There are lots of contract preparation automation tools out there these days as clients and (maybe) a few outside lawyers seek to make this whole contract drafting  process more efficient. In the past, I have written about Blackboiler’s automation tools. Others in the market include Juro and Spotdraft.

 

I recently came across a new entry into this competitive space made by a company called Avvoka. Avvoka is a startup that automates contract drafting, analysis, collaboration, and management tasks. The difference with the Avvoka product is that it’s designed to enable anyone in a business to at least begin the contract preparation process. The product focuses on the users in a business, not the lawyers.

 

The basic concept behind Avvoka’s platform is to have the software determine and identify what clauses are bespoke and need lawyer attention and which ones don’t

 

The basic concept behind Avvoka’s platform is to have the software determine and identify what clauses are bespoke and need lawyer attention and which ones don’t, according to Avvoka’s Head of Growth, Giles Thompson. There is a good interview of Thompson done by Charlie Uniman, which is worth a listen.

 

Avvoka does this by having the creator of the document answer various questions. The answers to those questions are then used to select standard clauses that lawyers have generated and which are typically accepted. If the answers stump the system, it identifies the questionable clauses for additional lawyer work.

 

The beauty of this, says Thompson is that it lets anyone create a contract with minimally lawyer involvement. This advantage frees up in-house council from having got spend time on contractual terms that are unnecessary. It also brings the contract drafting and negotiation closer to those in the business actually involved in the transaction and with the other side. To those who understand the business objectives and relationship.

 

Thompson says the idea is to create a platform-oriented like a consumer product. Questions in plain language that anyone can understand. Clauses that are clear, simple, and time tested.

 

And once the system creates the draft, changes can be made easily as the negotiating takes place. Always, though, if the system hits an impasse or there is a deviation, then a human lawyer can get involved.

 

The Avvoka platform is also a collaboration tool, according to Thompson. It allows business people on both sides of the contract to talk to one another so business objectives can take a front seat with legal only coming in if and where needed. Thus better preserving business relationships.

 

The software can also supply needed analytics

 

Thompson also told me that the software can also supply needed analytics. For example, it can find and use the most accepted terms across a range of contracts and then apply these clauses in response to the answers to the standard questions. Often, says Thompson, parties will object to contract terms not because they conceptually oppose them but because the contract language is not clear. The analytics can aid in rooting out the unclear clauses making the negotiation process much more straightforward.

 

Another advantage to Avvoka’s analytics: it can identify the clauses that parties typically have conceptual problems with. This ability enables the party using the program to have a library of clauses around a particular topic: one that is neutral and one that is more aggressive, say.

 

Finally, at the end of the negation process, the system creates a contract summary of the variable points in a contract. Thompson rightly observes that once a deal is done, people often turn off and quickly forget what was really at issue and how the negotiation went. The summary provides a quick update to anyone looking at the contract in the future and getting a better idea of the pain points and overall business relationship.

 

Thompson told me users could be trained to use the system in about an hour

 

I haven’t used the system since I’m rooted in litigation, not transactions. But the questions look straightforward, and the whole platform seems intuitive. Thompson told me users could be trained to use the system in about an hour. It’s sold on a per use per month basis right now. Interestingly, Thompson told me that many people starting businesses are signing up as well as some in marketing, insurance, and online banking.

 

Avvoka’s automation tool is based on the idea that business people can create many contractual clauses without lawyer input. The trick is separating the wheat from the chaff: finding the clauses that really need a lawyer’s input. Avvoka seems to have found a way to do just that.

 

 

 


Many have speculated what the legal world will look like
if and when the pandemic lets up. Some believe we will continue with the virtual world with more and more court proceedings and arbitrations being online. Others think we will go back to the physical in-person world for most activities. But a sizable number believe we will have a hybrid world. This means some participants will be physically present in a courtroom or conference room while others will be online. This hybrid approach reduces risk on the one hand and enhances convenience on the other.
But hybrid may be the least likely alternative.
 
I have to confess I thought that a hybrid world would provide the best of worlds. Those who felt like they needed to be present for a court proceeding, arbitration, or meeting could be. Others could participate virtually just as well. But after talking again recently to Graham Smith-Bernal, the founder and CEO of Opus 2, I’m not so sure hybrid is a viable option for most proceedings. At least anytime soon.
 
Opus 2 offers a semi-virtual integrated hearing and trial platform internationally. It recently added video capability, enabling virtual trials and hearings to take place seamlessly.Opus 2 also allows hybrid proceedings in which a few key participants—the lead lawyers, the judge, and a smattering of courtroom personnel—are present in a courtroom, but most participants are present virtually. Graham shared his experiences with me about these hybrid type proceedings. Since the pandemic started, Opus 2 claim to have facilitated some 413 Virtual/hybrid hearings spanning over 1100 days with over 3600 participants.
 
