Automating Contract Review for a Slow-Moving Industry

Every day we’re hearing more and more about how artificial intelligence (AI) solutions are going to rock the business world by “automating this”, “speeding up that”, “cutting corners” “cutting costs”, etc. While we have absolutely no doubt that these new solutions have the potential to disrupt commercial industries, the legal industry is one that we’re naturally curious (and maybe a bit skeptical) about as from our location in the depths of a legal technology AI/ML “engine room”. In the business/consulting/ manufacturing/etc. sphere, AI is becoming more and more commonplace with major corporations and startups alike not only adopting AI solutions but also creating solutions in-house. Safe to say that AI’s future in these realms is set in stone.

The legal world has been much slower to accept these types of technologies and process solutions. In a Forbes article, titled AI Will Transform The Field of Law, Rob Toews talks about the different ways AI can be used to simplify and expedite legal tasks. The article highlights areas such as Contract Review, Contract Analytics, Litigation Prediction, and Legal Research as areas that are prime for AI integration, and some of the major tech players that are trying to disrupt those areas.

While Toews’ article was insightful and we certainly share the same sentiments regarding the various areas that need more tech improvement and overall AI integration, our team gravitated to Toews’ section about Contract Review.

Contract review as a specialty has become a new frontier for many companies, and our team has been receiving more and more client requests for speedy contract review scopes and engagements. Naturally, and also universally amongst legal technology companies working with legal practitioners, contract review is an incredibly crucial process that not only encapsulates the essence of legal work, but relies on manual, human labour and diligent focus time. Because of the increasing demand for expediency and our at-hand development team’s focus being to build legal technology, the problem of slow and laborious document review was interesting to hear from our clients and interesting to explore. With some discovery time, we concluded on which parts of the process we wanted to fix and all the ways we could improve them.

For those with experience in negotiating and reviewing contracts, you’ll know how tedious and time consuming it is to engage in this type of work, especially when there’s a deal “finish line” you’re trying to reach. In order to finalize a contract between two parties, there will be a number of back and forths for each and every clause in order to be more favourable for the respective parties. This continues until both parties are satisfied with the wording of the clauses. This process happens over and over again for most if not all of the clauses in a contract, and every contract in the deal. This can be extremely expensive and could span weeks, and potentially months.

After a lot of experimentation and testing, our team has renewed our experimentation with natural language processing (NLP) as a basis to our solutions, alongside Seneca College who is our long-time academic partner. Put simply, our technology is using NLP to analyze clauses and determine which are problematic and which are acceptable, based on client-specific case precedent. So far,results have been great and our clients are delighted by having their work done quick, fast, diligently and semi-automated.

But even with our efforts and all the other folks out there that are trying to build AI solutions for contract review (and legal, in general), the technology is still new, and therefore still requires human involvement. It may even require human involvement for the rest of time, even if just oversight. At the end of the day, a lawyer still needs to review the analysis and make final decisions - the basis to how any professional opinion is constructed.

When it comes to the motivation for building out these systems to improve a stubborn industry like legal, innovation often stems from a personal experience with an issue and a desire to not only fix this issue for oneself, but to help others overcome the same issue. Over the course of our company’s existence, we’ve experienced and witnessed first-hand the tediousness and struggles that entrepreneurs face when it comes to contract review and legal doings generally. While we know that these processes are necessary, the underlying issues are always that they cost a lot and take a lot of time. As a startup, those are two luxuries that we simply can’t afford. And neither can our startup clients! Watching time and money being burned on billables, mistakes, inconsistencies and manual labour is, without being too melodramatic, heartbreaking. This is when we began thinking about ways to improve the process that would solve problems for everyone.

Regardless of how we want to picture our solutions and the legal industry’s future in tech adoption, the overall goal has always been to simplify and modernize an otherwise archaic process that doesn’t ever seem to let up. Between our sales folks, developers, lawyers, content builders, etc., we’re legal innovators and enthusiasts trying to simplify the legal processes for budding startups and businesses.

Written by Evan.