Legal Tech Needs A Paradigm Shift

By Christophe Frèrebeau, CEO of Della

The pandemic may have nudged many legal departments and law firms along the path to digitisation, but despite the recent flurry of major wins, investment and industry news, legal technology still has a slower adoption rate than many other technology industries. Why? What is hindering legal tech adoption and what needs to change to realise the current market opportunity?

The simple explanation is that lawyers are and remain, by nature, risk averse or that they still don’t have the time (law firms) or the resources (legal departments) to train their teams properly. Another explanation is that law firms’ hourly rate business model is hindering any attempt at productivity gains, but client pressure and the sheer volume of work required is changing this. The question that remains is, is there also a broader disconnect between legal software vendors and lawyers?

From a lawyer’s standpoint, their work must be tailored to their client’s needs. This is often defined by law, local regulations or code of conduct – there is no way around it. From a technology standpoint, providers need to service large numbers of customers with the same solution. Custom-made solutions are pipe dreams, or at the very least a thing of the past since they are more often than not too costly to develop and maintain.

As a result, many legal tech vendors often try to standardise legal processes. While, in some cases this can be beneficial, there are understandable concerns that this technique is oversimplifying legal work. My view is that this ‘oversimplification’ might be playing a major role in slow legal tech adoption rate: either the solution comes up short or it is too complicated to use.

Rethinking How We Deal With Legal Work

Sometimes we need to approach things differently to make a breakthrough. Take the iPhone, for example. It changed the smartphone market forever by simply removing the keyboard. Google also revolutionised the internet by coming up with a better way to find information.

Let’s take a look at the latter example and see what contract review solutions in particular can learn from Google. In the pre-Google age, the best way to find a website was by using a directory, such as the one proposed by Yahoo!. At the time, there were search engines, but they were incredibly basic and didn’t work particularly well. So we were forced to rely on pre-categorised information. If, like me, you are old enough to remember the pre-Google age, it was far from easy to find what you were looking for.

Then Google came along and completely reinvented the way we use the Internet, allowing users to find what they were looking for using simple user-generated queries. They were by no means the first search engine, but the way they approached the problem was revolutionary. It marked a paradigm shift in the way we use the Internet and changed it forever.

So is legal tech stuck in its own pre-Google era? Is there a way to approach things differently? Could a paradigm shift lead to similar exponential adoptions?

Changing the Way We Think About Contracts

Let’s return to the issue of contracts. Contracts are the backbone of any business relationship and that relationship is defined in many different ways. Many legal tech vendors will simplify a contract’s role by defining it as a single document containing a set of clauses. Contracts cannot and should not be reduced to a set of clauses alone, but the reality is that the majority of contract lifecycle management and AI systems work by doing just that.

If you think about it, building contract review software that is only focused on detecting clauses means that you are already starting on the back foot. Rather than trying to get your contracts to fit the narrow criteria of your legal technology (like Yahoo! did back in the day), wouldn’t it be better if your chosen technology was flexible enough to provide the information your users need, without pre-empting their enquiry and designing their technology around presumptions?

Surely there is a better way to approach contract review from a technology point of view?

The best place to start is by asking yourself: what do you need to know about your contracts? As a lawyer or business owner, the questions you have about this business relationship could be: when can you terminate it? What are the risks and liabilities? What are your responsibilities in terms of personal data?

It’s only human to think in terms of questions; and these questions need answers.

Technology to Aid the Paradigm Shift

Many software vendors have started to notice these limitations and are building capabilities within their solutions to overcome them, like adding custom fields and tracking data points. However, despite adapting to meet the needs of their clients, these capabilities often lead to increased complexity; it is a tricky balance to strike.

At Della, a fundamental difference between our approach to contract review is that we don’t think in terms of clauses; we think in terms of questions.

We believe this is a major difference and one that helps our users approach the most complex legal problems more efficiently, accurately and faster than other software vendors.

We’ve designed Della to be an extension of an existing internal process by enabling our users to create a checklist based on a set of questions they need answers to. We want to provide flexibility without adding unnecessary complexity.

We are building an AI that we believe will enable the paradigm shift in legal technology that the industry needs.

We realise that this shift is bigger than Della. That’s why we have developed an API, which enables us to offer our AI, not only to law firms and legal departments, but also to other legal tech vendors. We have already partnered with several leading legal tech solutions to augment and complement their solutions such as Wolters Kluwers, Orbital Witness and HighQ.

Della has been adopted by law firms of all sizes and corporations across many countries. If you asked them why they chose Della, they will all tell you that Della is an easy to use platform that answers the questions they need answering, fast.

If you are a lawyer, a legal professional, a legal technologist or a software vendor, and you feel that contract review technology is too constraining and results in poor user adoption, Della can help.

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