I have been trying to work out when I first heard of Hobs Legal Docs or came across its managing director, Terry Harrison. I have been in the UK litigation support business since 1993, and can generally recall the context in which its players came to my attention. Hobs and Terry seem to have been there for ever, yet I cannot remember that first introduction. I do not recall, either, that Hobs ever made big splashes at conferences, placed glossy advertisements, or churned out press releases saying how well they were doing. They always seemed too busy with real work to have time for things like that.
Hobs Legal Docs was in fact set up in November 2004 with Terry at its head. It is a separate entity within Hobs Reprographics plc, the largest independent reprographics group in Europe, and was established as a logical extension of Hobs Reprographics’ printing and copying, document management, and scanning and archiving services, with a particular strength in the construction industry. Hobs Reprographics was set up in 1969 in Liverpool by Kieran O’Brien, who joined forces with an Irish reprographics company called J D Hackett to provided drawing and printing services, originally to Liverpool companies but now with 18 branches around the UK. The name Hobs represents the initial letters of Hackett and O’Brien, Liverpool remains the headquarters, and Kieran O’Brien is still very much in charge, as I discovered when I had lunch with him recently.
A company’s history, however successful it may be, is not always relevant to its future development, especially in a market which changes as quickly as does the electronic disclosure business. The key to Hobs’ success, I think, lies in a quotation which Kieran O’Brien gave to the Liverpool Echo in 2006. Talking of Hobs’ organic and self-funded growth, Kieran said:
“We put around 10% of turnover back into the business each year to keep pace with new technology. I have always firmly believed a successful business can stand on its own two feet without recourse to venture capitalists or handouts and that is what we continue to do.”
The other major element, I decided at that lunch, was that rare thing in a company chairman, close interest in the details of a business and its market coupled with delegation to those on the ground. What more could Terry Harrison have asked for on setting up Hobs Legal Docs?
It did not hurt that Hobs Legal Docs won a big role in a very high-profile UK construction case within a week of opening its doors, thanks to an existing connection of the Hobs Group. That case ran for four years and Hobs Legal Docs was on its way, with work from UK and US law firms, service providers and corporations. US work has always made up a significant percentage of its turnover, including a very large internal financial investigation which involved up to 30 people at a time in London and Munich for more than three years.
Hobs has a long-standing relationship with iPro, and were the first company outside the US to have iPro’s EDD solution eCapture, V6 of which has just been announced. My first real connection with Hobs Legal Docs came through the review platform CaseLogistix – I knew the founders as far back as 2006 and first got to know Hobs properly when it took CaseLogistix on as a hosted solution. CaseLogistix is now part of Westlaw, itself a part of Thomson Reuters, and one of those CLX founders, Billy Hyatt, is now with Thomson Reuters, supporting Hobs’ use of CaseLogistix. Hobs is also a Clearwell partner. All three of these companies – Hobs Legal Docs, Westlaw and Clearwell – are sponsors of the eDisclosure Information Project.
If these technology links illustrate what Kieran O’Brien said about annual investment in new technology, the acquisition of DataLex Ltd in 2009 further demonstrates the principles of organic growth which the parent company espouses. DataLex brought major law firm clients for its EDD work, further extending Hobs’ reach and client base, and Philip Demetriou, MD of DataLex became a director of Hobs Legal Docs.
The expansion continues. 2011 saw the creation of a computer forensics division with the appointment of Lawrence Dine, a move to larger premises, and expansion in the North of England, with more to come. There is also an increasing amount of work in Ireland on early data assessment and forensics.
As you would expect from a company with its roots in reprographics, Hobs has retained its ability to manage paper, copying it or scanning it as required and managing its incorporation into a process which increasingly comprises native electronic data. Paper has proved remarkably resilient as an element in litigation, regulatory and investigations work, and few service providers retain the ability to deal with it alongside data extracted from e-mails and other electronic sources.
You perhaps begin to see a pattern here, simultaneously of breadth and depth, with Hobs Reprographics spotting a business area which fitted with its existing skills and client base, with in-house paper-handling and forensics support to complement the EDD work, and with feet in London, in the US and Europe, in Ireland and in the UK regions. That much has been achieved organically, and without any overt marketing beyond recommendation from existing clients plus Terry Harrison’s bonhomie and general air of knowing what he is talking about.
As I said in my initial quick introduction to Hobs when they first became a sponsor, my business remains the eDisclosure Information Project, notwithstanding its ever-wider geographical and jurisdictional spread, and Hobs Legal Docs’ interest in UK regional expansion ties in with those UK interests. As you will conclude from my opening paragraphs, the history of Hobs Reprographics and my lunch with Kieran O’Brien easily persuades me that if Hobs says it is going to expand simultaneously into the regions and into the US market then it will do whatever it takes to achieve that. When you add its connections to Thomson Reuters and to Clearwell, to say nothing of the good company which Terry brings, it all adds up to something to look forward to.