In 2015, I had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing Alex Hamilton, Co-Founder and CEO of Radiant Law. We published two great articles analysing the “Radiant Way” of approaching law and Alex’s vision regarding the future of the legal industry, Part I and Part II. Four years later, we are publishing a new interview analysing Radiant’s developments in the use of technology, their most successful projects and their venture with Conduit Law.
In 2015 I also published an article analysing the innovative solutions in the Canadian legal market and included Conduit Law amongst the NewLaw entrants in the market. Amongst other interesting insights from this interview, it is exciting to observe how NewLaws are developing networks cross-borders. In addition, in this interview we also revisit Alex’s predictions of the evolution of the legal industry.
I hope you enjoy the interview. Thank you for your openness, Alex, and congratulations for your great work.
Q: In our first interview in 2015, you shared the three types of software you were implementing, mainly, (i) business tools to communicate and collaborate like Slack and Box, (ii) document automation and document review systems such as Contract Express or Kira, respectively, and (iii) your own products, such as RemarkableX, extending Word with additional features to get rid of tedious tasks, improve speed and consistency. You have also recently started licensing RemarkableX publicly. Could you tell us about this interesting move and how you have advanced in the use of technology in these four years?
A: If anything, Radiant has become more unusual in its approach to IT. We run two systems for communication: Office365 (Word and email, etc.) for dealing with the outside world, clients and handle contracts; and internal tools such as Slack, our wiki, Google apps, etc. All our internal-facing systems are based around collaboration, which is essential with what we are trying to achieve and when team members are around the world. Lawyers are based generally in Cape Town and Toronto, and developers are based across Eastern Europe and South East Asia.
At the heart of our systems is our matter management platform, Flow. We built this ourselves, not only because we work in unusual ways but also to get the specific data we need to keep improving. We are on to our third version and hopefully we won’t have to rebuild this one for at least a few more years, but we release changes every couple of weeks. The challenge is that as we figure out more from the data the system produces, we find better ways of working… which often means the system needs to change.
We also continue to develop new features for RemarkableX, our Word extensions. They tend not to be so much disruptive but just helpful to how we work. They generally solve real needs, because they are requested by the lawyers who work closely with the developers through a channel in Slack. As you mention, we have started licensing RemarkableX publicly. The next development is a clause database within RemarkableX, which we are about to release.
Although RemarkableX is an incredibly useful tool for getting rid of the tedious work of lawyers, I expect in the long-term we are going to be moving out of Word and email and into negotiating platforms. There will be a market for RemarkableX for a long time still, this is law after all, but Word is ultimately the wrong tool for contracts.
We have been working with Synergist, a legaltech startup based in Berlin pioneering a negotiation platform. It is hard to replace the incredibly complex patterns that can arise with email, and even harder to make it so easy that the other side will play, but Synergist is working hard on the problem. This would give us a way to negotiate contracts while preserving data structures which is long-term important. We are also using Docassemble, which is a fantastic open source document automation tool, where we are exploring other ways of applying data structures to contracts.
Another tech challenge is that there have been a lot of solutions emerging for specific stages in the contracting process: document automation, contract review, e-signature, contract management, etc. These are point solutions that are hard to integrate. The contract lifecycle management tools tend to be weaker at the specific stages and in practice are often only used by clients for specific stages, so we have been working to integrate them through our integration platform, Rapid. Effectively, we’re building the Zapier of law.
Regarding Artificial Intelligence (AI), although we are using Legal Sifter, there is a limited role for AI in what we do with high volume contracting. The hype around AI is exhausting, especially when we can see from the data we have collected with the Radiant Benchmark that no one has completed the basics. Classifying clauses (and even applying rules like review tools such as Legal Sifter do) has limited uses and the tools aren’t close to understanding the meaning of language.
Our focus at Radiant Law is on accelerating the contracting process and there is much to learn from psychology, statistics and game theory, for instance. The problems are screamingly obvious, such as what the IACCM surveys keep showing. The top five provisions that are negotiated by lawyers are (1) limitation of liability, (2) indemnity, (3) price/price changes, (4) termination and (5) scope and goals, in that order. The most critical is limitation of liability – an arguably third-degree issue after both trying to ensure compliance through clarity of the core deal and resolving any disputes. However, we can see the difference in the order in terms of what really matters to run a contract and what triggers a dispute. The order for what really matters to run a contract is (1) scope and goals, (2) responsibilities of parties, (3) price/price changes, (4) delivery/acceptance, and (5) service levels. Regarding what triggers dispute, the order is (1) price/price changes, (2) invoices/late payment, (3) delivery/acceptance, (4) scope and goal, and (5) change management.
