To compare Koncision’s launch of its first product to humanity’s first steps on the moon would be a bit of hyperbole to be sure, but Koncision does represent a major step toward rationalizing the provision of legal services.
What Is Koncision?
Koncision is a web-based application that combines the power of document assembly with high-quality contract templates. It’s the brainchild and creation of Ken Adams, a contract drafting expert and the author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, as well as the influential AdamsDrafting blog and its successor, The Koncise Drafter. Powered by ContractExpress, a high-quality document assembly application with an intuitive user interface, Koncision’s offering utilizes contract templates developed by Adams and his team to enable its end users to quickly and efficiently create customized contracts.
Koncision announced the launch of its first product, a Non-Disclosure Agreement template, this morning at the ABA TechShow. I’ve been waiting for the launch since Adams announced in this post on his AdamsDrafting blog and in this post in his Koncise Drafter blog that he had formed Koncision to provide document assembly templates.
If you’re familiar with document assembly applications, you know that document assembly has the potential to significantly increase contract quality, reduce cycle times, and decrease the amount of time required to produce a first draft of a contract.
For those who aren’t familiar with document assembly, here’s how it works: The end user answers a series of questions from an electronic questionnaire, and the application uses the information gathered from the end user to piece together the various clauses of a contract into a unified document in an editable word-processing format.
The Koncision Experience
Until Adams allowed me to take Koncision’s NDA product for a test drive recently, it was exciting in concept. Once I took it for a spin, it was exciting in reality.
Its user interface is intuitive and the application guides the user through a series of questions about the contract to be produced. The questionnaire is customized on the fly, so the end user doesn’t have to slog through questions that are irrelevant. Each question is annotated with useful information to help the user make the most appropriate decisions when answering the questions. The guidance for some of the questions is quite detailed and points to authority to serve as additional guidance. In this respect the questionnaire itself serves as a store of know-how and as a tutorial. The user experience was at the high end of my expectations; the quality of the resulting contracts was—no surprise—excellent.
Why Is Koncision Significant?
I’ll be interested to hear what others have to say in the coming days, but I think this application has a lot of potential in part because it addresses two challenges attorneys face in adopting document assembly technology and also because it has real potential to achieve economies of scale that are not available to law firms.
Investment in Templates. The biggest problem with document assembly is that it requires good templates to work well, and producing templates is a cumbersome project that requires a lot of attorney time. Thus, in order to reap the benefits of document assembly, law firms and corporate legal departments are required to invest significant resources in developing templates. Koncision provides a solution to this problem by doing the heavy lifting and producing good templates.
Reliable Precedent. Another challenge for document assembly is that lawyers tend not to put much faith in contract precedents that they didn’t produce. I for one have rarely seen a contract in a form book or on the internet that I would be comfortable using as a precedent without extensive changes. But with Koncision the contract language is developed by a known expert. I think this will go a long way in giving practicing attorneys the comfort they need to rely on its documents.
Economies of Scale. Koncision has the potential to achieve economies of scale that aren’t attainable by law firms. For various reasons, some of which I detail in this Quora answer, law firms find it difficult to achieve economies of scale and the size of their markets is limited. A non-law firm vendor that doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship or practice law has a potentially unlimited market. The possibility of achieving economies of scale and the implications of such economies should be as obvious as they are exciting.
So, here’s to Ken Adams and his new venture, which represents one giant leap for the provision of legal services!
It looks like a great product – but getting law firms to spend money on productivity is not easy. Senior management often thinks about technology as something for staff and associates and defers to IT people to make purchasing decisions. The best-intentioned IT people have their hands full avoiding security breaches and data loss and holding onto their own jobs, so productivity goes on the back burner. The state of the legal job market permits law firms to become more “efficient” by forcing the lawyers to eat more of their own time – which of course is less expensive than investing in new software. What would be great is a product like this that is free like speech and free like beer (at least in the beginning). Make a collaborative platform where each time someone cleans up a certain type of provision, it gets contributed to the whole. Anonymous, volunteer editors work together, kind of like Wikipedia. Recent law grads would get drafting feedback from real, practicing lawyers. Slow associates could get pro bono credit at their firms. Successful partners would be free to make and receive criticism without the distortions that are otherwise inevitable because of their status. Clients would pay for lawyers who exercise good judgment in applying all of this, but they would not have to pay for as much “busy work” as traditionally has been the case…
Jay: Technologies such as this have a commoditizing effect on legal services. While your depiction of law firms’ attitude toward technology is consistent with my experience, law firms won’t be able to charge clients a premium for commodity drafting forever. That they’ve been able to do so for so long is remarkable.
Corporate clients of law firms have voted with their feet to some extent by keeping more of their routine work in-house. It’s possible that the work will return to law firms as the business cycle revs up, but I don’t think it will—at least not all of it. Some of the options available to legal departments include adding staff, looking to contract attorneys, and going “down market.” Another option is to turn to technology to increase attorney productivity and reduce the need for additional staff and outsourcing.
The idea of crowd-sourcing standard documents is intriguing. My own view is that it would require the active participation of a critical mass of heavy hitters to be successful, and that’s a tall order. There is a great discussion of those issues in the comments to a recent post on Bill Carleton’s blog at http://www.wac6.com/wac6/2011/… . I give my two cents there also.
