Law firms turning to outside services provider to track news, Internet chatter that could affect clients

August 5, 2012

Update: this story has been modified to include details about Manzama’s association with a Patton Boggs officer.

Six months ago, a group of finance attorneys at Patton Boggs heard that a leading investment bank was looking to buy out smaller competitors — and they immediately alerted their client, a mid-size investment bank, about the potential to be acquired.

The smaller bank didn’t end up being bought, but the lawyers impressed their client by knowing the latest developments in the market, said Patton Boggs’ business development officer Hans Haglund, who declined to identify the client by name.

The attorneys got a heads up about the potential acquisitions through an alert from Manzama, an outside firm that tracks developments, new laws and regulations, litigation and social media chatter for a law firm’s clients.

Haglund serves on Manzama’s advisory board and owns shares of the company. He is listed as an executive officer and director in the company’s latest SEC filings.

Patton Boggs is one of several major law firms in the Washington area that are paying between $28,000 and $90,000 a year to Manzama to track a wide range of issues that affect its clients. They include anything from a new lawsuit filed against one of their client’s competitors, to what consumers are saying about a company’s products on Twitter. Patton Boggs began working with Manzama nine months ago, and uses its services to monitor issues for more than 50 clients, mostly large and mid-size businesses.

Manzama calls itself a “listening platform,” but in layman’s terms, its service is not unlike a sophisticated version of Google Alerts for businesses. Manzama mines news sites, industry blogs, social media platforms — in total, it pulls from more than 25,000 sources — then analyzes the information and spits it out in charts and graphs that illustrate industry trends and highlight issues to keep an eye on in the future.

Manzama, for instance, mines about 265 blogs written by plaintiffs and defense firms that specialize in labor and employment law. A plaintiffs lawyer’s blog post about a workplace claim filed against a local Wal-Mart store would be an important nugget of information for a law firm that represents Wal-Mart.

“That would probably not be in the news yet, and wouldn’t show up high on a Google search,” said Peter Ozolin, Manzama’s co-founder, chairman and chief executive. “So they can get ahead of the issue. We let the lead partner or counsel know there’s something developing.”

Since starting in 2010, Manzama has signed about 50 of the 200 biggest law firms in the United States — doubling the 25 firms it started with at the beginning of 2012, said Ozolin, a lawyer who for years was chief technology officer at Paul Hastings.

In the mid-1990s, Ozolin ran Legal Anywhere, a start-up that built Web sites for law firms before being acquired by Niku, which was later bought by Computer Associates. The Bend, Ore.-headquartered Manzama has 14 employees, and works solely with law firms, but Ozolin said it may expand to include health care clients that want to track information about drugs and disorders.

Several major firms with notable Washington offices work with Manzama, including SNR Denton, Perkins Coie, Holland & Knight and Buckley Sandler.

In a way, contracting with Manzama means outsourcing duties that attorneys are already supposed to do: keeping abreast of changes in a client’s industry. But Haglund, of Patton Boggs, said Manzama “takes it to the next level.”

Before, partners and practice groups used news aggregation tools and RSS feeds on an ad-hoc basis to track news and chatter that could impact their clients, “but it really wasn’t consolidated into one platform like it is now,” Haglund said.

“The value proposition for us is staying ahead of any issues our clients may be facing and provide a higher level of services for them,” he said.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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