Posted on September 21, 2020 by
We recently had a chance to sit down with Eric Wangler, the President and head of North American operations at BigHand, to learn more about the company’s view of the legal market and plans for the future in the wake of their recent acquisition by PE firm Levine Leichtman Capital Partners.
PinHawk: What’s your view of the legal market today? How well do you think law firms have held up in the face of COVID-19?
EW: Of course, there’s been serious disruption and much uncertainty in the business outlook. That being said there is also tremendous resiliency in the legal market. From our conversations with clients, we have the sense that a lot of firms are further along on the road to recovery than they thought they would be at this time, exceeding their initial billing projections and maintaining profit through cost controls.
It’s also true that the impact has not been uniform which makes it a bit harder to nail down overall market direction. To some extent, all the law firm consolidation we’ve seen in the last year few years may have paid off. Given current market conditions, having a highly diversified practice can be a real advantage, while mid-size and smaller specialty firms may be struggling.
PinHawk: Were you surprised by Levine Leichtman’s interest in moving forward with the acquisition in the middle of the pandemic?
EW: Not really. Levine Leichtman approached us. As investors, they have a few other portfolio companies in the legal space, which gave them confidence in the underlying strength of the market. And even with all the macro uncertainty, there is clearly a lot of investment activity in legal technology right now, with continuing opportunities for consolidation and growth. In fact, we have been pretty fortunate in that several of our solutions are particularly relevant in the current market environment, so we have actually been very busy. While many lawyers have traditionally been resistant to change, there has been a significant shift in mindset today, given all the social and economic disruption, which has made lawyers and law firms much more receptive to new tools and business processes. This is particularly true with technology that improves lawyers’ work experience, which goes to the heart of BigHand’s product lineup.
PinHawk: Are we likely to see a meaningful change in BigHand’s strategy going forward as a result of the acquisition?
EW: Our management team is very excited by the opportunities we see in front of us. We’re very focused the longer-term strategy and Levine Leichtman has expressed confidence in our management team’s vision and approach, making it clear that they will look for ways to help us accelerate our growth. Starting with our cloud migration strategy, we have a number of major initiatives already underway, that will positively accelerate our product and platform development. Even before this deal, BigHand has been active in the market. We’ve done six acquisitions of our own in the last few years. I think it’s fair to say that you can expect to see more of the same from us in the next few years.
PinHawk: Where do you see the best opportunities for BigHand’s growth?
EW: We were founded in the UK and that’s still where our corporate headquarters is located, and a majority of our business is based. But a large portion of our growth has come in the North American market where we see tremendous opportunity for future growth and expansion. What we’ve seen in the last few years is the dramatic growth of legal operations in corporate law departments, which has put substantial pressure on US law firms to improve their own business operations. That’s a sweet spot for BigHand. Our products are all about helping law firms optimize their own operations, with tools that can enhance workflow and matter delegation, budgeting and pricing. These are tools that help law firms better manage and enhance client relationships, and drive efficiency into their operations.
PinHawk: Has the pandemic changed the way your business operates in any significant ways?
EW: In addition to our own shift to virtual operations, there has been something of a pivot in how we engage with the market. From the client perspective, we have found that many firms we work with have become more open about the challenges they are facing. This has been enormously valuable because it has given us a much clearer understanding of our clients’ real needs. And it helps us sharpen our product development strategy. We’ve always had strong relationships with our clients and partners and this has been further enhanced throughout the pandemic.
That’s probably the most significant way in which BigHand has changed for the better thanks to COVID.