This article is a reprint of an Artificial Lawyer interview made in September 2016 and is part of a retrospective on legal AI and automation company founders published over the Christmas and New Year period. (Main Photo: Ian Gosling, co-founder, Autto.)
UK-based legal process automation company, Autto, is set to release a beta version of its visually intuitive system in early 2017 after several years of development.
The Autto software allows lawyers to create easy to use and modifiable legal work processes with an interface that is user-friendly and can be utilised without major training.
The current aim is to focus on what the company terms ‘micro-automation’, i.e. automating small parts of key processes within a law firm, or an inhouse legal team, that produce marginal gains and add immediate value. Then, at a later date, as lawyers become more accustomed to using systems such as Autto more legal processes could steadily be automated.
One possible future example would be a company whose inhouse legal team sought to create a process to produce employment contracts.
The Autto system would combine a series of steps, such as procuring a template contract and sending emails to certain people who are needed to add information; the information added by the hiring manager automatically provides a first draft for the inhouse lawyer; copies of the final version are sent to the required people, e.g. the employee, and finally the contract is stored in the correct file in the company’s HR database.
Autto oversees the process and links with documents, templates, people and different forms of communication to drive the process to completion. It can, in theory, be used for any form of legal work where there is a strong process element. Each step’s automation reduces the time needed to complete a task. It also ensures steps are not missed.
The system can also link with other software that can feed information into it from inside the company or law firm. Or it can be made to have a public or client-facing interface where information can be inputted externally.
However, the most novel aspect of Autto is the ease with which it can be used (at least this is the plan). The main Autto interface appears as a modular flow diagram, with icons to represent each stage of a process.
Each icon can be clicked (or touched if using a touchscreen) to open it and sub-stages can be added to the automation process.
One might say that Autto provides a legal automation ‘builders kit’ and lawyers can make (and then alter) the processes they want to have, just as someone might put together pieces of a modular home electronics kit.
Co-founder, Ian Gosling, said that the seed of the idea for Autto grew out of an earlier experience of trying to get a will made online.
‘I had assumed the process would be easy. But then I had a look and thought: My God, these online will writing services are awful,’ Gosling explained.
He quickly decided he could do better than what was available. With co-founders Yann Eves, a fellow technologist, and practising barrister Max Cole, they produced Affio, which stands for Affairs in Order. The online will provider is still going strong, turning out wills from £50 a time. But, this was not the end of the story.
Gosling told how the trio took their invention to various enterprises, including several law firms. They liked what they saw, but the lawyers always asked what else the technology could do to improve processes inside the firm in general, not just for one type of legal product.
Lawyers also told them that they had plenty of document templates, often with automation features that they had bought/licensed from software vendors, but they remained very under-used. This was because the automation systems were clunky, not intuitive and due to their complex interfaces they created far more work than any perceived benefit. So, they didn’t use them. Could Autto help?
Gosling explains that the idea then hit home: What lawyers really wanted was an interface that made legal process engineering easy. It was not that process engineering was new, far from it. But, weak interfaces let things down.
And so began a twin passion: automation and intuitive interfaces for the legal world.
‘It’s not the technology (i.e. the core programming) that is a barrier to lawyers adopting new advances in legal tech,’ Gosling said. ‘It’s because they cannot use it easily. That’s what stops adoption.’
One could draw an analogy to the difference between the apps on early mobile phones such as Nokia and Blackberry. They were cumbersome and the web-based apps were hard to make use of. Beyond email and texting such phones could not deliver on what people wanted, even if they had the technical capability to do so. Then came the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and others with more intuitive interfaces, and that changed everything.
He produced his iPhone and noted: ‘Lawyers ask me: Will I be able to use your system on this thing?’ Gosling is determined that they will.