I had chatted with Graham way back in April about the pandemic’s effect on court proceedings and what the future might look like. Here’s my post talking about that conversation. At the time, Opus 2 was just beginning to offer video capability in addition to the audio capability for remote participation in court and arbitration proceedings. At the time, Graham cited arbitration and certain court proceedings as examples where more passive participants could attend remotely and more involved parties in person. He called these arrangements hybrids. Since then, Graham noted that most proceedings had moved entirely online. Recently, though,  judges and arbitrators have pushed more for hybrid proceedings so that some of the more essential participants can be in person.
 
 
Here’s the problem with hybrid, says Graham. Our courtrooms and most meeting rooms are designed to host in-person proceedings and meetings. That makes all in-person events simple. We all show up, take our seats, and begin. Likewise, virtual proceedings and meetings are now pretty simple by now: you call in and being. Either way, everyone, by and large, have equal footing, and the playing field is level.
 
But when you go to the hybrid world, you have to make accommodations so the virtual participants, particularly for court proceedings, have the same quality access to both audio and video as those physically present. That documents can be seen by everyone simultaneously with no delay. Otherwise, there is inherent unfairness between those physically present and those virtually present.
When the video remote component is added to the hybrid proceedings, things get a lot more complicated from a technical perspective
 
When the video remote component is added to the hybrid proceedings, things get a lot more complicated from a technical perspective. More cameras with greater sensitivity are needed, so whoever talks will be on screen. More microphones are required to pick everything up. Those present in person have to see and hear the remote participants and documents as well as if they were physically present.
 
Other barriers exist. Control and sequestration of witnesses become more challenging. Document presentation and viewing are complicated when some are physically present, and some are not. Preventing delays for some participants is vital to the smooth running of the proceedings. Control and mixing management becomes essential, requiring skilled technicians.
 
Graham sent me pictures of the control room Opus 2 set up for a few hybrid proceedings. These rooms rival the Starship Enterprise for the equipment and sophistication. Few courthouses or even conference facilities have this capability right now. Graham does note that some law firms are building state of the art hearing rooms for hybrid proceedings.
So get used to it. We may be in store for more all online hearings and proceedings are the foreseeable future.
Obviously, the technical requirements and personnel to make hybrid proceedings work are quite daunting. Says Graham,  “Such things may be barriers to all but the biggest hearings and proceedings” to be done in a hybrid fashion, at least for the time being.   He claims,  Hybrid is complex and expensive and should be carefully and selectively deployed. Virtual may still be the best choice for many hearings, but if you need to do hybrid – it needs to be done well…”.
 
Get used to it. We may be in store for more all online hearings and proceedings are the foreseeable future.

 Economic uncertainty is forcing businesses to take a hard look at spending including legal spend. In today’s Guest Post, Aaron Pierce, General Manager of LexisNexis CounselLink, talks about the results of the recent LexisNexis CounselLink 2020 Enterprise Legal Management Trends Report and analytical tools that are available and being used to manage legal spend. Law firms best be prepared to be scrutinized like never before. 

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Legal departments are facing multiple challenges now, as the COVID pandemic continues and businesses across many sectors are struggling. 

 

With so much uncertainty in the economy, it is critical for legal departments to engage in meticulous financial management. Effectively managing costs and saving money wherever possible can help mitigate risk that may be coming in other areas of the business. Complete visibility into spend is what makes this possible. Without strong budgets and an ability to track every single dollar, in-house counsel would never know where they might have flexibility that they can take advantage of. By utilizing alternative fee arrangements, systems that provide insights and analytics into spend, strong benchmarking data, and creative billing solutions, legal departments can better position themselves to manage the current environment and whatever comes next. 

 

AFAs Reveal Corporate Counsel’s Shrewd Eye on Spending

 

Alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) are one area that can provide more predictability into legal spend. Clear insights and strong benchmarking data can help legal departments leverage AFAs more effectively.

 

AFAs are certainly one area that legal departments are already exploring. A recent analysis of 2019 charges billed by outside counsel reveals that 12.1% of matters this past year were billed under some form of alternative fee arrangement. That is an increase from 9.2% in 2017, according to the LexisNexis CounselLink 2020 Enterprise Legal Management Trends Report, which features year-over-year legal industry trends particularly related to billing rates and matter volume. The Trends Report insights are based on data derived from nearly $35 billion in legal spend comprised of almost seven million invoices and more than 1.7 million matters. In its seventh year, the report examines charges billed by outside counsel and provides insight into how legal departments are managing the pressure to trim outside counsel expenses. 

 

Commodity work has traditionally been the most likely to be billed under AFAs, and that remains true in 2020. The latest Trends Report found that finance, loans, and investments work accounted for the highest proportion of matters involving some form of AFA at 30%. That was followed by employment and labor matters at 25%. M&A represented the third most-popular practice area, with AFAs accounting for 19% of matters. This is up from 10% the previous year–a significant jump for such high-profile matters. 

 

Corporate counsel are pushing for AFA billing to gain more predictability in legal spend as they face persistent pressure to tightly manage outside costs.

