Why legal tech is moving into the mainstream with Chris O'Connor from LexisNexis

How the pandemic has accelerated tech adoption

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In this episode, Legislate meets Chris O'Connor, Director of Solutions at LexisNexis UK, the leading global provider of legal, regulatory and business information and analytics. Chris shares how legal tech is moving into the mainstream from cloud based collaboration tools to document automation.

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Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate podcast, a place to learn about the latest insights and trends in property, technology, business building and contract drafting. Today I'm excited to welcome Chris O'Connor, director of solutions at LexisNexis UK. LexisNexis is a leading global provider of legal, regulatory and business information and analytics that help customers increase productivity, improve decision making and outcomes and advance the rule of law around the world. Chris, thank you making the time, would you like to share a bit of background about yourself and LexisNexis?

 

Chris O'Connor: Yes, absolutely, thank you Charles, and thank you so much for inviting me on, really delighted to join and it's one of those pinch yourself moments when you've been asked to come to a podcast, certainly made the big time, it's brilliant to, to join, so thank you. So yeah, I always-, I think when I introduce myself to legal audiences, caveat it with a-, I'm not, my background is not, not legal I'm not a lawyer by training. I also increasingly now with tech audiences caveat it as well that my background is not tech or even really products. So, a bit of a question as to why I find myself here. So, my background, for my sins, I started off as a management consultant at a strategy firm called-, which was one of those, kind of, classic jobs out of university and not 100% sure what you wanted to do and it gives you some good skills and allows you to understand a bit more about what you might like to do. So, I did that for four years, and I think it did give me very good preparation for the world of work and gives you that hard base of, kind of, problem solving and quantitative analysis skills which I found have been very flexible and applying in them in different settings as we go on. After four, four and a bit years there in consulting, decided that lifestyle wise, I probably need a change, the hours were pretty draining and my then girlfriend, now wife was getting increasingly frustrated with seeing me for three, three waking hours a day and that was it. So, I always planned into the corporate world, and got this role at LexisNexis. Initially I started in the strategy team at LexisNexis, really luckily I had a couple of friends who'd been and had very good careers, quite a few extra people have done well at Lexis. But also I was really impressed with the level of senior stakeholder commitment to the interview process.

 

Which I always thought was a pretty good heuristic for, you know, they're taking seriously this role and you're gonna have some influence after you get in. And so, so I found it, been at LexisNexis for five years now and currently on job number four. So, I've been very lucky in that they've given me the chance to move around quite a bit, functionally as well as in terms of responsibility. So, I did less than twelve months in the strategy team, moved into go to market, which was our sales and marketing team, doing initially a bit of a hybrid, kind of, strategy sales role. Looking at improving some of our sales processes, so very commercial, looking at market strategy and process optimisation. And then got my first real management experience, taking on a team in the marketing team, our segment marketing team. So, working out our messaging for each of the different segments of the legal market, really putting yourself in the shoes of the customer, doing a lot of thought leadership and things a little bit like this on the Lexis side. So, trying to engage our customers. And that meant that I was really nicely positioned with a background in, you know, strategy, sales and marketing to make the move into product and I've been director of solutions, which is a product director role at LexisNexis for about six months now and I'm looking after our newer, more cutting edge legal tech products.

 

Charles Brecque: That's a great background about yourself and, and congratulations on advancing so quickly at LexisNexis.

 

Chris O'Connor: More, more by accident than design, but thank you.

 

Charles Brecque: And, and in terms of the solutions that you're working on, are you able to give a bit of background about what they are, who would use them and where they fit within LexisNexis?

