In this episode, Adam Nguyen the co-founder of eBrevia, a cutting-edge contract analysis software company. Adam discusses his journey from law to legal tech, addressing the inefficiencies of manual contract review and the transformative potential of AI. Adam also emphasises on the importance of pairing advanced technology with domain experts for effective implementation. He envisions a future where technology intelligently interprets data, enhancing legal services and productivity.
Adam discusses eBrevia’s collaboration with SYKE and their project with the Automobile Association, showcasing the seamless integration of technology to streamline complex processes. He further discusses the significance of empowering legal professionals to contribute strategically rather than being bogged down by routine tasks.
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Dom Burch: Welcome back to Legal Tech Made Simple with me, Dom Burch. I’m proudly not a lawyer or even a techie, which makes me perfectly placed to make legal tech simple. We’re delighted to welcome Adam Nguyen, the co-founder of eBrevia, a leading enterprise contract analysis software company that applies machine learning to quickly and accurately extract key information from unstructured data. Adam was the Chief of Staff and Legal Officer of Vantage Properties, a 350-person real estate private equity firm. He previously practiced law at Paul Weiss and Shearman and Sterling, focusing on private equity, hedge fund formation, and mergers and acquisitions. Adam holds a BA from Columbia, a JD from Harvard Law School, and he also studied at the University of California and University College London in the UK. Welcome, Adam. It’s an absolute delight and pleasure to have you on our podcast.
Adam Nguyen: Thank you, Dom. Glad to be here.
Dom Burch: Well, listen, let’s start at the start, shall we? How did you end up where you are today? Just take us back to the beginning. What got you into the world of legal tech?
Adam Nguyen: Sure, Dom, and thank you for that introduction. My background was in law and private equity. So, when I co-founded eBrevia with a law school friend, it was about bringing the experience and the pain points that we both experienced in our professions. For myself, first, it was at the law firms, the long hours of doing contract review. For those lawyers listening, they should be very intimately aware of the tedious and long hours associated with contract review, especially in practice areas like M&A. When I was on the business side at the private equity firm, it was the cost and the speed of the work that concerned us. Facing the different forces of the economy, back in 2009, 2010, the last financial crisis, it was the convergence of a few things that led to eBrevia. One was the tremendous impact on the economy, leading to cost-cutting measures at many companies. On the other hand, the larger trend in the legal profession with unhappy lawyers doing tedious manual work. So that was really the impetus for eBrevia: how could we help clients and make lawyers happier by automating many of the tedious tasks we experienced firsthand?
Dom Burch: You hear this story a lot, don’t you, in founders? They solved a problem causing them a headache, thought there has to be a better way, and nobody else is fixing it. I’m going to fix it. That motivation has driven many startups over the last 10-15 years.
Adam Nguyen: That’s right, Dom. Perseverance is often a virtue, but not always. It’s not good to continue doing something that is costly and makes you miserable. That was my experience doing tedious contract review work. I wanted to do higher-level work like contract negotiation, the strategies associated with M&A work, which was much more interesting than sitting in a document review room reviewing contracts till 2:00-3:00 AM.
Dom Burch: This is the key point, isn’t it? You guys are smart guys. You’ve been to law school; you know your stuff. You ought to be practicing law and offering your best advice once all the drudgery of work has been automated, sifted, and cleaned. Even clauses negotiated many times before, pushed between parties using AI, you should be getting involved by exception.
Adam Nguyen: That’s right. Many top law firms, including the ones I worked at, spent a lot of resources recruiting the best law school students, the best law graduates. To keep those bright legal minds, you have to give them interesting work. Contract review is a good learning process, but it’s not what you want to do long-term. On the client side, as far back as 2010, 2009 companies were pushing back on legal fees, they were unwilling to pay for contract review work like they did before the last financial crisis. There were several forces led not only to innovation at eBrevia but also in the legal tech space overall.
Dom Burch: Now, I know it’s an overused phrase, but history repeats itself. Here we are, 11-12 years after that financial crisis and obviously for very different reasons. Going through a world that economically is under extreme stress. People working from home, being an extra dimension there now in a way that, even a few months ago would’ve been almost unimaginable. So, how are tools like eBrevia helping colleagues in law firms and large legal departments actually do their jobs? Are you seeing this as a catalyst for positive change?
Adam Nguyen: Thank you for bringing that up, Dom. Connecting us from the last financial crisis to this crisis, which is not financial but health-related, is becoming an economic crisis. In this crisis, the legal industry is better equipped than it was 10 years ago, thanks to technology we have today, namely advances in AI and adoption of cloud technology. With eBrevia what I am seeing with clients is that work hasn’t stopped. In fact, with our technology clients are empowered and enabled to do more work at home or wherever they are. So, there isn’t this drop in activity. If anything, we’ve seen an increase in activity and I can go into the different sectors more, in a bit. But overall, I’m seeing that law firms and their clients are more productive now due to technology than they would have been 10 years ago.
