Legal Business

As Nextlaw swells, will Dentons’ platform mark the end of referral clubs… or something bolder?

Marco Cillario assesses whether Nextlaw is a network or Dentonsʼ Uber

With typical distaste for the status quo, Dentons chair Joe Andrew last year described the launch of Nextlaw Global Referral Network as the beginning of the end for traditional law firm networks. The new platform, conceived and paid for by Dentons, differed from other networks in not charging membership fees and being open to any number of members globally.

Legal Business

Dentons Nextlaw becomes largest global referral network of more than 290 firms


Dentons has officially launched its free-to-use Nextlaw Global Referral Network, signing up 291 firms to make the largest referral network by firm count in the world.

The network now has access to more than 19,000 lawyers in more than 160 countries. Scottish firms MacRoberts and Lindsays both joined, as well as offshore firms Ogier, Appleby, Carey Olsen and Walkers and more than 70 US firms.

Legal Business

‘Unprecedented applications in the legal industry’: Dentons’ Nextlaw backs two legal tech startups with funding and training


Nextlaw Labs, the legal tech platform launched by Dentons last year, has invested in two legal startups, alongside venture funding company Seedcamp.

The pair are backing two startups, Libryo and Clause, as part of an initial co-investment worth around €200,000. The partnership will also offer future training and mentoring from lawyers at Dentons to develop the products.

The investment comes after Nextlaw teamed up with Seedcamp in June this year. More than 80 start-ups from five continents applied for the funding and training programme and were selected by a panel of judges from Seedcamp, Nextlaw and Dentons.

Libryo is a London-based software-as-a-service platform that provides solutions to regulatory issues, using a dashboard that explains the legal obligations of its users in a variety of scenarios.

Clause is a New York-based startup contract-building platform ‘for the next generation of automated and data-integrated contracts for enterprise’. The company claims its platform will manage its first ‘autonomous contracts’ later this year, and the platform can automatically update contract variables, such as pricing, in response to changing conditions and data.

The initial investments from the Nextlaw and Seedcamp partnership will offer up to €100,000 to each company for 9% of equity, with Nextlaw and Seedcamp contributing half the investment each.

Nextlaw global chair and Dentons partner John Fernandez said: ‘Both Libryo and Clause have unprecedented applications in the legal industry that can be unlocked within Dentons as a global testing ground.’

Recent investments from Dentons’ tech venture have included funding in Apperio, a tool that enables clients to monitor the amount of partner/associate time spent on each transaction or case. The company also worked with artificial intelligence company RAVN for a Brexit contracts system this summer.

Dentons launched Palo Alto-based Nextlaw Labs in May last year, led by chief executive Dan Jansen. The firm also finalised its new free-to-use legal referral network earlier this month. The Nextlaw Global Referral Network signed up 283 member firms and 18,600 lawyers, with 13 UK firms joining.


Legal Business

‘A global community’: 13 UK firms join Dentons worldwide referral network


Dentons has officially launched its free to use Nextlaw Global Referral Network signing up 283 member firms and around 18,600 lawyers. A total of 13 UK firms have signed up, with the major UK firms being Scottish firms Shepherd and Wedderburn and MacRoberts.

The referral network, which will provide services in 160 countries, was announced last May. Dentons said the network differs from ‘pay-to-play’ legal referral networks by not charging membership fees or offering territorial exclusivity.

Dentons’ launch gives Nextlaw the largest global referral by firm numbers. The firm is also the largest law firm in the world by lawyer headcount since its tie-up with Chinese firm Dacheng in early 2016.

However, other membership-based platform networks represent more lawyers at fewer firms. Lex Mundi has around 160 law firms representing around 21,000 lawyers, while TerraLex has more than 150 firms with around 19,000 lawyers.

Dentons global chief executive Elliott Portnoy (pictured left) said: ‘Each member firm has been thoroughly vetted for quality and we continue to build a global community of law firms with on objective in mind – to provide our respective clients with the very best service available anywhere.’