 

This trend makes it clear that corporate counsel are pushing for AFA billing to gain more predictability in legal spend as they face persistent pressure to tightly manage outside costs. 

 

Gaining Insights into Legal Spend

 

While AFAs are one crucial tool to capturing savings and increasing predictability, there are other areas that can be mined as well. If your legal department isn’t using a system that provides for a big-picture view into spending trends, it’s time to look into one. Such a system will identify previously unnoticed insights that the legal department can leverage.

Key features of your billing system should include:

–Financial management insights, such as line-item detail of all invoices, that allow for better cost control.  

–Management views that allow you to collect, track, organize, and report on both internal and external work to boost cost effectiveness and productivity. 

–Vendor management insights to improve collaboration and retain the right form for the right matter.

–Analytics tools to help you leverage data to make better decisions. 

–Benchmarking data for other organizations to compare how you perform against your peers.

 

Explore Creative Solutions

 

It’s also important to look for solutions that are creative, flexible and can benefit both law firms and legal departments. That is particularly true during periods of economic uncertainty, when legal departments and law firms often have conflicting goals around payments. Legal departments can improve cash flow by instituting long payment terms for law firm invoices. Yet, law firms naturally prefer to receive payment as soon as possible. Today, there are tools such as CounselLink® FastTrack that can help legal departments save money while at the same time improving cash flow to their law firm partners. 

 

As the world settles into a new normal, legal departments must be data-driven organizations that provide and demonstrate greater value to the business. Expanding the use of AFAs and exploring other creative solutions will help effectively manage costs and help mitigate risk coming in other areas of the business. It is critical to both capture and analyze your own data, as well as benchmark against your peers to drive the best decisions that will allow you, your department and your business to compete in today’s economy.

 

 

I’ve been re-reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I know there are criticisms of the book, but Isaacson is a good writer/storyteller. I realized Jobs engineered a return of Apple to dominance by doing two things really well. He forced the organization to make decisions quickly without endless debate.Second, the organization was decentralized. There weren’t silos or profit centers. These attributes let Apple get ahead even though it made mistakes along the way.

 

Of course, Apple was able to do these things because Jobs forced the whole organization to work together for the good of the whole organization. He had a vision for the organization—to make high qualitative usable products—that he and Apple relentlessly adhered to.

Continue Reading Law Firm Leadership: How To Knock Down Silos

This is the season for legal
tech announcements, whether they be about new or improved products or significant mergers, acquisitions, and funding. One announcement recently caught my eye, though, not because the product was cool or the merger lucrative. It was because it involved a big legal tech company simply doing good. Doing the right thing.
 
On October 19, LexisNexis and the National Bar Association (NBA) announced a multi-year agreement to advance the rule of law. The goal is to create programs and initiatives to combat systemic racism and racial inequality. When I dug deeper, I discovered this agreement came about mainly due to the LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation’s efforts. We all know about LexisNexis, the behemoth legal tech company with a myriad of products and legal customers. I didn’t realize that LexisNexis also created the Rule of Law Foundation. The Foundation is a not for profit entity whose mission is to advance the rule of law around the world.

Continue Reading The LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation: Doing Good for the Sake of Doing Good

BlackBoiler, an automated contract markup technology provider, today announced it has secured $3.2 million in funding from strategic investors, including agreement cloud company DocuSign. BlackBoiler plans to use the funds to further develop its patented software capabilities and accelerate team growth.   

 

Dan Broderick, BlackBoiler’s CEO and founder, and his team must be congratulated for this significant new funding. But after recently talking to Dan and Varun Mehta, CEO of Factor (see my recent post), I’m beginning to wonder whether this lasting legal disruption brought about by Covid that everyone keeps talking about is really happening.

 

Blackboiler is an innovative high volume contract review tool that uses artificial intelligence and human interfaces to create, edit, and negotiate similar contracts more efficiently and better. With offices in Washington D.C. and New York City, BlackBoiler is a National Science Foundation-backed software company focused on contract review automation. Continue Reading BlackBoiler Eyes Expansion

This morning, Factor, (formerly Axiom Managed Solutions) one of the most prominent alternative legal service providers, announced the appointment of Carol Lindstrom, former Vice-Chair of Deloitte, to its Board of Directors. Lindstrom’s appointment comes as Factor closed on a new investment from Carrick Capital Partners – one of the largest recent investments in the global legal solutions market – which will allow Factor to quickly capitalize on the opportunities and momentum it has built since the beginning of the year.

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading Factor Continues to Diversify Its Leadership

Are you still using a screen and projector in the courtroom and in your live presentations? If so, this is one you might want to change.

 

As lawyers and all in the legal business, we are constantly called on to persuade, teach and communicate with others. Like us, most of the people we interact with consume content in ways many lawyers have been slow to adopt. This can put us at a disadvantage.

Continue Reading Still Using a Screen and Projector: Think Again