Dom Burch: And of course, there are big things floating around the industry like LIBOR and having to change to new regulations here in Europe, we’re having to face into Brexit. And even before that, things like GDPR legislation where contracts had to be delved into, to find out are if they going to be compliant in this new world? And I know that both our companies work closely together on a company over here that UK listeners will know, called the Automobile Association. I’m sure there are similar organizations globally, but that was quite an interesting project, wasn’t it? Because we had to use a tool to go in and find the right clauses and then extract and remediate them and send them over to the other party to agree through DocuSign, and so forth. And it was one of those really interesting examples to see the end-to-end processes coming together in a very seamless way.
Adam Nguyen: That’s right. And I believe we won an award together back in 2018, which seems like a lifetime ago now.
Dom Burch: Doesn’t it just.
Adam Nguyen: You are right, Dom. The types of projects that eBrevia is best suited for are ones that involve large volumes of contracts or documents, where the client is looking for key actionable terms or clauses. And if one is to do that manually, it would be very costly and also time intensive. So, with an automation tool like eBrevia, you can go in and quickly analyse very large volumes of data and produce the outputs that the clients are looking for.
It’s interesting that you mentioned LIBOR as well because there’s Covid 19 that’s happening. But LIBOR is an issue that predated COVID. It’s impacting financial institutions, private equity firms, lenders. Basically, those of you who are not familiar, it’s a reference rate that’s buried in loan documents and other credit agreements that will go away at the end of 2021. Many large financial institutions and other companies have begun to remediate their documents where LIBOR is mentioned, so that work is ongoing. Dom, it hasn’t stopped. With Covid, maybe there was maybe a week or two pause. But we’ve seen large volumes of documents being processed through our system. Lawyers can quickly review these contracts for their clients in these very difficult times.
Dom Burch: And just talk us through that process to us, will you? I think that there will be still some financial institutions that you haven’t quite got going yet. There these in-house professionals will be scratching their heads, thinking, “I know this is a problem we need to overcome,” and, as you said, the clock is ticking. The end-of-2021 deadline is really the deadline guys. You need to be working toward it. Just talk us through how somebody who is listening in and going – I know we need to do this. Where do I start? Because the problem can feel a little too big to know at what point do you begin?
Adam Nguyen: What I’m seeing now a couple of things. One you need technology, hopefully one like eBrevia’s that’s using the latest advancements in machine learning and AI technology. The other important component that financial institutions must look for is people to do the work, right. They are what we call domain experts. This is usually a combination of service providers, including lawyers and accountants because it is a multi-step process. First, you need to identify the documents within your organization that are affected by the change away from LIBOR. And then second identifying clauses and terms inside those contracts that need to be remediated or amended. The third step is actually changing or amending those documents. It’s very similar to the project that SYKE and eBrevia worked on for the automobile association in terms of remediating the GDPR provisions.
So, it’s that kind of a three-step process: bringing together the domain experts. The people who know what LIBOR, what the system should be looking for and then layering in technology like eBrevia to expedite the review process. Otherwise, when you’re talking about hundreds and thousands of documents you could be talking about years of remediation work if this type of work were to be performed manually, right? So, once you recognize the scope of the project, finding the documents, how many you have? Then you need to bring in the domain experts and the proper technology solution in order to meet the deadline of end of 2021.
Dom Burch: Now in this sort of early part of our podcast series, we’re talking to founders and some of the real thought leaders across the industry. And we were chatting to Andy Wishart from Thomson Reuters recently. And what’s exciting, I think at this time in our sector is just how the technology stacks are really beginning to develop.
Obviously, there’s some consolidation in the market. And HighQ and TR were talking this week only about how that’s integrating with Contract Express in a much more seamless way. But it must be exciting to be in the industry at the moment, Adam, and see perhaps some of the vision that you had going a few years back, actually seeing some of that materialize.
Adam Nguyen: Yes, there’s a lot of changes that have happened, I think in the last three to four years. First with the widespread adoption of AI technologies, like ours. But if you went back to 2011 or around that time when, I co-founded eBrevia, there was a lot of scepticism both from the service providers like law firms and the audit companies. As well as from end clients. For the companies, when we talked about eBrevia and machine learning, I could tell from the audience looks that they thought I was talking about something like a sci-fi movie, right? Like it doesn’t seem real to them. But I think there’s certainly a herd mentality in the industry that’s normal for human nature, right?
To look around to see who else has adopted a new technology and then you follow. And so, we’ve seen this acceleration in the last three, four years toward adoption. I think where we are now, we’re going to see the next wave of innovation. Yes, we have covid, et cetera, the, the major disruption that’s going on. But what I’m also seeing is different companies looking at – we’ve taken the technology from 1 to 5. Can we go from 5 to 8, to 9 to 10? And precisely in our space that would mean can we have the technology intelligently interpret data. Not just extracting information and performing low level analysis but moving up that value chain. And yes, it will be disrupting even more human work. But I think that’s overall, a good thing because on the flip side we’re not seeing a decrease in work. If anything, we’re seeing an increase in projects, an increase in demand for legal services. The higher value that technology like eBrevia can offer the better it is for both clients and service professionals.
Dom Burch: Well, Adam, it’s a pleasure talking to you. We could talk all afternoon. I’m sure you are too busy for that though. So, Adam Nguyen, co-founder of eBrevia. Absolute pleasure. Thank you for coming on to the podcast.
Adam Nguyen: Thank you, Dom. It’s a pleasure as well.