Varun Mehta Interview: Factor Fills ‘A Void in the Legal Market’

Technology alone is not going to change the means of legal production. We also need a change in how lawyers approach the work process itself. One legal services business doing just that is Factor, which has a mission to master the field of ‘complex legal work at scale’.

Factor spun out of Axiom in 2019, but under the leadership of CEO Varun Mehta it is forging its own path based on ‘expert lawyers, smart technology, well-informed processes, focused innovation, and good old-fashioned hard work’.

In fact, Mehta is just now celebrating one year at the helm at this process-focused group that fills a ‘void in the legal market’, as he puts it. On his anniversary, Artificial Lawyer caught up with Mehta to learn more about this goal and what it means.

( Press play to watch/listen inside the page. Approx. 23 mins – and for those in a rush the beginning covers several of the key points. )

AL TV Productions. Jan 2021.

One of the key points Mehta makes is that Factor is very much about lawyers – often very experienced ones rather than junior paralegals. This is because the goal is to be able to handle matters such as contract negotiation and drafting for large corporates, rather than basic review work. However, it is not – as yet – a regulated ‘law firm’ in any of the countries it operates in. Although, Mehta notes with interest what is possible in the UK, given its very open regulatory regime for legal businesses.

They now have around 500 people across the globe and are still hiring in new talent. He adds that the average PQE level is about 6 years’ experience, but ranges upward to several times that.

He also stresses that they are very much focused on efficiency and improving processes, but remain tech agnostic. Their goal is not to build their own tech or become tied just to one provider, for example in relation to a contract analysis tool, but to work with whichever systems get the job done for each client.

Mehta also notes that there is a price element involved in Factor’s appeal, although he stresses that the legal sector cliché about price always equating to quality or providing more value doesn’t translate here. The point is that a large corporate could pick an elite New York firm’s associate ranks to handle this type of work, but it would cost more and it would not be done any better than what Factor can do. Arguably, Factor would do it better, because this is all they do. They are specialised in complex work at scale, says Mehta, using a phrase that has become synonymous with the company’s strategic goals.

And specialisation, to echo Adam Smith, is one of the foundation stones of boosting productivity and improving the economics of an industry. One could argue that a core reason for many of the challenges in the commercial legal sector is a lack of specialised legal labour – not in terms of subject area, there is plenty of that – but in terms of process approaches.

As Mehta explains in the AL TV interview, there is a void in the market. There is eDiscovery and mass review work on one end of the market, and expert legal advice at the other, but there is complex legal work at scale in the middle. And that is not as well-covered as it could be. Factor’s goal is to be right there in that middle space.

For example, Factor works with giant pharma companies to do all of their buy-side contracts, drafting the documents and negotiating the deals. That’s not really basic ‘LPO’ work. It’s not what some ‘ALSPs’ might do either, many of which often focus on the review side of things. And the way they approach matters is way more efficient than what an associate team in a larger law firm would be able to achieve because of their scale and specialisation for certain types of work.

In many ways what Factor is doing is indicative of what is happening across the commercial legal market: focusing on process and driving efficiency where it is needed. The difference is that Factor is all about bringing the human element to the process table, with technology in a supporting role.

Clearly this approach is not going to be suitable for all legal matters, but where it does work, e.g. complex work at scale, Factor is setting a good example of what can be achieved.

So, congratulations to Mehta on his first anniversary as CEO of Factor. Artificial Lawyer looks forward to seeing what the next year brings.