How Can the Legal Industry Better Embrace Technology?

The Seattle area has become known as an international technology and innovation hub, with first-rate tech companies, universities, and a thriving start-up scene all contributing to the city’s large and growing talent pool.

We have an exclusive interview with Elena Donio, CEO of Axiom who speaks more on technology impacting the legal sector.

‘Axiom’s research and development centre, based at this technology epicentre, will be at the forefront of technology innovation in law. Part of Axiom’s research and development efforts are going towards shaping how state-of-the-art techniques in machine learning can be applied to contracting work.

‘The goal is to move from finding clauses to interpreting clauses, which will dramatically improve the speed of contract analysis, enable more powerful insights, and deliver the capability of creating new bodies of contracts faster, and with higher quality’, they reveal.


What do you think the legal industry needs to improve on, in regards to technology?

We believe that technology is already beginning to bring fundamental shifts to the legal industry – not just further enabling today’s processes, but altering legal work itself. And we think these shifts will be a tremendous force for good, empowering attorneys and business leaders to focus on what matters, minimising risk and maximising the value of their decisions. Innovations such as the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) as part of M&A diligence efforts and the use of workflow and data analytics to drive contract remediation for large scale events like GDPR and Brexit are examples at play today.

Given the rate of change in legal tech, and the opportunity to profoundly improve outcomes, we believe that the industry at large must continue to push itself to think big – looking beyond incremental improvement – for fundamental changes to the nature of legal work; change that eliminates perceived trade-offs between, cost, speed, risk, and the quality of outcomes.

This change is already taking place across the industry. Our clients are thinking differently about the role technology can play in their day-to-day. We’re really excited to be partnering with companies like Dell, Johnson & Johnson, and many others, to explore how we can leverage technology to drive game-changing improvements and insights for them today.

In what ways are you ensuring that these improvements are being implemented?

While technology’s role in the legal industry will only continue to expand, we’re still in the early days of that journey – and that means remaining aggressive in our diligence, development and deployment of game-changing technologies, but also being meticulous in our assessment of them. We believe that’s the balance required to take great care of our clients, while offering cutting-edge solutions incorporating technology.

The tech we’re already using in the field includes workflow and analytics engines for contract negotiation and remediation. We used these to repaper contracts for six of the world’s largest banks as part of uncleared margin reform, and also currently use them in our Clinical Trial Agreement and M&A solutions. We’re also outfitting this technology in advance of outreach efforts related to GDPR and Brexit. We’ve deployed AI solutions to gather contracts and extract contract data as part of M&A and other corporate transactions, enabling our attorneys to focus on the legal language that matters. The data and insights these efforts generate mean that our tools improve with every single engagement.

While our clients are enjoying the benefits of these technologies today, it’s also essential that we build technology solutions that last and scale as our capabilities continue to expand. To that end, we recently appointed a new Chief Technology Officer, Doug Hebenthal. A 30-year technology industry veteran who has worked on disruptive technologies across Amazon, Microsoft, and other cutting-edge players, Doug is working to expand our technology vision, artificial intelligence capabilities, and automation of contract and other legal processes. He will also be overseeing the creation of our Seattle-based research and development centre, which we plan to open in 2018. The centre will be focused on developing the most advanced technology solutions in the legal industry.

We also launched AxiomAI earlier this year, a program that leverages AI to improve the efficiency and quality of contracts work. As part of AxiomAI, Axiom will accelerate the use of current-generation AI to help extract information from contracts for more rapid analysis. At the same time, Axiom will continue our R&D efforts to shape next-generation AI for more unique and transformative use cases. This program, combined with our market leadership in tech-enabled legal services, leaves us positioned as a market leader in the practical application of AI to legal work.

In five years, what do you think would be the most ideal situation for the legal industry in regard to tech?

In five years’ time, we believe that the legal industry will view technology as integral to the delivery and deployment of legal services. Enabling seamless access to legal talent, data and analytics, and strategy implementation. The role of technology over this timeframe can be truly transformative – altering how legal services are delivered, as well as the work that’s done and how our clients spend their time.

The non-incremental change we envision reflects how rapidly technology can grow and mature and we cannot allow convention and prior experience to prevent the profound impact of tech from being felt. Technology will alleviate the industry from focusing on how work is done (as well as substantially reducing the cost of that work), while enabling focus on what matters – contract data analysis, optimising value in negotiation and transactions, and making strategic, informed decisions for the business.

Not only is that our ideal situation for five years from now, but we believe many elements of this vision will be realised even sooner. In fact, we’re already helping our clients with contract analytics today, at places like Dell, where we offer visibility into active contract terms for over 35,000 contracts, dating back 20 years.

In general, what are the biggest obstacles individuals face when trying to expand their company, in regard to legal requirements? How will better technology improve this?

As companies expand, they often face the challenge of not having sufficient processes or people in place to tackle their legal needs, particularly when they face a hard deadline like an M&A transaction or a new regulation coming into effect. As they grow, it also becomes more important to remain fast and nimble in securing commercial relationships. The sales engine therefore needs a fast and nimble contracting process.

While we believe that our business model is well suited to solve these challenges today, we also firmly believe that technology will lower these barriers in the future, making top legal talent more accessible, rapidly sourcing a unique and in-demand skillset for a period of time, and tackling a large scale contracting challenge in really cost-competitive ways.

Take the upcoming introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR), for example. This regulation, for which companies need to be compliant by May 2018, requires organisations to analyse which vendors access or process covered data, and which customers use the company for data processing.

If we step back and just look at the contracting work that needs to be done, we estimate that global firms have millions of contracts that need to be identified and remediated ahead of the regulation. However, less than five per cent know how many contracts need to be addressed in order to comply with the regulation. The cost of identifying and remediating these contracts will conservatively run over one billion dollars.

We’re working with quite a few companies on their GDPR readiness by leveraging AI, coupled with our deep expertise in contracting solutions and data privacy. With so much work still left to do in the next six months, taking a tech-enabled approach to regulatory response is the most cost-efficient way for companies, including high-growth ones, to identify and remediate all of the applicable contracts.


Elena Donio is Chief Executive Officer of Axiom, the recognized leader in the business of law. Through a curated marketplace, Axiom employs and then deploys 2,000 lawyers, professionals, process engineers and technologists to deliver the future of law to the Fortune/FTSE 500. Elena has over 20 years of experience in fast-paced technology companies.

Doug Hebenthal serves as Axiom’s Chief Technology Officer, overseeing the company’s industry-leading technology platform and opening Axiom’s first R&D centre in Bellevue, Washington. Doug has more than 30 years of experience in tech, including 21 years at Microsoft, where he was a founding member of the Xbox team and an early pioneer working on the Internet. He came to Axiom from Change Healthcare, where he served as Chief Network Engineering Officer and Senior Vice President of Cloud Infrastructure, driving industry change through healthcare cloud adoption. Prior to that, Doug was a Director for Amazon’s Payments Platform, leading their 160 person engineering team, processing hundreds of millions of dollars of financial throughput annually.


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