts’ or ‘I see it, I get it, but can we do this or that.’ While Ruttenberg admits he’d have a product feature backlog of about two years if they responded to every comment, he says: “We were very focussed on feedback across all levels.” Lupl, fyi, has a team of around 50 of which there are 36 developers made up of independent contractors experienced in platform development, primarily based in the US. The reason for that was to ensure that the work didn’t end up being a Cooley, or CMS or Rajah & Tann focussed project. Ruttenberg says: “The best and only way to do that was to get a dedicated team.”

But what does Lupl actually do?

Pollins tells us: “The idea behind it is helping people in legal departments and firms to connect different systems, documents and data so they get a real time, 360 degree view of what is happening on their matters. It is a cloud based app available on web and mobile and brings together different parts of a matter. We’ve built the bedrock, end-to-end workflow from planning a legal need to bringing in outside counsel, from doing the work to post matter feedback.”

Ruttenberg says: “A good example is we had a client doing a series of complex deals around sub-licensing. The client needed these six licenses and I was able to open a matter called sublicenses, invite associates into the room, I was able to load up a bunch of information which we shared with the team and create a bunch of milestones and tasks I had visibility and was able to deliver to the client and able to get the work product done with no friction over how the client shares their data or works internally.”

Pollins adds: “We integrate with the systems the client already uses, eg iManage. We’re not trying to be a DMS, we’re enabling people to work where they want to.” Similarly with Teams, Pollins says: “We’re absolutely not trying to compete – we’ll be integrating with it. The concept is ‘bring your own system’ and it’s about bringing them together. We are very focussed on that bedrock workflow to reduce friction between law firms and legal departments. We have built an integration with Teams and will make sure that is frictionless.”

If you’re wondering where Lupl fits within the various legal tech categories, you’re not alone, but Pollins says: “I do think in legal tech we have a tendency to put things in buckets but users don’t think about technology in terms of portals v collaboration v practice management – Lupl doesn’t naturally fit into the existing definitions because it came from users rather than a vendor coming up with a point solution.”

In terms of competitors, there are smaller startups such Workstorm trying to solve a similar problem but Ruttenberg is keen to stress that Lupl doesn’t want and won’t try to own the tech stack, commenting: “We want people to bring their own systems and behaviour. They’ve invested a lot in the DMS and if we ask them to dump it we’ll lose, but we won’t, we interoperate and have taken a very open approach.”

Pollins adds: “Where we’re different is that we don’t require people to live in Lupl, we can be in Teams or elsewhere and use the native functionality of Lupl to work together on a single matter.”

Ruttenberg says: “If you want to live in email, you can interact from there. When I open a eg sublicensing matter, documents are stored in iManage and I’m able to link to iManage, and all my documents to live there. With clients using Google Drive I can make that the system of record for the documents. The beauty is that you live where you want and can surface in Lupl.”

This is incredibly complex and potentially fragile tech and right now Lupl is still in beta – what it’s not is fully developed and Pollins says: “We have got several hundred beta testers and off the back of the announcements about Lupl we have hundreds on the waiting list. The goal of this beta is that it will run through this year and we’ll get feedback. What’s exciting is that people seem to be itching to use it on real projects.”

What it is, is an ambitious attempt to synchronise both sides of a legal transaction, which, if they succeed, will potentially have huge cultural, not just technological, ramifications for the legal sector. There is still a long way to go.