It is quite literally the next chapter for the cloud-based bankruptcy platform NextChapter, as legal research company Fastcase today announces that it has acquired the Columbus, Ohio, company.

Launched in 2015 by Janine Sickmeyer, a former bankruptcy paralegal, NextChapter is a cloud platform for bankruptcy attorneys to prepare, manage and electronically file bankruptcy cases. Sickmeyer describes it as like TurboTax for bankruptcy cases.

In a phone call yesterday, Sickmeyer and Fastcase CEO Ed Walters told me that Fastcase is acquiring the company and all the staff, both onsite in Columbus and remote. They will retain their current office, which will become Fastcase’s Columbus office.

Sickmeyer will take on the titles of managing director and founder of NextChapter and director of practice workflow at Fastcase.

Fastcase is no stranger to bankruptcy products. In 2014, it entered into a deal with LexisNexis to acquire rights to Collier TopForm & File, a tool for creating and filing bankruptcy forms. After re-engineering that product, Fastcase relaunched it in 2018 as Fastcase BK. Earlier this year, Fastcase announced that it was partnering with the American Bankruptcy Institute to make ABI’s catalog of bankruptcy publications available on Fastcase.

Janine Sickmeyer

Subscribers to the Fastcase BK product will now be moved to NextChapter, Walters said, describing it as the better product of the two. Those customers will see no change in their subscription pricing.

“We appreciate more than anyone how hard it is to put this [bankruptcy software] on the web,” Walters said. “We’ve always admired Janine’s approach to forms and to workflow, and her team has been the model for what a legal tech startup should be.”

Walters and Sickmeyer agreed that a significant aspect of this acquisition is the potential to expand the NextChapter form-automation technology into other form-driven areas of law, such as immigration and family law. Sickmeyer’s team has already been working towards this, and both she and Walters believe that Fastcase’s financial and staff backing will enable them to expedite the development.

Walters also emphasized the potential for integrating NextChapter with other Fastcase products and, in particular, Docket Alarm, which provides tools for searching and managing federal and state dockets. He envisions that different Fastcase products will be able to share common components such as case calendaring, docketing and case alerts.

What does this mean for Fastcase as a company, given that it started as a legal research platform but has expanded into publishing and other areas?

Walters noted that both Fastcase and NextChapter integrate with the practice management platform Clio, and given Clio’s professed goal of “becoming the operating system for law,” then Walters envisions Fastcase as becoming the “killer app” within that operating system.

“When you look at all we have,” he said, “it starts to look like a productivity suite for law firms.”

Meanwhile, Sickmeyer said she is eager for the dust to settle and to get down to work. “We are so excited to see what we can do with more innovation behind us and the resources of all the Fastcase team.”

For more on Fastcase, see my recent Legal Talk Network interview with founders Walters and Phil Rosenthal on the occasion of the company’s 20th anniversary. 

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.