 

Chris O'Connor: Yes, absolutely. The way I think about this, so there's three main streams within my team. So, the first-, the first two are products that we have live in market at the moment, and the next is our, kind of, pipeline, our, our innovation lab of future ideas and future innovation for products that we hope will become products in the future. We're a little bit like an internal incubator, which we take ideas, get them to prototype quickly, get them in front of customers quickly and hopefully scale them up to the point where they can become our core products and move to more stable management. And then we've got, you know, capacity to think about the next big idea. And my job is to make sure the, kind of, conveyor belt of ideas keeps moving and we're not, you know, working sequentially that actually we can spread our resources across lots of different bets. So, the first two products that we have in market, the, the first one is Lexis Create, which is a Microsoft Word plug-in that is a drafting assistant. And LexisNexis have got a lot of experience in the space, we had a product before called Lexis Draft and others in the market trying to solve similar kinds of problems, but automating some of the aspects of legal drafting. So, proofreading, redaction, bringing legal research into the Microsoft environment. So, instead of having to swivel the browser in Word, you can look at LexisNexis content and increasingly we're trying to pull in the firms own content into the side panel of Word to reduce context switching. The second product we have in market is an analytics product and this is an area which I think is very mature in the US, but much less mature in the UK, although we're trying to help define the category along with a few others in the market in the UK.

 

I think the reason for that is the US legal system has for many of your audience will know, much more litigious, so therefore a lot more of the data is public and the nature of litigation data is it tends to be more structured. And I think there's better, really good repositories of data you can mine and, and derive insights from. The nature of the UK legal system and indeed, like much of Europe and, you know, other bits of Asia Pacific and things is much more transactional. So, lots of the data is private, it sits in individual contracts which sit behind the companies' very careful paywalls and privacy rules. And even when you manage to get access to those contracts, they're much more complicated, and you're not jut putting out common repeated terms, you're having to really apply some intelligence. So, that's where we're trying to use artificial intelligence to mine information out of repositories of, of data, publicly available data in the UK litigation system. So, the High Court and, and publicly available judgements and also some LexisNexis judgements that we have. And increasingly we've exploring different areas. So, looking at our intersection of customer need and data availability, and seeing what, kind of, exciting analytical experiments we can do. And then the final stream which is the, kind of, innovation stream, we have as I say, a really wide number of bets, a lot of contract analytics. And one of the really exciting things we're pretty close to being able to bring to market is something we call clause intelligence. Which is where we scan the document that you're working on in Lexis Create and it automatically recognises the type of matter you're working. Automatically pass the document so we can see the different individual calluses and can then recommend again initially LexisNexis content, and without you needing to search.

 

But eventually we hope that unlocks lots more use cases, including retrieval from internal data banks and knowledge banks and, and maybe even some kind of workflow stuff. We know what you're working-, we recognise you're trying to do this kind of matter, can we give you these tips and tricks? Can we automate elements of this for you without you needing to tell the tool to do, to try and get into that, you know, intelligence at the clause and the contract level. And also, and some more prosaic things, we're just trying to get styling working really well in Word is very difficult, it's a challenge that lots of different firms face very manual at the moment, particularly when you're negotiating and contracts are changing back and forth and the styling is corrupted or your counterparty changes the side to something you don't want. Trying to automate elements of that to reduce time is actually the single biggest thing we hear from lawyers that they want to hear from us. So, a mix of the very cutting edge and the tricky, but more core to the lawyers workflow and everything in-between.

 

Charles Brecque: Yes, no that sounds really exciting and and lots of-, I think styling is also a big thing as well at Legislate. That what, you know, constantly asked to improve our styling and, and it just is. So, what's been your favourite moment so far at LexisNexis?

 

Chris O'Connor: Yeah, really good-, really good question. I think other than joining and, and finding what a great place it was and what a great place to start building my career, I think actually it-, these last six months of learning the product world, it hasn't always been a walk in the park and coming from a non-legal background, although I've learned a lot about the law in my five years at Lexis, and particularly a non-technical background has been a bit learning curve. But looking at where I am today versus where I was six months, actually able to talk semi-intelligently about some of the work the teams are doing, actually able to interrogate some of the work they're doing and, and add some value in those meetings rather than just being a hindrance. And be able to, to actually sometimes come in with that naïve view and that outsiders, often asking a question which everyone else would overlook has been really rewarding and seeing some of the results of that coming to the market. So, fantastic success, particularly with Lexis Create and the adoption there is really validating and we're hoping to launch a fully global product in the Summer. Which I suspect if we were to speak in six months time would be my new highlight at Lexis so far.

