IACCM Europe Meeting: The Era of Legal Content Management Platforms

by Dr. Sven J. Körner

Upfront notice: I am a technical guy who comes from AI research and worked in AI long before it was “cool”. We only lately merged our efforts and collaborations from our research projects at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) into the legal space. This post represents my views – and my limited understanding of legal concepts sometimes seems a blessing in disguise when it comes to tackling legal issues with LegalTech from a different angle. Then again, we all rely heavily on the cooperation of (legal) domain experts and technology experts like us. With IACCM, this seems to work pretty well, and I strongly encourage more technical startups to jump on the bandwagon with us.

Now on the my experience at the IACCM Europe Meeting:

On Nov 10, top representatives of the European branch of IACCM met courtesy of SAP in Walldorf, Germany.

Kai Jacob, IACCM’s European Board Officer, sent a warm welcome to all attendees and set the stage for the following presenters and participants. The creed of the session was: We all need to collaborate and should come out of our “thought-silos” since the speed of change is too high and innovation in the legal field is not a one-company mission. Everybody agreed – and off we went into the session.

Diane Kilkenny from the IACCM Management Board gave a synopsis of past and future initiatives, experiences, and collaborations. IACCM does a great job acting as the unbiased umbrella organization for everyone interested in making legal processes more efficient, faster, and clearer. Also, the participants seem ready and acknowledge the huge elephant that is always in the room: Digitalization…

From my experience, about two years ago, the legal profession was convinced that using Word and Outlook is as much digitalization as will be ever needed. Those effectively participating in the IACCM workstreams beg to differ significantly. Rightly so. The psychological boundaries from instigating real change in the legal area has come a long way in the past 18 months and 2018 could be the year that LegalTech will finally receive the effort that needs to be put into it to make it work rather than just the spotlight and attention it has today (aka: getting your hands dirty rather than just talking about it).

Perkash Dhalani gave a first glimpse into SAP’s latest legal platform. The new solution “SAP S/4 HANA for legal content” will be available on cloud and on premises. It is supposed to close the gap of co-innovating the P&I portfolio solutions for SAP’s journey in the Legal Content Management space. It combines everything legal from Business Information, Obligations and Responsibilities, Components, and Structure.

Since IACCM meetings are always about learning and improving, SAP gave a first glimpse on its latest platform “SAP S/4 HANA for legal content” which is supposed to support SAP users’ journey in the legal content management space. The features includes sophisticated file management (still the biggest hurdle for every legal corporation), content connections, clause suggestion, and a graphic dashboard.

 One of the obvious findings during the session from the audience was that natural language input is still the main source of information. But to deal with content legally, this content has to be structured. The vision is that AI takes over this tedious task; and this is where we (and other start-ups) want to pitch in to help. The main goal is to being able to transform this kind of unstructured information into machine-processable format. The platform does not yet include semantic support (aka processing of natural language texts and “understanding” legal contents). This is part of the roadmap and will be tackled in conjunction with technology partners within the IACCM space.

One of the main discussion points revolved around the question of “how do you determine the changes on clauses and text and what their actual effect is” – this hinted towards the legal meaning of clauses, rather than their plain wording structure. We all concluded during the session break that automated semantic support from AI is a necessity within this space since the amount of data/documents to be processed is vast and humans cannot handle this in a timely and costly manner.

We discussed integrations into legal content management platforms according to our research results where contract clauses are compared semantically, focusing on the actual meaning of clauses rather than the wording used. This helps to assess incoming documents (i.e. “read” them much faster), to link content to related documents (e.g., in M&As), and to focus on the hotspots of documents whilst dropping the clutter and removing the drudge work for the lawyer. The screenshot exemplifies a semantic comparison of car rental agreements and their potential match even though they sit in different parts of the agreements/contracts with different wordings.

Our brainstorming sketches then led to AI integration into SAP’s Co-Pilot feature which could make smart, semantics-based decisions during clause and contract structuring. Also, it would be able to determine whether incoming legal documents are covered by internal (legal) standards or not. And since contracts can vary quite a bit in wording, but often not in their actual legal meaning, it is worth having an machine that supports the lawyer/legal counsel in their reading, deciding, and acting. During the get-together beers, we coined the phrase “advisory angel on your right shoulder”… now that’s a clear image for a vision/solution 😉

SAP’s legal dashboard gives a comprehensive and quick overview of the “state of legal affairs” within a customer’s ecosystem.

The graphic dashboard is fully customizable and states legal assets and actions at a glance.

As closing talk, Dierk Schindler from NetApp (and board member of IACCM) showed the latest research streams, the cooperation with CodeX’s Bernhard Waltl (TU München, Stanford) and the increased focus on AI. During post-talk discussion, we established that the application of semantic phrase comparison to extract the clauses/sentences that are most similar in all NDAs (documents) and then re-combine those into the “perfect mediator document” would be a desirable feature. As discussed then, we will push these ideas into a real-working demonstrator system in the coming months. This demo system can then be used to propose a real-world solution that is directly available for lawyers.

We all agreed that getting our hands dirty and giving concrete solutions is the way to go to convince the legal industry that AI is not a black art, but rather a straightforward mindset.