Five champions of legal transformation
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Legal tech’s growth and rising significance is the result of many people’s innovations. But some in the field stand out for vision and collaboration in creating efficiencies for legal work worldwide — each in a distinctive fashion.
All have demonstrated impact, originality and leadership, but a panel of judges* highlighted Electra Japonas at TLB in particular for her entrepreneurial drive in developing OneNDA, an industry-wide standard agreement. By adopting technology and collaborating with many organisations, OneNDA demonstrates a new template for innovation.
CEO and Founder, TLB
Shortly after Covid lockdowns began, Electra Japonas explored the concept underpinning OneNDA, a standardised, open-sourced and free template for non-disclosure agreements. She then spearheaded its development, in collaboration with law firms and in-house legal teams.
Following the onset of the pandemic, “everyone was a little bit loopy”, recalls Japonas who, in 2017, after a decade of in-house legal work, founded TLB — a London-based company that markets legal design and management services.
No one, however, regards OneNDA as “loopy”. The OneNDA form has been downloaded more than 10,000 times and formally adopted by 650 companies. Significantly, its development path has provided “a blueprint for how the legal industry can collaborate”, as the FT put it when awarding TLB a collaboration award this year.
With the pandemic forcing many to shed old habits, Japonas realised in 2021 that she could collaborate with her corporate clients’ in-house departments and outside law firms to solve the problem of NDA clutter and proliferation. She could then offer gratis the solution they developed and, at the same time, raise TLB’s profile without having to “shout about my services”, she says.
The idea of a standardised NDA form gained immediate traction when Japonas posted about it on LinkedIn. The post received 30,000 views, she says and, within 12 hours of launching the collaborative initiative, 100 lawyers had signed up. Within two weeks, the figure had reached 330 from 44 countries. Japonas selected as design partners lawyers from leading companies and used those contacts to win the participation of top UK and US law firms.
“Our business grew dramatically because of OneNDA,” Japonas says. “We’re now talking to companies that didn’t even know we existed before OneNDA.”
Senior vice-president and Deputy General Counsel, VMWARE
Aine Lyons expressed pride at a summit organised last month by the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, a network of experts in legal operations: “We have gone from playing at the margins of the industry to . . . shaping it,” she told the Cloc audience.
Lyons’s career has followed a similar arc. Starting two decades ago among rank and file in-housers, she now influences legal operations across the industry — both as a founding board member of Cloc, now its European lead, and as deputy general counsel for cloud software company VMware.
At VMware, she has reshaped the in-house department’s infrastructure, adopted new technologies, and encouraged a team of more than 200 professionals to embrace those changes. During her decade-long tenure at the company, she has cut the total expenditure on legal operations as a percentage of revenue by 18 per cent. She helped rebuild VMware’s contract lifecycle, cutting the average duration by 25 per cent. Her relentlessness in these areas is, she says, “a personality thing”.
Lyons recognises that inspiring change often means going against the grain. “Legal teams are really reactive — we thrive on saving the day by firefighting,” she says. “But you also have to be proactive about figuring out where you want to be in five years’ time and build a plan, a mission, and a vision for the team.”
Founder and chief executive, Morae Global
Shahzad Bashir points to his Apple Watch, iPhone and iPad, and mentions Steve Jobs. He wants to make a point about his ambitions for Morae Global, the Houston-based legal technology and services company he founded seven years ago.
As chief executive, his strategy is not only “to create solutions in the legal industry, where each solution is the best solution in its category”, but also, like Apple products, to show “they are exponentially better if they work together.”
As plucky as comparing one’s entrepreneurship to that of the late Apple co-founder may seem, Bashir — a former Arthur Andersen consulting partner — has Morae’s record to lean on. Its tools and services have helped clients improve turnround times on contracts by an average of 30 per cent and reduce cost of delivery by 35 per cent.
Bashir had logged three decades of providing services and technology to lawyers before launching Morae in 2015. Since then, he has built his company, helped by seven acquisitions, and now has more than 700 clients in the energy, life sciences, technology and financial sectors, as well as outside law firms.
Morae has grown from its one location in Houston to more than 12 offices worldwide. The ambition remains, Bashir says, to “be able to do anything and everything for the general counsel of a company and the managing partner of a law firm”.
co-founder and chief executive, Bryter
When Michael Grupp co-founded Bryter, a Germany-based company that provides service automation platforms for lawyers that demand no coding expertise, he wanted to “make tech accessible to people who are not techie”, he says.
Since its launch four years ago, hundreds of in-house and firm lawyers have built 10,000 legal service applications using Bryter tools, according to chief executive Grupp, who started his career as a big-firm lawyer more than a decade ago.
Bryter’s products allow lawyers to benefit from software technology without having to explain “exactly what they want” to code developers — or, indeed, having to rely on developers at all, Grupp says.
He says the timing was right for Bryter. “The idea of no-code is an old one,” he explains. “It just has gotten a new label over the past couple of years.”
He spent four years before the company’s formal launch on developing its no-code products. Then, when he unveiled Bryter’s products to in-house and outside counsel, he found a receptive audience. “It was the right time to go to the market with this offering,” he says.
The company made some of its first sales to Hogan Lovells (of which Grupp is an alum) and fast food company McDonald’s. Today, Bryter has more than 200 employees and its client roster includes many top UK and US law firms.
Grupp points out that he spent years working at law firms and had experience of developing legal technology: “What looks like an overnight success is a very long tail of actually working on it, getting it right, testing it again, and then, basically, suddenly it goes boom.”
The silo disrupter
Executive vice-President, enterprise legal services, UnitedLex
Paul Lanzone says he helps in-house legal departments get data “out of their silos” and into the hands of their companies’ business operations employees.
Lanzone first set that objective when he served as vice-president of Asia legal, worldwide transactions, governance and tech for IT company DXC Technology. It continues to guide Lanzone in his position, since 2019, as executive vice-president at legal tech company UnitedLex, where he remains the global delivery lead for DXC.
In both roles, Lanzone, based in UnitedLex’s Singapore office, has worked with a team of 400 lawyers and technology and operations professionals at DXC, based in Northern Virginia, to achieve year-on-year cost cuts that exceed 5 per cent, he says.
He has helped transform DXC’s contract-risk review processes so that they now take place on an online platform. This allows for easier and faster approvals, rejections and inquiries, as well as a colour-coded troubleshooting scheme and the generation of data for real-time management.
For most legal departments, the prevailing focus has been on efficiently developing data, according to Lanzone: “[Data is] where a lot of people are right now.”
But their next step should be demonstrating the effectiveness of how they collect and organise the data. The software robots that his team is developing can help an in-house legal department get its data sanitised, sifted and visualised, and put in front of the right people at the right time so that a broader company team can extract “the insight needle in the data haystack”, he says.
*The judging panel for selecting the FT Accelerating Business change maker comprised: Matthew Vincent (panel chair), Editor, FT Project Publishing; Harriet Arnold, FT Project Publishing; Annelize Barnard, Deloitte; Jana Blount, DLA Piper; Wendy Butler Curtis, Orrick; Alastair Morrison, Pinsent Masons; Tom Saunders, RSGI; Reena SenGupta, RSGI