 

Charles Brecque: Oh, good luck. And what do you wish you'd known before joining LexisNexis?

 

Chris O'Connor: Yes, I think probably, probably a little more about the law I think would've helped my ramp up and picking my lawyer friends' brains a bit more about what they actually do, I think would be-, you know, that, that customer-centricity is really important and actually I think it can work in every function within any organisation. So, even in strategy I was probably a bit too far from the customer in their needs and a little bit of an ivory tower sometimes in strategy. You think, 'Oh, working on this M&A deal or this big transformation project,' and you're not actually thinking enough about the user. So, definitely putting myself in the user's shoes, putting myself in the lawyer's shoes and seeing what are they doing on a day-to-day basis and not having preformed expectations of that and being willing to be wrong and be responsive to user feedback. A really good example of that is that it feels, the market has moved a huge amount in terms of tech adoption and particularly cloud adoption in the last twelve or eighteen months. And we've had to change therefore our product roadmap quite significantly. Before we thought lawyers are very cautious, they don't want anything cloud based, it's a big red flag. Therefore, everything we develop has to be deployed on-prem or through, through a local server and therefore we need to resource up our hands on tech deployment teams. Actually what we're finding now is we can have the flexibility to pivot our product strategy a little bit. Thinking a bit more about the cloud because suddenly even very large firms are very open to it. And the thing I always say when I'm-, which is, which happens less and less, but whenever I get the challenge on using the cloud from lawyers is, 'Well, MI6 just recently moved all their data storage onto AWS.'

 

So, if you really think that your security needs are going to AWS or going with MI6, then maybe you need to have a second think about that. So, I think the market is moving and being open to that and keeping, you know, we all track the market and keep on top of it, but also being willing and able to respond to that and pivot your approach and being humble enough to say, 'Yes, we weren't wrong necessarily in the past but things have changed.' And as Cain said, when the facts change then so do your plans and your ideas.

 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, you said a lot of very interesting things, especially around tech adoption being accelerated or cloud adoption being accelerated with a cloud. How do you-, how does LexisNexis think of legal tech adoption and obviously you're developing your own legal tech products, but how does LexisNexis also think about the legal, the legal tech ecosystem as a whole?

 

Chris O'Connor: Yeah, I really hate the, like, the life cycle model where it's, like, the peak of expectations and the trust and dissolution. I don't think we're quite there yet but I think there was definitely a, a peak of excitement and hype and now it's calmed down a bit. I don't think people are disillusioned. What I've actually seen is legal tech move into the mainstream, which for us as a big incumbent legal technology provider is really encouraging. We're seeing across the entire market, including down to small firms and in-house corporate teams, much greater adoption of just, even simple tech. The move to-, I remember conversations we had at the start at the pandemic, law firms having to scramble to order laptops because they only had desktops, and they couldn't physically support home working because they, they didn't have the technology. And then the wide scale adoption of telecommunications tools. Again, has totally surpassed expectations and it's now become second nature and just a way of working for everyone in the legal industry. And now I think we're seeing the next generation of that, people are seeing, you know, these things that previously held out against have happened and it went actually pretty seamlessly and actually we can see huge benefits from this. I'm more interested about the next thing and that might not be, I want the buzziest, AIiest tool going, but it might actually we're now open to using Microsoft Teams for collaboration. Which we, I remember I was talking about twelve or eighteen months ago saying, 'Yes, nice idea in principle, but it's not going to happen with lawyers.' 'Lawyers are not gonna come out of-, look, they're gonna, they're not gonna want to use Teams.' Actually we're seeing that slowly become, come to the fore. So, I think that's where we see the direction going, incremental change but very meaningful change.

