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The strong get stronger, and the weak get bought. It’s a shorthand way to describe what continues to happen today in the legal technology space. It started last December, when Dutch publisher Wolters Kluwer N.V. bought Loislaw.com. The juggernaut West Group followed by snapping up both FindLaw, a struggling legal portal, and ProLaw, a successful practice-management software maker. All the while, West’s rival, Lexis Nexis, remained on the side. But not any more. The Miamisburg, Ohio-based legal publisher recently announced that it was buying CourtLink Corp., a Bellevue, Wash.-based electronic-filing venture. CourtLink makes technology that enables lawyers both to retrieve documents from court dockets electronically and to submit filings through the Internet. The terms of the deal were not immediately announced, although the price was rumored to have been “well below” the $95 million that Kluwer paid for Loislaw. The deal will go into effect around Dec. 1. Today, CourtLink’s electronic-filing technology is up and running in 90 courts and, according to CEO Henry Givray, currently facilitates the filing of more than 1 million pages a day. The company’s first and only statewide e-filing initiative, piloted last year in Colorado, has won praise from judges and lawyers alike. Still, the purchase is a fairly risky one for Lexis Nexis. Electronic filing has been slow to take off. West piloted an electronic-filing initiative in Orange County, Calif., more than two years ago that has gone absolutely nowhere. And a lot of ad hoc electronic-filing pilots have been besieged with administrative complications. Courts often balk at the expensive upgrades to their internal computer systems necessary to accommodate electronic submissions. And security concerns have kept others from pushing state and county legislatures for e-filing funding. The demand for electronic filing from many parts of the legal industry has been strong for years. And Lexis Nexis executives say that, with some money, dedication and a long-term vision, it can tap into that demand and start hauling down some revenue. “We’ve done our research, and it tells us that demand for this is absolutely booming,” says Ann Fullenkamp, a former Lexis Nexis vice president who will assume the position of CourtLink’s chief operating officer. “It’s going to take some time, but the company feels that there’s a ton of value in this.” Fullenkamp adds that Lexis Nexis won’t sacrifice either the electronic-filing or docket-access service. “People want both, and they want them soon,” she says. “The original mission of CourtLink isn’t going to change.” Stories about Lexis Nexis or West are always, at least in part, stories about the other. West was chastened by its Orange County experience, and has recently “right-sized” its ambitions in regard to electronic filing. “To be honest, we’re not entirely sure there’s a viable business in it,” says John Shaughnessy, West’s director of corporate communications. Meanwhile, it’s goodbye to another startup. From CourtLink’s perspective, the deal was too good to pass up. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but now’s a very, very hard time to be a startup company,” concedes Givray. “E-filing initiatives are expensive. And [Lexis Nexis] has the resources you need to really see the projects through from start to finish.” Of course, Lexis Nexis had better hope that the e-filing grail doesn’t prove to be as elusive as others have. Or it may experience a very expensive start followed by no finish at all.

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