Clifford Chance, looking to expand its technology product subscription business, has named a New York-based CEO to lead the unit.
The Magic Circle firm this week announced that it had hired Jeroen Plink, a onetime Clifford Chance associate who spent the bulk of his career in the legal technology field, to lead its new Applied Solutions unit, designed to provide technology products to in-house counsel for document automation and to resolve regulatory and compliances issues.
The New York appointment is a sign of the growing competition among law firms to market their own technology products and subscription services to in-house legal departments. While most large law firms still aren’t known for launching their own technology products to clients, firms are increasingly investing in these products and companies.
Clifford Chance is also catching up to a few pioneers in subscription-based services that are some of its closest competitors. For instance, aosphere, Allen & Overy’s online subscription affiliate, is designed to help banking and asset management clients, offering products to reduce legal spend and regulatory risk. Simmons & Simmons’ subscription service navigator provides information on issues such as funds, derivatives and corporate finance.
But by naming a New York leader, Clifford Chance is also seeking business inroads among U.S. clients.
“We see huge potential for Clifford Chance Applied Solutions to complement our high-quality practice in the U.S.” said Bas Boris Visser, Clifford Chance’s global head of innovation and business change, in a statement.
One product of Applied Solutions helped banks comply with MiFID II, a framework instituted by the European Union to regulate financial markets. The product posed a series of question for bank officials, who then received a checklist of tasks in order to become compliant, Plink said.
The firm folded into Applied Solutions its existing CCDr@ft product, which helps in-house legal departments automate documents. CCDr@ft can funnel loan forms with information such as size of the loan, interest rate and maturity date into loan agreements, a process that takes a fraction of the time that it would manually take, Plink said.
While it might be replacing some human work, Plink said these products don’t necessarily lead to a loss in jobs. “It just allows them to do more with the same amount of people and at a higher quality level,” Plink said. “Clients demand not just legal advice, they also demand software tools that help them practice more efficiently.”
“Banks particularly are under increasing compliance pressure, and clients are asking for technology solutions to make them more efficient,” he said. “It’s helping banks and legal departments do more with less.”
For now, about five people are working in the Applied Solutions unit. Plink said he anticipates the unit to grow over time as it launches more products and finds more clients. The Clifford Chance unit has a pipeline of more than a dozen other tech products in the works, Plink said.
The launch of these products and others required a significant investment and commitment from the firm—Plink declined to say how much the firm has spent—but the demand was enough to justify it, he said.
The firm is selling the tech products on a subscription basis, he said, declining to specify fee structures.
For now, Clifford Chance has seen more demand among its U.K. client base. “With my appointment and being based in the U.S.,” Clifford Chance will seek to enhance the U.S. business of Applied Solutions, said Plink, who called the tech products “the way of the future” in the legal services business.
While Plink was a Clifford Chance associate who practiced in the firm’s Amsterdam office from 1996 to 2000, he has spent most of the last two decades in the legal technology field. He was a founder of a software development company that was eventually sold to Practical Law Co. He led the U.S. division of Practical Law for about five years before it was sold to Thomson Reuters in 2013.
As CEO of Applied Solutions, Plink said he will be facilitating the direction of new products and managing sales and marketing.
Visser, head of Clifford Chance’s innovation and business change, said while Plink will operate across the firm’s global network, his New York base “means he will be perfectly positioned to tap into the significant opportunities that legal tech presents for us in that market.”