 

Probably the sort of thing we will look back in five years time and say, 'I never would landslide happen here, but actually in hindsight it has been an enormous change in a relatively short period of time.' So, we're trying to go, you know, at LexisNexis with the grain of that. We deliberately made a decision not to try and load more and more web based additional platforms onto users. We will always have our core platform, our LexisNexis research platform, but we're trying to integrate that so it's a one-stop shop rather than trying to add other things on top. And actually where my teams focus is, is on the Microsoft Office environment. So, initially Word, but we're also doing proof of concepts in Outlook and Teams. We increasingly think that's where-, we already know that's where lawyers work and therefore that's where tech, legal tech has to go, and we're trying to get a little ahead of that. Maybe against some other players who are trying to pull lawyers out of their unusual environment into what is admittedly a really effective platform, but you're always going to struggle against the grain there, and always gonna struggle to change lawyers habits. We'd rather augment lawyers habits in the place that they work and give them the tools they need at the point of need without disrupting their workflow. So, I think that's the direction certainly we're gonna take. And I, I think actually others may-, in the market may realise that as well.

 

Charles Brecque: That's interesting, and incremental improvements compound-,

 

Chris O'Connor: Yes.

 

Charles Brecque: Sometimes have more of an impact than, you know, big jumps, so.

 

Chris O'Connor: Yeah, and I think, you know, what's the bigger change in the market, 1% of the very top firms adopting some AI products or 100% of the market moving onto Teams, and, and Zoom for their way of working. I'd say the latter is a much bigger sea change. There's always gonna-, the, the larger firms who can afford to make bets, who can afford to have innovation teams, will always be more on the cutting edge and will, will be doing a bit more. I see, think you do see that trickle down into the mass market and where you can productise those solutions for the mass market is I think where you're having the biggest impact on lawyers work. And ultimately playing into, which I know is important to both of us, the rule of law, I genuinely believe, you know, making lawyers more efficient reduces the costs of legal services, reduces the barriers to access to justice. And that's an important moral as well as a commercial mission for us.

 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, and, and you mentioned lawyers using your services quite a bit. Does LexisNexis have an opinion or would, would it ever consider, you know, developing tools for non-lawyers to be able to create contracts or do things that a lawyer might typically do?

 

Chris O'Connor: Yeah, absolutely. And, and I think the answer is we already do. For Lexis Create for example, one of our biggest single personas are document checkers, so non, and non fee earner document checkers, paralegals and, and legal secretaries as well are incredibly important for some of the products that we offer. And they're already drafting contracts and again, my approach to it is if you can improve the speed and the accuracy of that work, then you can get big gains to law firms productivity and big gains to the quality of legal services. You know, the reality is that, you know, not every single intro to a contract is being drafted by a fully qualified lawyer. It's lots of-, there's lots of different ways of providing that service at the moment in the market. And I think legal technology has to work with that, so we, yeah, so we develop both for, you know, lawyers and for document checkers, paralegals, legal secretaries. Another really interesting one that again, sits in my world is document automation. And I think document automation, it's one of the early legal tech trends and has gone a little bit quiet, and again, I think it's that, kind of, adoption to the mainstream. We have very wide adoption of our document automation tool. And again, it's often, you know, it often empowers non-qualified lawyers to initiate contracts, to, you know, the questionnaire format is very intuitive, it makes sure nothing is missed, it makes sure that whoever is doing the first, kind of, intake with the client can capture all the relevant information and do a really strong first draft.

 

It also allows for, you know, quicker and more accurate proof reading and checking by a qualified lawyer, which is, you know, unlocking both time for the qualified fee earner to do a higher value task and empowering more junior stuff to do more of the legal work which I think is really encouraging and again, a theme that we want to try and support.

 

Charles Brecque: At Legislate we're, we're definitely trying to make sure there's a lot of noise around document automation because it, it, it definitely opens up doors for lots of people and reduces errors and as long as the document automation flow is properly designed, can actually make the whole process of collecting data from contracts much easier, which also means that you won't need as much advanced AI etc. to be able to extract if you are using a document automation pipeline from the start, so.

