GCRC Interview: Adam Nguyen, Co-founder and COO at eBrevia

Will Barns-Graham speaks to Adam Nguyen, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of eBrevia. eBrevia is a legal software company that helps law firms and in-house counsel review large volumes of contracts and extract key information efficiently and accurately.

To find out more about eBrevia, you can visit their website: www.ebrevia.com

What does eBrevia do and how did it come about?

Our software provides lawyers and business professionals with the tools they need for a more accurate, cost-effective, and efficient contract review. The technology behind our software was developed in collaboration with Columbia University under an intellectual property arrangement. It’s based on cutting edge advancements in machine learning and natural language processing, two of the most exciting technologies today. When you put the two together, what you get is the most sophisticated contract review software out there. Our first product is the Diligence Accelerator, a software tool specifically for contract review in the context of legal due diligence but could be applied to contract management, as well.

Summarizing data seems to be a big theme at the moment in legal texts. One such company doing this, who we’ve featured on GCRC recently, is Diligence Engine. How do you guys differ from that kind of company?

Given that our technology is backed by a major research university, eBrevia’s software will continue to reap the benefits of Columbia University’s ongoing research. This means that our software is not a static solution, but one that will consistently reflect the latest advancements in the field. As far as we know, our technology, as it’s applied to the contract review space, is the most accurate, comprehensive, and easy-to-use.

Second, our software has broad applications for both law firms and in-house legal departments. While there’s a huge need for contract review or due diligence software in the context of mergers and acquisitions and other commercial transactions, our software is also transforming the process of contract management and compliance. We’re piloting our software not just at law firms, but also in-house legal departments of investment banks, real estate investment companies, real estate management companies, and Fortune 500 companies. Our peer companies tend to focus on either due diligence or contract management.

Third, our team brings together a combination of varied experiences that provide perspectives from in-house legal departments, law firms, and computer science labs. It’s not often that you’d encounter a team that has both legal and IT backgrounds. This diversity in experience led to the design of a product that is not just technically effective but has an intuitive user-interface that fits easily into the legal workflow and integrates nicely into the legal IT environment.

One of the things we heard was that in-house lawyers are drivers for the uptake of new technologies in the legal industry. How important are in-house lawyers for companies like yours in terms of driving the change rather than law firms who may be a bit more reluctant?

Having worked at a couple of law firms before going in-house, I’ve encountered many innovative lawyers on both sides. What I’ve seen though is that in-house lawyers typically had been on the law firm side, so they tend to have a broader perspective of the business of law practice, including cost pressures. In-house lawyers are motivated to service their business units by, among other things, producing efficiencies and cost savings. This business mindset makes seeking out legal innovation more natural for them.

At law firms on the other hand, cost-savings and efficiency concerns aren’t so much at the forefront. That said, I am encountering more and more business savvy lawyers who understand clients’ cost pressures and respond by seeking innovative solutions like ours. Law firms can win business and attain high profitability by being at the forefront of legal innovations.

Talking about efficiency, to what extent are search summarizers like eBrevia about taking away the more menial document research tasks and actually allowing lawyers to do more ‘lawyering’, as it were?

A typical contract review exercise is done by a lawyer, or in some cases, a trainee or paralegal. In my experience, an initial search for a key provision is done either by entering a keyword search or scanning the document for the relevant information. Once found, that provision is copied and pasted into a Microsoft Word template, then edited to provide a more refined summary. This may happen twenty to fifty times or more for each contract, depending on the number of provisions sought.

Now, multiply the number of contracts by hundreds or thousands, and what’s supposed to be a quick, menial task of searching and summarizing becomes a very time-consuming and expensive process that could be riddled with errors.

Whether it’s at law firms or in-house legal departments, people whom we’ve talked to spend a lot of time and resources on those menial tasks at the front-end of the contract review process. That’s where eBrevia comes in. We cut down significantly the time of that initial pass. When we compare the time savings between a user without our software versus one with our software, the one using our software is not only much faster, but also much more accurate at doing his or her work. When your attention is shifted from menial tasks to analyzing legal provisions, you could better catch mistakes, and your overall accuracy would improve.

At a larger law firm a lot of these tasks are given to junior lawyers, so if and when larger law firms do take on new technologies like yours, what do you think will be the new menial tasks be for junior lawyers?

