It’s difficult to predict precisely whether legal tech consolidation will continue as quickly next year as it did in 2018 and 2019, but industry observers agree that “platformization” will be a key driver for those legal tech providers who are in fact looking to combine forces.
The legal market in 2020, experts said, is likely to feature vendors looking to “platformize,” by increasing the number of individual apps and software programs they can offer to law firms and corporate law departments.
Expanded platforms appeal to lawyers anxious to handle the same tasks—from managing their client workflow to organizing contracts they’re overseeing—through the use of fewer tech tools.
This can promote IT compatibility, including cybersecurity, while fostering faster adoption among the attorneys who use the products, including those who may be a bit tech-averse.
“Creating consolidated platforms as an idea gained traction in 2019,” said Ron Friedmann, a legal tech blogger and chief knowledge and information officer with LAC Group, a research, library, and spend management provider. “Legal tech nonetheless still seems fragmented to me, so I think there are more opportunities to combine.”
Bloomberg Law legal analyst Meg McEvoy put it another way. “Why on earth would you deal with 48 vendors when you could deal with seven?” she asked. “I don’t see things reversing from that direction.”
Several deals this year qualified as platform plays, said Ryan Steadman, chief revenue officer for the legal tech vendor Zero, which provides email management automation tools for law firms.
They included Intapp’s purchases of several legal tech vendors, such as OnePlace and its client relationship management software, in May, he said. He also cited Litera Microsystems’ purchases of competitor Workshare in July, and transaction management system provider Doxly the following month.
It’s often been the case that mid-size legal tech companies have sought out smaller vendors that offer “point” or “bespoke” solutions that are targeted to solve just one need—but which also can fit nicely in the platform of the buyer, Steadman said.
Vendors with bigger and more comprehensive platforms also can benefit from adding tools and services that make their platform more difficult to replace for law firm users.
The goal, said Steadman, is to make it difficult to “decouple ” from the platform.
Unlike investments from venture capital shops and others into legal tech companies, which are publicly tracked, it’s more difficult to gauge whether M&A activity is on the rise, in part because the price tags on deals between private companies often are kept private.
Platformization aside, experts differed in their assessments of whether legal tech consolidation more broadly will be able to sustain its solid growth trajectory from the last few years into 2020.
Some, like McEvoy and Steadman, are optimistic, citing factors such as the possibility of a “tide” of private equity financing in 2020, which in turn could be favorable to increased legal tech mergers and acquisitions.
Others were less sanguine.
Over the last year, there was a tremendous amount of M&A activity, said David Carns, chief revenue officer for Casepoint, a Northern Virginia-based e-discovery technology company. “Yet there’s only so much more compression that’s available out of what remains,” he said.