 

Chris O'Connor: Yeah, yeah.

 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, and I appreciate you're not a lawyer, but are there any contracts you interact with or have interacted with on a regular basis, or were there any common areas of friction you might have encountered? And if you did encounter them, did you ever come in with a LexisNexis solution or, or something else?

 

Chris O'Connor: Sure, yeah, absolutely, I'll do my best one for this one. So, in, in terms of my own work, the contracts that I most regularly come across are procurement based. So, you know, we're buying a service or, you know, contracting with a third party for something or other. And that actually is a really common use case across the legal market and we do see some tools and again, this is an area we're interested in, where you can actually make legal tech tools available to non-lawyers. For, example, salespeople when they're contracting with customers, or procurement and IT when they're contracting the services. So yeah, so that's what I interact with on a regular basis, and there I think one of the common things that I encounter, are just knowing what to look for and knowing what to check. So, I think often we have to speak to in-house council for that, but actually, I do use the products that we use ourselves at LexisNexis. Run the proofreading check across a contract before I sign it. And do-, you know, really important to flag the areas that I need to drill into in a bit more detail that are a bit of a concern and other things which actually look happy, look boilerplate, we've signed in the past and we're happy to accept. So, I think that again is a, a really common area of friction, is for non-lawyers, not knowing where to start and not knowing where to focus their time, in an area of friction that needs to be considered for-, by legal tech providers.

 

Charles Brecque: So, I'm conscious that I've already taken a lot of your time. So, I'm going to ask you the closing question we ask all our guests. If you were being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?

 

Chris O'Connor: Yeah, I think this is a really interesting question, I love this question. It's, like, the intersection of technology and law and just the genuinely-, like a nicely worded one, so I do like this, sorry, I'm-, what would impress me? I think, because it's, sort of, an answer I just gave, I think one that really signposted the issues of discussion or contention and didn't, they weren't buried, they were somehow the flags going through the technology or just through the legal advice on mark up and cut through to the heart of the matter. So again, legal language is important but it cuts through the legal language to the heart of the negotiation. To me that is-, when you're executing contracts, typically 5% or less of the text occupies 95% or more of the time. And it's those couple of real sticking points that you need to cut to the heart of, and sometimes contracts can be, you know, very imposing and long and full of language that doesn't cut to the heart of that matter. So, I think a contract that's structured in such a way or uses technology in such a way that cuts to the heart of the matter and facilitates negotiation for me that would really impress me.

 

Charles Brecque: Okay, it sounds as if you described Legislate, we, we effectively present the, the key points as a set of questions and answers and once you've got your answers, we build a contract and obviously if ever you want to renegotiate something, you can change the terms and the new contract will be built. Obviously right now we're working with relatively simple and standardised agreements, but we definitely want to build in as much flexibility as we can within reason, and then just also manage the rules around is it consistent to use this wording or this clause with this previous clause or this previous set of terms that we've agreed on because especially when terms and clauses are interconnected, then that's often where drafting issues occur. And at least with our approach we can map everything and keep everything consistent, and hopefully make it clearer to people what they're signing up to and if there's an alternative, what that alternative would look like, so.

 

Chris O'Connor: No, I think I'm really impressed by the work you guys are doing, and I think exactly as you say, opening up legal and, you know, demystifying legal contracts for non-legal users but keeping it within the tram lanes of what's acceptable by the lawyers, because that matter goes, and that's where there's a huge amount of flexibility that wouldn't necessarily need to involve fee earner time, I think it's brilliant work and really impressed with that. And giving you let me talk for almost half an hour about me and my products and myself, it's only fair that you get a plug in at the end, and I think really encouraging the work you're doing meets that, not one thing that would impressed me, so keep up with your work.

 

Charles Brecque: I'm, I'm glad we've impressed you. So yeah, thank you very much Chris and, you know, best of luck building your legal tech products and I look forward to seeing them as well at some point.

 

Chris O'Connor: Absolutely yeah, keep in touch, thank you.

 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, thank you, bye bye.

 

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