Della, the NLP-driven contract analysis tool, has cemented an important deal for the business after winning its first major corporate client, Bouygues Construction, which is using the system to speed contract review internally.
Why is this a big deal? Naturally, any major client win is important to a legal tech start-up, but bagging corporates for contract review is not easy and Bouygues is a huge conglomerate. And it’s worth mentioning that Seal (since absorbed by DocuSign), which pioneered this type of contract product and sold to mainly corporates, spent a lot of its time focused on selling to the procurement teams, not to General Counsel.
Moreover, once you have sold into one major corporate it will be easier to win more as the ‘social proof’ effect takes hold. Della already has a deal with legal tech giant Wolters Kluwer to provide NLP support for its Legisway CLM platform, but one can see that as more of an ‘intra-legal tech’ deal.
So, after a very comprehensive one-year pilot Della will now be used across the French company’s ‘international legal and commercial teams and subsidiaries’. It will be used for ‘the review process of their cross jurisdiction, complex legal documents and contracts’.
And as Della’s CEO, Christophe Frèrebeau, told Artificial Lawyer, some of these review tasks can be really complex and involve Bouygues’ legal team analysing very substantial Request For Proposals for major construction projects, with the negotiations with a potential client dragging on for many months creating much more complexity and multiple iterations of the deal documents. Much of the work is all about third party paper, while also making sure that data that is surfaced can be compared to Bouygues’ own playbooks of what it’s prepared to do during many different types of construction project. In short, it’s a really gnarly area for unstructured data analysis.
The idea, as you’d expect given the complexities here, is to leverage Della to speed the process of review, not to try and replace the lawyers. Moving faster and hopefully with improved insights into these documents should allow the lawyers at Bouygues to focus on what matters most for their internal client – reducing risk and negotiating the best possible terms for the company, i.e. higher value work.
Also, in these economically constrained times, a bit of tech help here in what can be very laborious work, can also provide a notable efficiency gain and allow the legal team to do more with the same headcount.
Simeon Bloch, In-house Legal Counsel at Bouygues Construction, said: ‘Our teams analyse a huge number of contracts on a daily basis and many of those contracts are hugely complex and run to more than 1,000 pages; so, it takes an enormous amount of time to identify and extract all the potential risks and scenarios associated with an individual project.
‘Della is helping our commercial and legal teams to accelerate and structure the whole, end-to-end commercial and contracting process. Our users can create checklists, highlight relevant language, detect potential red flags, prepare custom reports, generate letters and other documents to help us to get to grips with a complex project, before it has even started.
‘Using Della saves our teams a huge amount of time and improves the overall efficiency of the review process we need to undertake for every single project we take on, or tender for.’
Frèrebeau added that Della will be used as a ‘strategic product’ by Bouygues and will also help them to reduce litigation – given that construction is a highly litigious sector – as they will be able to help surface risks.
He noted that they have been working very closely with the French company to get to this point and they provide ongoing support: ‘We have a call with them every week. There is a ‘business hour’ where we are available [to provide answers to any questions]. Sometimes it’s one person, other times it is 20 people [from the company].’
‘During this pilot we have also learnt a lot about change management,’ he added and highlighted the importance of ‘power users’ in each team that is using the product.
By chance, the move comes as another player in this field, ThoughtRiver, has also focused recently on construction (see here). Interestingly, Frèrebeau said that working on English construction contracts for NLP review can sometimes be a lot more complicated than for French ones, due to the way that amendments are added separately and in a very oblique way in following documents.
Overall this is a very positive move for Della and follows an earlier funding round of €2.5m this year. It also raises the question whether the main growth area in the future for this technology will be among inhouse legal teams? It’s often said that there are many thousands more large companies than there are large law firms – and that is true – but vendors soon find that selling into a global corporate is by no means any easier than selling into a law firm, and often it can be a lot more complicated.
However, as more inhouse teams bring in CLM platforms – which often have their own NLP aspect for data extraction – GCs will become more familiar with the idea of inhouse doc review that’s assisted with machine learning technology. We shall see, but certainly for larger legal teams it makes a lot of sense to adopt this type of system as it frees up their fixed number of staff to focus on higher value matters.