As an industry, we are starting with unreasonable terms and then going through rote negotiations to the exasperation of the business, focusing on the wrong issues. It’s a dance that is valued by lawyers, but no one else, and we need to change.
Given this and the fact that organisations haven’t done the basics with their contracting processes, I see all the talk of AI, blockchain and smart contracts as distracting from the hard yards. We should come to a solution from a problem, not the other way around. Let’s get the basics right, including short, clear, reasonable and relevant standard terms, and then we can worry about the fancier systems. It’s not glamorous, but we have extensive data showing it’s what is needed.
Q: Those are great insights. Which have been your most successful projects and what have you learned with your clients in the process?
A: One of our most successful projects and a great example of what we have learned with our clients is the Radiant Benchmark, a free benchmarking tool that helps companies understand the maturity of their commercial contracting processes and what to do next.
In-house legal teams are embracing the need for new ways of working, but it is not easy to benchmark where your performance is today, find out what everyone else is doing and identify how, and where, to start focusing on improvements, so this helps with a real problem. It was built by talking with our clients, identifying their needs and based on their feedback. Building on the capability maturity model we published, we launched the Benchmark last year and now have fantastic data on what everyone has done… and the answer is: everyone feels behind, but everyone has a long way to go. The highest score achieved by our clients is just over 70%, the average company is 30-40% and the highest score we have registered in a company that was not our client is in the 60s.
Another big piece of learning was some analytics on the back of a number of GDPR projects we ran for clients, which gave us a chance to effectively split test various companies approaches to standard terms. The outcome was remarkable: the reasonableness of standard terms have a far greater impact than even we suspected and it has led to many projects with clients to simplify and improve their standard terms. In turn, we are seeing remarkable impacts on time to close.
Finally, a lot of data from delivery of managed legal services has shown us the way to continue to redesign our services. These changes are being implemented right now and we are hopeful that we will be able to show a series of radical improvements for our clients. This underlines the importance of not operating with time sheets or billable hours. These kinds of changes just wouldn’t be possible if we were paid for time.
Q: In 2015 you also mentioned that the UK and US markets have huge potential for growth, though there were some regulatory challenges for opening in the US. Last year you launched your venture with Conduit Law, based in Toronto, to help North American companies transform how they negotiate their commercial contracts. What does the future look like for ConRad? What potential do you see in collaborating with Conduit Law?
A: Last year we launched ConRad, our North American joint venture with Conduit Law based in Toronto. It’s been a resounding success with clients being supported between both Cape Town and Toronto and it’s been fabulous working with my old friend, Peter Carayiannis.
I think this is going to be our core model for future growth – acting like a network, rather than having to “own all the means of production”. We are starting to work with a couple of other organisations in a similar way and it is exciting to be finding kindred spirits around the world.
Q: Finally, in 2015 you predicted that in five to ten years there would be (i) more mergers and larger firms, (ii) more diversity in providers, (iii) more forward-looking BigLaw firms transforming themselves into NewLaw, (iv) fewer lawyers more supported by tools and processes and (v) a move past the billable hour. Following your experience during these past years, would you review, modify or add anything to your initial predictions?
A: I’ve given up predicting the future, but it’s interesting to see what I thought, four years ago, would be happening in five to ten. A somewhat mixed performance so far (you can see why I’ve given up):
• More mergers and larger firms: kind of, but apart from Dentons they aren’t radically bigger yet.
• More diversity of providers: yes, it is happening, but it has as much been a story of roll-ups recently. We have arguably gone backwards, at least in the UK, on this front.
• BigLaw firms starting to transform into NewLaw: just not seeing it yet. We’ve seen firms starting NewLaw clones as subsidiaries, but no real change to the firms themselves. What firms have learned is “innovation theatre”, that if they just do some innovation projects, that’s enough to fob off clients and they can avoid (at least so far) real change. I had great hopes for Seyfarth Shaw, but that experiment appeared to go into abrupt reverse.
• Fewer lawyers more supported by tools and processes: not really yet. The lawyer population keeps growing (while access to justice collapses) and although they have better tools, there hasn’t been a material change in behaviour. I suggested there would be more talk about “bionic lawyers”, and that is certainly happening with an initiative of that name in the UK, but we haven’t seen much in action yet.
So, four years in, a very patchy record so far. We are still discussing the billable hour, hype has grown about legaltech, but little implementation. Still, as William Gibson said “the future is here, just not evenly distributed” and the interesting players continue to push ahead.