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December 2001
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LexisNexis Buys CourtLink

By Ashby Jones

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 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, LexisNexis, remained on the side.

But not any more. The legal publisher recently announced that it was buying CourtLink Corp., an 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 announced, but the price is rumored to be 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 C.E.O. Henry Givray, currently facilitates the filing of more than 1 million pages a day. The company's only statewide e-filing project, piloted last year in Colorado, has won praise from judges and lawyers.

Still, the purchase is a fairly risky for LexisNexis. Electronic filing has been slow to take off. West piloted a program in Orange County, Calif. that stalled. And ad hoc pilots have been besieged with administrative complications. Courts often balk at the expensive upgrades necessary to accommodate electronic submissions. Security concerns have kept others from pushing state and county legislatures for e-filing funding.

But the demand for electronic filing from many sectors of the legal industry remains strong. LexisNexis executives say that with some money, dedication and a long-term vision, it can tap into that demand and start hauling in some revenue.

"We've done our research, and it tells us that demand for this is absolutely booming," says Ann Fullenkamp, a former LexisNexis 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 says LexisNexis 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."

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 [LexisNexis] has the resources you need to really see the projects through from start to finish."

Ashby Jones is a technology reporter for American Lawyer Media Inc.

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