How Did CLM Become the Hottest Segment in Legal Tech?

How did contract lifecycle management (CLM), once a sleepy backwater of legal tech, become the hottest segment in the market?

Yesterday, Evisort, a company that has a focus on applying natural language processing (NLP) technology to the contracts stored within a corporate legal team’s databases, gained a fresh investment of $35m, taking it to over $55m funding in total. (See interview below with CEO, Jerry Ting.)

On the same day, global law firm, Linklaters launched CreateiQ, their new contracting system, which most importantly is able to capture key data from those contracts at the point of creation. Now, they are not marketing this explicitly as a CLM system, but in many ways that’s exactly what it is, i.e. it helps a company to create a contract and then to follow the lifecycle of its ‘meaning’, i.e. its terms, dates, parties and conditions. And that is basically a CLM. In Linklaters’ case the goal is to take a doc automation approach and at the same time extract the key data without having to go back and use NLP.

What’s interesting there is that this is two approaches to achieve in many ways the same results, i.e. visibility of contract data over the life of the contract.

It’s fair to say the NLP, ‘after the fact’, approach is more prevalent right now, in part because it allows very unstructured and previously executed contracts to be analysed. I.e. you don’t have to be there extracting data at the point of creation through a specially made system, you could wait a few months and then analyse an entire quarter of sales contracts that were knocked out in Word, for any particular provisions that may contain revenue-making opportunities that may have been overlooked.

We have also seen ContractPodAi bag $55m in funding in 2019 to expand its capabilities around what is a CLM approach for corporates. Then we have Linksquares raising $14.5m last year – which also does contract term analysis for corporates. In fact Linksquares’ branding states that they are: ‘The Only AI-Powered CLM Built for the Enterprise.’

But, there’s more….then we have Agiloft, a company that was not really at the sharp end of legal tech change until very recently and is now really going for it in the CLM space, including building out its own NLP capability. It raised $45m last year.

And there are several others with varying strategies, such as Juro, which has a big focus on the contracting process and also helps with the capture of key data. One other company that is especially interesting is Knowable, a spin-off from Axiom that is in a JV with LexisNexis and is also using NLP, plus human reviewers, to provide a CLM/contract dashboard type of service.

And of course, there was first of all Seal Software, before anyone else – although, they also didn’t explicitly market themselves as a kind of CLM system, but rather to be used to get data visibility when really needed, perhaps for a special project inside a large company, but what they were doing was essentially very similar to what other companies in the NLP/CLM space are doing. But…of course, DocuSign, which bought Seal is all about contract management, as well as eSignatures.

Why Now?

So, the question has to be: why now? The answer is that companies such as Evisort, Linksquares and others have been around for a few years and the message is finally getting through. While companies such as Kira Systems and Luminance got a lot of the attention for their (often, but not always) law firm-focused, transactional review work, the reality was that GCs, legal ops heads, and procurement directors, were waking up to the value of NLP tech, perhaps simply as a result of osmosis of ideas and also the growing marketing efforts of companies such as those listed above.

Now, they clearly have woken up. And it’s a huge potential market. Every large company on the planet could benefit from the approaches mentioned above.

The reality is that large companies have so many contracts, spread across so many sites, that the idea of doing a manual review, perhaps in what is a department that is not really the legal group, e.g. in the procurement team, that much of that work was simply avoided. It was just not cost effective to bring in a big law firm to do a massive review on the off-chance that they might find something useful.

But, if you’re running regular NLP checks – without a lot of human review involved, and building up-to-date dashboards as a matter of routine, then it starts to make sense. The initial outlay for the tech is soon absorbed by the long-term benefits of contract transparency and also the chance to discover missing revenue opportunities – or unseen risks – that are embedded on page 35, para 7, of a bunch of contracts the sales team knocked out three years ago, but have never been really looked at ever since.

And the same may be said of a more ‘super-structured’ strategy that Linklaters is taking. Although, as mentioned, NLP is the dominant approach right now.

Such thoughts are now moving through the GC community and awareness is growing.

Conclusion

The real value in CLM was always going to be attaining a (relatively) easy and cost-effective way to see contract data across the entire contract corpus of a business. Making and storing contracts, and keeping some basic tabs on key dates, is all well and good, but it was missing the real prize: contract intelligence at a level that became really valuable.

What’s also interesting is that a technology that was seen as very much all about transactional review, i.e. NLP, has become now a mainstay of CLM, or at least among those companies pioneering this field.

Of course, there is – as always – another approach, and that is what Linklaters is doing with its ‘extraction at birth’ method. But, the reality is we will likely need both strategies, in part because there are still billions of already-created contracts across the world.

An exciting time for CLM.

And now – a special bonus interview with the CEO and founder of Evisort, Jerry Ting.

– How does it feel to get this money? 

This fundraising round is particularly special because of who is joining. General Atlantic is one of the largest, most prestigious venture capital firms with over $38b in management. They don’t invest in startups until they feel like the company can truly be the category winner in a breakout space.

Having GA involved with legal tech is something I would have only aspired for back when I started the business in 2016. This is a signal to the broader enterprise technology market that primetime for CLM and contract analytics has come.

What does this level of investment mean to you? 

I think of fundraising as a milestone for a company. Yes, the money is great, but it’s not the investment itself I’m focused on as it reflects how well we’ve already done. I’m excited for what we can now do with a larger budget in better supporting our customers by investing deeply into bringing AI to all parts of the platform and making the platform so easy to use that enterprise can bring on thousands of users easily without training. 

Also, the CLM space is changing rapidly, how much market share do you think Evisort can take? 

I truly think CLM can be a top 5 category in enterprise software if we as an industry can become a deal desk to accelerate business. Like CRM, ERP, and HCM, CLM should be an enterprise-wide system of record and of engagement. That being said, I think Evisort, with our industry-leading AI-powered content analytics and no-code workflow platform, can be the category winner in both the commercial and the enterprise market globally.

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