Any firm in the world was able to apply for membership of the network and applicants were vetted by a panel of Dentons partners, partners of other member firms and general counsel. Current and future applicants are evaluated on client feedback, third-party rankings, awards and sector expertise.

However the firm’s network has come under some criticism from traditional legal network providers, claiming the system will not offer the same level of services or effectively vet members.

In June, TerraLex chief executive Harry Trueheart publically questioned the Dentons model, stating: ‘It is interesting that at a time many clients are deeply engaged in reducing the number of law firms they use in recognition of the disadvantages of managing large numbers of relationships, Dentons is advocating the advantages of a massive, apparently minimally managed network.’

Legal Business

‘Cut through the noise’: Nextlaw partners with AI firm for Brexit contracts system


In the latest play for Dentons‘ tech joint venture, Nextlaw Labs has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) programme with London IT firm RAVN Systems to assess the impact of the Brexit vote on companies’ contracts.

Dentons and Nextlaw worked with AI software developers RAVN to create a programme which uses RAVN’s ‘Applied Cognitive Engine’ and uses a bespoke algorithm to produce a report highlighting areas requiring legal attention.

The advanced search engine is being applied to Brexit-related contracts, sifting through high volume documents to identify issues that could be raised by the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The developers say the AI will cut down review time for lawyers and remove the potential for human error in reviewing contract documents.

Dentons US chief innovation officer and chair of Nextlaw John Fernandez told Legal Business the firm had been exploring opportunities for working with RAVN after meeting with the company’s chief executive Peter Wallqvist last year.

‘Their team is very proactive in deploying these advanced cognitive computing technologies in a way lawyers can actually integrate and use them, and improving the way they deliver client services,’ said Fernandez.

The firm is piloting the technology in the US and the UK, applying it to real legal problems, with Brexit contract issues a key starting point. Nextlaw chief executive Dan Jansen said the firm had been drawing on feedback from lawyers and was collecting ideas for new products covering financial services, IP, media, transport, environment and telecoms.

Dentons chief executive for UKMEA Jeremy Cohen said: ‘Brexit will lead many of our clients into uncharted territory, and our experience since the referendum is that both domestic and overseas companies are looking for legal advice that “cuts through the noise” and helps to deliver practical and cost effective guidance with respect to the many complex challenges that leaving the EU will present them with.’

Based in Palo Alto, Nextlaw has previously invested in legal start-up Apperio, which provides greater fee transparency and aims to standardise the legal tender process. The technology venture announced earlier in July it had hired Dean Khialani as its new CTO from Excelium Group.

The latest launch comes after Clifford Chance announced it had entered into a partnership with Canadian AI provider Kira Systems.

Berwin Leighton Paisner was first to strike a deal to use RAVN, bringing its AI software into its real estate practice in 2015, while Linklaters was the first Magic Circle to sign up with the IT provider earlier this year.

Legal Business

Dentons’ venture NextLaw Labs invests in fee transparency firm Apperio


Dentons‘ NextLaw Labs, a venture launched last year for financing new legal services technologies, has made its second major investment with legal tech start-up Apperio.

NextLaw Labs and Apperio will work together to streamline matter management, track legal spend in real time and standardise the legal tender process. Apperio’s tools enable clients to monitor the amount of partner/associate time spent on each transaction/case.

Initially known as Legal Tender, Apperio has a dashboard which allows companies to monitor firm’s performance. Clients can set alerts for when price thresholds are reached, and compare firms’ ability to stick to budgets against rivals.

Notably, Taylor Wessing, Olswang and CMS Cameron McKenna are among a host of firms who already signed up to Apperio in April last year. Clients subscribe to Apperio by paying a quarterly fee, and are charged in accordance to the amount of legal work they want tracking, ranging from an overall legal spend of £350,000 up to £10m. Dentons would not provide details on how much the investment was worth.