The reality is that lawyers have plenty of other tasks to attend to. Junior attorneys might devote more attention to assembling legal information in a way that is more accessible and meaningful to the client, in other words providing a higher quality, more sophisticated work product. We believe that by using software like eBrevia’s, law firms can cut through menial tasks so that their lawyers can do what they should be doing – the analyzing and synthesizing of information, and going deeper into the diligence process… what you had referred to as more ‘lawyering’.

Because of the severe time constraints that junior lawyers face today, they may skip over important information, so the accuracy and completeness of a review are major concerns for their law firm. The new menial tasks might be checking the accuracy and completeness of an initial review performed by the software. But keep in mind that while menial tasks might generate more billable work, business savvy law firms are incentivized to complete deals quickly so they could take on additional work or risk losing new deals to other firms. Getting through contract review quickly and accurately allows a law firm to generate revenue from more sophisticated work or capture a bigger share of deals.

So this is about increasing efficiency so that there are more deals being done, whether it’s hourly billed or a fixed price?

Exactly, it’s about getting deals done quickly and accurately to meet or exceed your client’s expectations. Efficiency technology like ours would allow firms to capture even more business and market themselves as more innovative compared to their peers. Imagine if a law firm were to come to a client and say, “You know what? Instead of using online research, our associates will conduct research the traditional way using books.” No client would agree to that. Resistance to new technologies will always exist, whether it’s moving to online research, eDiscovery, or even mundane things like blacklining software. Thirty years ago, secretaries and support staff would blackline documents by hand and billed their work to clients.The thought of doing a blackline by hand today is absurd.

With the appropriate technology, lawyers will become more productive. They could generate more work of higher value at higher fees, as opposed to scrambling to generate revenue from menial work at a lower billing rate.

In terms of in-house lawyers: if they were putting a piece of work up to competing law firms and one law firm is using eBrevia and one isn’t using eBrevia, how important is the use of technologies to the in-house lawyer making that decision?

Speaking from my experience as a former in-house lawyer, a law firm that uses eBrevia will appear more innovative and conscious of my cost concerns, and isn’t operating under the paradigm of “we’ll try to bill you as much as we can get away with.” When you’re in-house, you’re always thinking about costs and how a law firm could add value. You’d want in your service provider a partner who is ahead of the curve. Technology, if used properly, is a great marketing tool for law firms. Being innovative and deploying cutting edge technology would confer a huge advantage when it comes to getting business from in-house counsel.

There seems to be a trend of technology companies that they want to be seen as being a marketable item, almost like a sticker to add onto the number of marketable items a law firm currently has. For law firms to say “Yes, we have all of the cool things, come to us.” How important is it to innovative technology companies to get that cultural capital amongst their potential clients?

From a marketing viewpoint, it’s important to have that recognition and brand, but once in the hands of users, a good product will speak for itself. You can’t have that cultural capital without an underlying technology that truly adds value. Some technology companies make big promises and have huge marketing campaigns without being cognizant of their users’ needs.

We spent three years talking to prospective users as we were designing our initial product. We asked lawyers at law firms and in-house departments which features would be useful to them. Taking their input into account when designing and building the software was key to creating a product that they’ve ultimately found useful. We are still incorporating our clients’ feedback, so the process really never ends. While having cultural capital is very important, ultimately we’re judging our product’s success based on the realities of user experience and feedback.

As someone within the world of legal innovation, what do you think is going to be the next big thing in improving efficiency and improving how lawyers work?

I think the next wave of innovation, if not already here, will be the connectivity of lawyers through information and workflow management. For instance, a lawyer in New York looking for an example of an indemnification clause in the context of an M&A transaction in the EU could connect with his colleague in the UK for that information. Today, that lawyer would have to go into his firm’s system and do a manual search or email colleagues in his firm’s London office. Even within a firm, there’s very little integration of knowledge from all the precedents that a firm generates. This is a problem faced by companies, as well. As law firms and companies get larger, and as transactions become more complex, documents are becoming longer and more numerous. However, I haven’t seen very good systems to organize, find, and share legal information within law firms or companies. I expect a wave of technologies that would enable lawyers to efficiently manage and make sense of the mountain of information that is constantly being generated also by lawyers. We’re hoping to be part of that wave by improving the process of searching for and summarizing legal information.

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