The Platform is the Thing

Posted on June 5, 2019 by Joseph Lamport

The Practice PlatformThe Artificial Lawyer published a story last week with the headline “Platformization Grows”.  This may be a term you have never heard before, since it has only recently creeped into usage, but I think it’s going to be an important addition to our vocabulary in the coming years.  In fact, platformization may end up being the next big thing in the legal market.

And just what exactly is platformization? A basic definition would be, it’s a process or strategy to build or extend one’s business platform by a variety of means, including joint venturing and acquisition, in order to introduce new functionality into the mix of your service offerings.  Last week’s Artificial Lawyer story was about a deal between HighQ, which operates a legal collaboration platform, and Eigen Technologies, to host Eigen’s AI software on the HighQ platform.  Eigen will be the third AI software developer (joining Kira Systems and Leverton) that has opted to make its technology available for users on the HighQ platform.  Platformization is thus the strategy HighQ is pursuing to expand its business or service offering by bringing in additional tools, technologies or services developed by third parties for the benefit of its client base.  HighQ itself may not receive a substantial financial benefit when its clients decide to use Eigen’s software except to the extent that HighQ’s platform thereby becomes that much more valuable and desirable.

 One way to understand platformization is that it represents a new phase in the market’s acceptance and the end-user’s relationship to technology.  Everything becomes plug and play and interoperable.  By integrating multiple applications and services into a single interface, a platform provides a tremendous convenience to the end-user.  But the value of a platform goes beyond convenience because a good platform integration can make technology much more powerful in its cumulative effect.   As the Artifical Lawyer explains, “The platformization trend is … evidence of how the market wants to ‘consume’ legal AI services, i.e. they want them integrated into a broader data-sharing system. It’s also further evidence of the steady adoption of legal AI technology by law firms and corporate legal teams. I.e. demand is driving this trend.”

And this was only one of the stories last week illustrating the platformization trend at work in the legal market.  Another press release, which hits even closer to home for legal marketers, announced the acquisition of One Place by Intapp.  Through prior acquisitions, Intapp has already assembled a powerful platform, which provides a wide range of marketing services to professional service firms.  Intapp thus seems to prefer pursuing its platformization strategy through serial acquisitions, as compared to opening its platform to third party providers.    

Now that you know what platformization is, you can begin to see it at work in the legal market almost everywhere you look.  One place where it has already made enormous inroads is the category of practice management software for small and mid-sized law firms.  Clio is the powerhouse in this arena, already claiming that more than 150,000 professionals world-wide have become end-users of their platform, and more than 125 third party software applications have been made available through integration.  And Clio has a host of competitors too, such Rocket Matter and Zola Suite, that offer their own state of the art alternative small firm practice management platforms.  Basically, starting your own small law practice today has become, more or less, a turnkey operation thanks to the ready availability of these cloud-based practice management platforms.  Platformization, it seems, is well on its way to sweeping through the small to mid-end of the law firm market!

For large law firms the trend to platformization is proceeding at a far more deliberate pace.  Hardly surprising, I suppose, given the usually backward-looking nature of BigLaw’s strategic thinking.  In fairness to the Skaddens and Kirklands of the world, though, no doubt it is far more difficult to build out a single practice management platform that is capable of supporting the scale and diversity of BigFirm practice.  But the first tentative steps in this direction are underway, as evidenced by the efforts of both iManage and Netdocuments (the leading document management venders in the BigLaw market segment) to pursue a platform strategy that incorporates a more comprehensive suite of practice and matter management tools and apps within their existing product framework.  It seems inevitable that platformization will gradually extend its reach to encompass the BigLaw end of the market as well.

My hunch is that platformization will eventually end up having a profound impact on how law firms are organized and how lawyers associate with one another and their clients.  After all, a law firm, whether large or small, is really nothing more than a platform for legal practice – a bundle of software and hardware and related human services, which organizes day-to-day legal practice and supports the delivery of services that are essential to the work that lawyers do.  The platform can and should extend from law firm to client.  The new emerging business model for legal practice (such as Carbon Law Partners in the UK) is shifting the emphasis towards the platform layer instead of the traditional notion of the firm in which the partnership agreement serves as the glue that holds the organization together.  A similar idea seems to be part of what Anders Spile has in mind when he refers to “fluid” law firm of the future, in which a firm operates with far more porous boundaries and collaborative working arrangements compared to today’s rigid partnership structure.  One way or another, the 21st century law firms will be built on these dynamic practice platforms rather than partnership agreements – this may be the ultimate significance of the change that platformization brings to our market.

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