NextLaw chief executive Dan Jansen said a prototype was already being tested with Dentons partners and business development professionals in London.

He added: ‘This is a client and law firm product we will be selling this to lots of law firms, it helps that Dentons is using this, but if I can only sell to one customer then I’ll have a crap ROI.’

In May 2015, Dentons announced the establishment of NextLaw, which was created to develop a suite of technologies to change how lawyers practise law and provide better solutions to clients. In August last year it invested in an IBM Watson app to answer lawyers’ questions. 

In other technology news, Legal Business revealed earlier this week Mishcon de Reya has launched a new venture with e-discovery provider Unified and software developer kCura, agreeing a fixed-price three-year contract.

Subscribers can read more on Dentons in the cover feature ‘The pitch’.

Legal Business

Bringing AI to a law firm near you: Dentons’ NextLaw venture invests in IBM Watson app to answer lawyers’ questions


Dentons’ NextLaw Labs, having launched in May to focus on developing and investing in new technologies for the legal profession, has signed a deal with its first portfolio company, ROSS Intelligence, a start-up developing a legal adviser app powered by IBM Watson.

ROSS’s app uses IBM Watson’s ability to process natural language so that lawyers will be able to ask the app a question and it will sift through legal documents, research and return an evidence-based answer. Dentons will serve as a testbed for the app to help define the body of legal data which it will draw on.

The firm has also joined up with IBM Cloud with the aim of enabling start-ups to create and deploy legal applications faster. Announced today (6 August) the firm said NextLaw Labs will provide legal tech start-ups with access to IBM Cloud and the IBM global entrepreneur programme for Cloud start-ups, as part of being an ‘active technology investor, accelerator, and business incubator.’

Following its May launch, NextLaw Labs is aimed at developing a set of technologies to change how lawyers practise law and provide better solutions to clients. Dentons has made clear its intention to be the accelerator’s lead supporter and investor and is serving as the testing ground to vet, pilot and scale-up new products, services and other ideas such as ROSS.

On the latest venture, NextLaw Labs chief Dan Jansen said: ‘Technology is now and will continue to be a real differentiator in the legal profession. The potential in companies like ROSS shows how the approach to solving client challenges is going to change. NextLaw Labs wants to be a part of transforming what is possible into a tangible offering in today’s legal market.’

Legal Business

Harnessing ‘new technologies’: Dentons launches NextLaw Labs to boost innovation


Dentons has launched a collaborative venture, NextLaw Labs, focused on developing, deploying and investing in new technologies and processes for the legal profession in a bid to ‘drive innovation in legal services, more responsiveness and greater value’.

The aim of NextLaw Labs will be to develop a suite of technologies to change how lawyers practise law and provide better solutions to clients. The firm has made clear its intention to be the accelerator’s lead supporter and investor and will serve as the testing ground to vet, pilot and scale-up new products, services and other ideas.

The venture will be led by chief executive Dan Jansen, who previously headed the global media practice for Boston Consulting Group and advised start-ups at Arthur Young & Company (now EY). Jansen said: ‘NextLaw Labs is focused on one business vertical—the legal profession. Ideas and inspiration can come from any source, but only one accelerator can draw from the world’s largest law firm to help source and refine product ideas, while our partnerships with leading start-ups, thought leaders and other technology providers will help bring them to life.’

Dentons’ global chair Joe Andrew said: ‘The market has talked about Big Law and New Law, but we want to be Next Law. We don’t just want to be the world’s largest law firm, we want to transform the legal profession, drive innovation in legal services and bring clients what they want with better quality, more responsiveness and greater value.’

Other firms trying their hand at technology-focused innovation includes Allen & Overy which in January launched an online service dubbed ‘aosphere’, which offers compliance and risk management solutions and cross-border legal information, as more clients globally are facing regulatory obligations, a move made as the firm tries to improve previous attempts of establishing an online service offering generic, low cost, accessible advice.