Agreed on all counts.
Regarding clients paying for drafting, to a large extent this is already true. I spend a lot of time representing lenders and borrowers. I’ve noticed an increasing number of lenders’ attorneys whose initial drafts of documents are essentially the bank’s standard forms with the borrowers’ names filled in. If the borrowers don’t like it, they can change it themselves. This is not good for anyone, for many reasons.
I personally feel that of all the options you mention, technology is the best – and probably the only one that could really work in the long term.
Another thing that helps is simplifying the forms themselves. If you take more time on the front end to fix a certain definition or remove an unnecessarily long string of verbs that all say the same thing, you can save time later on. Ironically, you have to be careful about doing this too much, or people will see it as wasting time – particularly in the case of an institutional client that is already familiar with its own forms. The client will find it easiest to start with a redline against its own form. If your document has a lot of stylistic changes, they may wonder why you are doing this on their dime. I think technology would be a better option from the law firm’s perspective because the templates could be made to replicate the client’s preferred form. The computer can process all those long, archaic phrases in a millisecond (although their presence would still bug me…).
Your point about collaboration requiring the contribution of heavy hitters is particularly interesting. It’s sort of a larger version of the internal challenges a law firm would face in adopting this technology. My instinct is to think open source because law has always been open anyway (drafters are free to do what in any other context would be plagiarism, the statutes and case law are publicly available, etc.). I’m not worried about getting the participation of the heavy hitters because we already know from the software world that open source solves this problem all by itself. Consider, for example, the multitude of Linux kernel integrations that open source routinely effectuates. The technical complexity of the most complicated loan agreement pales in comparison.
The software open source movement could be instructive, to be sure. I understand that there were plenty of folks in that industry who didn’t think quality programmers would give their time/code away, and yet a lot of great open source software has been created.
Whether that success can be translated across cultural and industry boundaries to produce open source legal documents remains to be seen. Although I’m a huge cheerleader for innovation, I find it difficult to envision an open source movement springing up in grass-roots fashion. I also find it difficult to envision heavy hitters investing the time and collaborating to work on open source documents. Then again, the open souce successes of the software industry and the crowd source success of wikipedia give me hope that I’m wrong.
Ken Adams posted his doubts about the future of open source contract documents on his blog this morning: http://www.koncision.com/rigor… I’d encourage you to take a look if you haven’t already.
The use of document assembly to create NDA’s is pretty old news. Microsoft and Cisco were using the Contract Express (Deal Builder back then) solution for this purpose at least 7 or 8 years ago. To borrow an analogy from woodworking, “Why is it taking so long for law firms to put aside their chisels and handsaws when it comes to creating documents, and plugging in their routers and table saws?” Clients are reluctant to pay $400 and $500 an hour to create a document. What they are willing to pay for is the thought that goes into negotiating a deal, providing risk mitigation advice and drafting the many points of compromise and customization that finally bring the parties or the litigants to closure. And this part of the process also happens to be the most interesting, challenging and rewarding aspect of practicing law.
Before the advent of word processing, many agreements were standard forms and the real legal work went into a “Rider”. This is what the client paid for and where the lawyers expended most of their time. The danger in using a form of course (whether in document automation, which is really the deconstruction/aggregation of multiple forms into clause options) is that someone who lacks training will see that as the end product rather than a baseline for discussion and negotiation. This is the same risk any tool creates. It doesn’t mean the tool should not be used by someone trained in the craft.
In other industries, such as construction (AIA Contracts), finance (SWAPS), real estate (standard NYC based forms) we find more widespread use of forms that are used in this manner. The form is just a commonly understand playing field on which the parties can make their plays and get to an end game.
Word process was a blessing and a curse to lawyers. It greatly freed our ability to be creative and “process words” quickly but it also bundles low end thought processing, i.e. creating standard terms and conditions, with high level thinking and work product. Since law firms don’t have the capability or desire to bill for different value work at different prices, the client pays an exorbitant “blended rate” (although it’s not designated as such) for the work product as a whole.
Word processing also reduced the need for lawyers to distill their thinking into precise language that would guide the parties . Is there any doubt that the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution, if created by lawyers and successful business leaders today, would run for thousands of pages? This was a luxury beyond belief when documents were drafted by hand, or in relatively modern times, with typewriters and carbon copies. (To all the wise guys and gals out there, I started practicing at the dawn of word processing in the law firm, not quill pen and inkpot!)
What the legal industry fails to realize is that being able to speed up routine drafting, does not decrease billable hours, it decreases the need to bill the client for low end work at higher cost. Automation via document assembly, decision trees, and data analytics to create valid business cases will save the practice of law, not kill it.
Tim: You make some great points. I see technologies such as document assembly as tools to allow lawyers to reduce their cost of services, provide quicker turnaround, and increase quality. To be effective toward those ends, the tools need to be used in a non-billable hour business model. I explore this issue in The Billable Hour Is Bad for Your Soul. Merely unbundling the blended rate that you mention would be unwise for a firm using a billable-hour model — unless forced by the market — because it would just reduce revenue, along with profit since profit is built into the hourly rate.