Ontra, which is a mix of an ALSP and legal tech provider with a focus on contracting, has bought FundFormer, a document provider for fund managers and investors. But, the bigger story is what Ontra is offering more broadly.
The company said it did the deal because the additional capabilities will ‘allow Ontra’s asset management customers to raise funds faster and more efficiently, while providing a superior onboarding experience for their investors’.
So, what is FundFormer? Basically it delivers subscription documents in a digital format and guides investors through relevant parts of the documentation. Additionally, the solution allows investors to auto-populate fields using information they’ve included in previous documents. Once documents are finalised, data can be exported for use in fund administration, investor onboarding and regulatory compliance.
But….for Artificial Lawyer what is even more interesting is the question: what is Ontra? It offers both lawyers to provide a sort of managed legal service for things like contract negotiation, but it also offers tech for contract automation and the extraction of key data from documents.
The company started in 2014 and has eight bases globally, with a very broad network of flexible lawyers on tap, from the US to the UK and beyond.
As Troy Pospisil, Ontra’s founder and CEO, explained to this site in an earlier interview: ‘We have many CLM features, but also we are a unique type of ALSP.’
And that is a classic example of where the market is heading – and has been heading for some years, but it’s just getting more apparent now. I.e. that clients are increasingly looking for a synthesis of people skills and tech’s ability to speed processes and improve data handling. Rather than use two very separate providers, bring them together, and let each part of the equation do what it is most suited to do. Some things really need a lawyer to get involved, other tasks really benefit from tech. Ontra seeks to blend the two as best as it can for the clients.
‘Our lawyers are contractors all around the world and they can work flexibly. We also have different pricing tiers, so if a client wants lawyers from top law schools in the US to work on their contracts they can choose that.
‘We also give training [to the lawyers that work with us] and we work through a process with the customers to decide how they want their contracts handled,’ he added.
He noted that much of what they do is handling third party paper and that they work with ‘dozens of playbooks for each company’, which is necessary because of the number of contract types and also the range of countries those contracts may be connected to.
On the tech side, they have developed their own NLP tools, and for example ‘capture 60 data points for most NDAs’. That data can be benchmarked and help clients to improve their playbooks. The human lawyer element however is also crucial – tech is just there to speed things up where possible.
Pospisil added that they have their own team of machine learning experts and over the years of analysing contracts have built up a major corpus of source material to help train their NLP.
All in all, it’s another example of legal services and tech really coming together in one business. We have seen this increasingly in the market, e.g. Elevate, the law company, building its own legal tech tools, and LOD and Syke the tech consultancy that works with CLMs and other companies forming a JV, and we have seen Knowable, the Axiom spin-out, also forming a JV to bring in the tech expertise of LexisNexis.
While the merger deal is noteworthy, the bigger story here is this combination of legal expertise and tech to create a unified offering.