Law firms partnering with tech start-ups to get in on the innovation ride is nothing new. In recent years the approach has been an effective way for the industry to wade into the realm of technology and software start-up companies, and help bring to market a range of solutions that will benefit the business of the law firm as well as its clients.
According to Dentons partner Justin Bates, global reach is critical to successfully collaborating with innovators and clients. He suggested that sophisticated firms understood that a nation-centric focus was useless given that the tech start-up space was a borderless realm.
“You do need a law firm that is global. Technology has no boundaries so that is a starting point,” Mr Bates said.
“The second learning is to not put all your eggs in the one basket – I don’t think the clever players just team up with one or two tech companies. You have to spread your investments,” he said.
The Sydney-based lawyer was part of the team that facilitated a technology seminar last month in partnership with Westpac and its Youth Network. The session was the first time the firm promoted its innovation investment project to the Australian market since its merger with the Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and PNG offices of national firm Gadens.
The Nextlaw Labs (Nextlaw) initiative is Dentons’ flagship investment program for innovation and legaltech start-ups. Since its launch two years ago, the venture now has 10 start-ups. Mr Bates said that the number of start-ups in the Nextlaw portfolio was projected to reach in excess of 20 companies within the year.
“Nextlaw is an innovation fund to transform business and the practice of law, and has the ability to invest and has invested across a dozen start-ups and is projected to continue investing,” Mr Bates said.
The CEO of one of Nextlaw’s companies, FileFacets’ Chris Perram, added that in the legal innovation arena there was a necessary tension in the need to perceive things globally but acting in a way appropriate to the local market.
On the global level, he said that mega-firms with the broad reach of Dentons had the scale in terms of both people and resources to understand the needs of multinational companies.
“It is evident, of course, in this global economy that the practice of law isn’t limited to a jurisdiction anymore and that’s at the root and the heart of Dentons’ global strategy,” Mr Perram said.
“The fact that Dentons are the largest and have the post people and the most offices of any law firm in the world, and that they take advantage of that global presence to move up the value chain and be able to service multinational companies is apparent,” he said.
On the other side of the coin, he said that the value proposition of Legaltech to prospective clients depended on a clear understanding of local ways that business was done. Even in the case of multinational companies, he pointed out the business was different in regional markets. This difference should always inform the way SaaS start-ups operate, Mr Perram added.
“For example, if you are going to do business with Siemens, then the law firm that is servicing Siemens needs to understand the jurisdictions around the world that Siemens operates in. It’s still a ‘think global, act local’ kind of approach.
“From FileFacet’s perspective [it’s] fascinating. It keeps me travelling, for sure. But it is a completely different conversation between here and Moscow, and Frankfurt and London, and Toronto,” he said.
Mr Perram was a panellist for the joint tech seminar that Dentons convened with long-standing client Westpac.
Mr Bates, along with the new lawyers who joined the Australian partnership following the Gadens-Dentons merger last year, attended a global partners’ conference in June where he met most of the Nextlaw Lab companies. Many of the companies, including one utilised by Westpac, provided solutions which cut through Legaltech, Regtech and Fintech.
“A lot of these start-ups are focused on artificial intelligence, and with that in [mind, they’re] also conscious that it’s really about the next generation of lawyers,” Mr Bates said.