I may have brought you here under false pretences. I have no idea how big the London e-disclosure market is and I do not think that anyone else does either. I occasionally hear confident assertions suggesting that there is either much more or much less e-disclosure going on than people think but, since the starting point for these relative assessments is never specified, it is hard to deduce what “much more” or “much less” actually means. There is much less here than there is in America, but the same is true (for different reasons) of caribou and McDonald’s outlets. It is a statement of the obvious, rather than a valuable piece of market intelligence.
I am reasonably sure, however, that there is more litigation support work going on than any one of us knows about. The flow is not constant, and the biggest, as well as the smaller, providers of software and services have their peaks and troughs. Nevertheless, there must be more law firms and law firm clients engaging in electronic disclosure than one knows of.
That is a matter of deduction rather than observation, and derives in part from the fact that there are more businesses offering litigation services than could be supported by the overt and obvious players on the instructing side. I know some of them well, some of them a little, and some not at all. Hobs Legal Docs falls into the middle of these categories and Datalex into the last. They turn up together in the same paragraph because Hobs has just acquired Datalex.
Hobs Legal Docs is part of Hobs Reprographics Group plc whose empire embraces printing and copying, scanning and archiving, and a wide range of services covering every aspect of paper, print and related business functions. They have offices, alphabetically speaking, from Abingdon to Warrington, and sport a Royal Warrant for reprographics services. Terry Harrison, who was brought in to set up Hobs Legal Docs in 2004, has the happy knack of making you feel that you know him well on a relatively small acquaintance, and seems to be everywhere – was that him I caught out of the corner of my eye in the bar of the Hilton in New York at LegalTech, very late one night? Probably, though I did not bump into him there again. The point I am making is this: although I have been to see him at his offices near Gray’s Inn, exchanged messages with him from time to time, and have bumped into him (mainly in bars, I have to say) all over the place, I have no idea how much business Hobs Legal Docs is doing, only that Terry looks very jolly on it.
I have come across Datalex only once, back in the days when I had my own software to sell. They have built up a good name in the six years since Philip Demetriou founded it, and the press release about the Hobs acquisition says that Datalex’s clients include “Europe’s largest litigation law firm”. These are just two examples of litigation support providers who have been (or so I assume) quietly getting on with work of which I know nothing, as opposed to those whose logos appear down the side of this article, whom I know rather better.
Now Hobs and Datalex have combined their resources. The press release quotes Terry Harrison as saying “Bringing us together will add further experience, skills, solutions and capacity to our customers as well as enhancing our overall service offering, the most imminent of which is in the area of data forensics and collections”.
Apart from that last specific point, there is little clue in the press release as to new directions consequent on the acquisition. One of the things which they have in common is a relationship with CaseLogistix, Anacomp’s litigation review application (it was at the CaseLogistix UK launch that I re-made Terry’s acquaintance after a long gap) and that may offer a clue as to future directions.
From my perspective on the sidelines, and putting myself in the seat of the law firms who are the putative clients for all these service providers, their biggest difficulty as between themselves is product differentiation – how can one litigation support provider make itself stand out relative to the others?
Pricing only becomes a differentiator once you have got close enough to ask, and my interest in this context is how you get them to ring you up in the first place as opposed to ringing someone else. One conventional answer is that service providers use their websites to draw attention to those things which make them stand out. Hobs obviously do not subscribe to this theory, since their web site was last edited, so far as I can see, in September 2005. Do you get better reports from satisfied users than others do? Do the would-be clients like you? Again, they must first find you.
Answering the question about standing out merely divides the cake differently. What is much more interesting is the question “how to grow the cake?”.
As I said earlier, no one knows how big the cake is or, to revert to more conventional terminology, how many law firms and their clients are engaging in electronic disclosure. Even if, as I surmise, there is more electronic document-handling going on than one knows of, there is also a lot of litigation being conducted by old-fashioned print-type-copy methods (that is, turning the electronic information into paper by printing it, typing up a list, and photocopying the documents). Hobs Legal Docs’ parent company is presumably happy with that, since they do the copying, but Terry Harrison would presumably rather see it all done electronically.
The real problem, for litigation support providers and lawyers alike, is the litigation which is not happening at all because of the presumed costs. How many of the lawyers who assume that e-disclosure is beyond their means are actually bothering to find out what those costs are? Pick a couple of suppliers at random and ask.