In The Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone famously said, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”
That line came into my head when I was briefed last week on news being announced this morning of a unique partnership between two competing legal research companies, Fastcase and ROSS Intelligence, to share content and jointly develop new products for the benefit of both companies’ customers.
The content-sharing part of this is no big surprise. In fact, Fastcase has for years licensed its cases, statutes and regulations to other legal research companies, including Casetext and Ravel Law. Way back in 2010, Fastcase CEO Ed Walters shared with me his philosophy on this — that competition in legal publishing should be based not on who owns the data, but on who provides the best features, services and prices.
“The more public you make the law,” Walters said then, “the more the competition has to be about the quality of the service, the innovativeness of the service, and the price of the service.”
With today’s announcement, Fastcase and ROSS say that ROSS has “achieved data completeness,” which sounds like legal research nirvana but means that its platform now contains the case law, statutes and regulations of all 50 U.S. states.
Co-Development of Products
But the bigger news is in what else today’s announcement says: The two companies will be working together into the future to develop additional product integrations and joint features.
“We’ve long admired the ROSS team, along with their passion, energy and trailblazing work in the field of natural language processing and machine learning,” Walters said in a statement. “This partnership with ROSS allows us to collaborate on exciting, new products to the benefit of Fastcase customers. It also allows us to jointly create new solutions for unaddressed needs in the legal profession.”
In a conversation with Walters last week, he told me that this partnership does not involve an investment by Fastcase in ROSS. In terms of the financial aspects of the partnership, ROSS will be subscribing to certain Fastcase data feeds and Fastcase is purchasing some technology from ROSS, Walters said.
“And then we are jointly committing to work together on some collaborative new research projects going forward,” Walters said.
When pressed for details, Walters declined to identify specific projects. But one area he sees as ripe for development, he said, is to build better feeds and alerts around regulatory developments. While ROSS has used its AI technology to develop litigation alerts, that technology also holds promise for the regulatory area, Walters believes.
He also believes the partnership will generate new products no one has yet thought of. “They’re doing research that’s very similar to research we’re doing,” Walters said. “This will be two teams with complementary strengths working together on a whole class of new products.”
Earlier this year, I visited the ROSS R&D lab in Toronto and wrote here about what I saw as a new stage of transparency and engagement for the company. I also recorded two LawNext episodes there, one with founders Andrew Arruda and Jimoh Ovbiagele (Episode 48), and a second with the company’s top developers, Ovbiagele, who is CTO, and Stergios Anastasiadis, head of engineering, talking about the AI that underlies their platform (Episode 54).
In the statement today announcing the partnership, Ovbiagele said, “We have always respected the position Fastcase has established in legal publishing and data. Our partnership will allow us to more aggressively accelerate our pace of innovation, build out our team, and benefit the entire legal ecosystem, from lawyers to clients.”
A First of its Kind?
I have been racking my brain to try to recall another time when two competing legal research companies have entered into a cooperative development partnership. I cannot think of one.
Both of these companies have already demonstrated their ability to be creative and innovative in developing legal research (and other) products. By putting their heads together, the potential is even greater. I will be keeping a watchful eye for what comes next.
Oh, and for the record, when I mentioned that Corleone quote to Walters, he took issue with the suggestion that Fastcase and ROSS are enemies, pointing out that Fastcase has a long track record of helping and nurturing other startups, even those in the business of legal research. Based on personal observation, I can tell you that is true.