From sock-wear to software: Meet the CEO that is re-engineering how law firms create documents.
Adam Long is not a lawyer. An energetic and ambitious idealist, Adam is a multiple start-up founder and as such, an outsider to the rarefied world of law. For legaltech, Adam represents the new guard of innovation in law – non-lawyers, often ex-clients, whose unique experiences and connections cause them to push different solutions to long-suffered problems in law.
“My very first experience with a lawyer was at the time of my very first business, when I got my very first investment from my very first investor,” said Adam. “I was 24, fresh out of university, and nervously entered the firm’s office clutching a term sheet that the investor had provided, ready for the lawyer to do whatever it is that lawyers do when they provide legal advice. I was nervous. The appointment was going to cost $450/hour at a time when I was earning peanuts from a part-time job. The appointment began with the lawyer taking down my name and details, typing it into a computer.
“With two fingers. One. Key. At. A. Time. It took twenty minutes.
“I looked at the clock – I was already $150 out of pocket and they’d only just found out my name. Later they sent me a document with another client’s name in it.
“Something needed to change.”
The Law Firm of the Future
This became a pivotal experience for Adam. Eight years on, Adam is now the CEO of Smarter Drafter, an AI powered tool used by hundreds of law firms to draft advanced legal documents in minutes, not hours and days.
“Things have indeed changed,” Adam said.
“Smarter Drafter was born out of the idea of creating the law firm of the future,” said Adam. “In that future, lawyers would travel to clients in self-driving cars and have devices that automatically transcribe the key points from the meeting. Rather than being replaced by robots, as The Economist magazine threatened, we saw lawyers as hiring the robots, giving jobs to software powered assistants that provide expertise on tap. We set out to create that, and in doing so created software that one sole-practitioner lawyer describes as ‘like having an entire team of virtual expert lawyers’.”
Turning codified law into legal code
The core insight which drives Smarter Drafter is that law can be mapped as a series of logical rules, which can then be applied to a myriad of client matters to solve legal problems. Codified law can become legal code in literal sense – programmer’s code.
“Key to what we do is taking the term ‘legal code” (emphasis on code) quite literally,’ said Adam. “This means mapping out legislation, precedents and best practice the way it was intended: as a set of logical rules that can be fairly applied to a particular context.
“The best expert human lawyers navigate these rules with speed and intuition, the benefit of years of accumulated wisdom and expertise. Our challenge was to map that thinking into the software. To do so, we assembled a team that included Australian qualified lawyers that also happen to be computer scientists, a set of credentials so impossibly rare that those team members are called ‘the unicorns.’”
An entirely new document engine, Real Human Reasoning™
For the Smarter Drafter team, their first big challenge was realising that existing document automation tools were simply not up to the task. As many law student and lawyers wrestling with flowcharts and mind maps know all too well, it is extremely difficult to reduce legal reasoning to diagrams.
“The intuition of an expert doesn’t fit neatly into a tree diagram, nor can it be replaced with capture-all boilerplate content, or fancy versions of ‘find and replace’ – it requires a matrix of logical algorithms that interact with each other,” explained Adam. “Achieving that required building an entirely new document engine, from scratch.
“The result is a technology we call Real Human Reasoning™, and it powers everything Smarter Drafter does. Backed by ongoing knowledge management which keeps the entire system up to date, Smarter Drafter has given small law firms a productivity power more sophisticated than large firms have access to.”
Large firm productivity power – for every firm
In this aim lies the major promise of legal innovation – that technology will give small law firms the tools they need to compete against the Goliath firms that have long dominated the profession, setting fees clients might baulk at paying and demanding hours lawyers often found difficult to refuse. With far more firms come far more options for both lawyers and clients, technology is set to change the legal landscape as we know it.
“When it comes to navigating the law with AI, there’s still work to be done,” said Adam. “As much as the intent of the law is to apply logical rules fairly, any programmer reading some legislation is likely to exclaim, ‘but it’s full of bugs!’ Ambiguities and contradictions mean we cannot yet plug the tax code (there’s that word ‘code’ again) into accounting systems to know if we’re compliant, but that day is coming and will require not just technological change, but a change in the approach to legislation.”
In January 2019, Adam will be at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to advocate for legislation to be written in programming languages.
“As well as the 30+ heads of state who typically attend (including Donald Trump in 2018), the Forum is attended by Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, the CEOs of both Westpac and Wesfarmers, and the founders of LinkedIn,” said Adam.
What happened to that very first lawyer?
“I’m often asked about that ‘very first business,’ at which I met my very first lawyer,” said Adam. “It didn’t go well. It turns out that the world wasn’t ready for the 3D printing applications promoted by that business. But as tough as the aftermath of a failed business is, the experience was essential to my future entrepreneurial endeavours. I was so desperate for a job at this point, that I ambushed the owners of the consulting company Step Change while they were on stage, begging that they hire me. They did, and three years later I became a Partner, growing the firm from 4 to 40 people.
“Later, I would go on to co-found Conscious Step: Socks That Fight Poverty, a sock brand that supports charities like Oxfam and the UN AIDS program. Those socks are now in David Jones, as well as thousands of other stores. Business Insider even named it one of the Coolest Business in New York (where the company is now headquartered).”
It was while speaking at a conference about the things he had learnt on this journey that he first met David Lipworth.
“David was a visionary ex-Clifford Chance M&A lawyer who first imagined the future Smarter Drafter is creating. Together we teamed up with David King, the Principal and Founder of Schofield King Legal, and Ben Rosswick, a former Vice President of Deutsche Bank. We hired the unicorns and knuckled down to create the future.
“When I tell my story, people eventually crack a smile. Did I ever cross paths with that “very first lawyer” again?
“They are now a Smarter Drafter subscriber.”
CLI is more important than ever
“The changes that the legal sector is wrestling with are made all the more difficult by the fact the business of law firms never stops. It’s hard to change the wheels on a moving car,” said Adam. “Every major change, whether driven by behaviour or technology, can have unintended consequences, sometimes positive, sometimes disruptive, but often surprising.
“It’s the uncertainty that makes the work of the Centre for Legal Innovation more important than ever in thinking through and anticipating not just the first wave of changes, but the subsequent consequences that lawyers of the future will deal with daily.”