Dan Katz, associate professor of law at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, speaks at the Janders Dean & Chicago-Kent College of Law Legal Horizons conference on Thursday, July 14, 2016. ()
While academic legal technology projects have favored open source initiatives, the legal technology industry itself has shied from open sourcing its own technology.
Knowledge management and legal analytics company LexPredict, though, recently opted to make the core platform behind its contract and document analytics platform ContraxSuite open source. The team announced the decision in a blog post published July 3, explaining that it is intended to help legal teams “cover the extra mile” in tailoring their analytics technology to specific workflows.
Michael Bommarito, LexPredict’s co-founder and CEO, told Legaltech News that LexPredict customers often express frustration with both the level of in-house customization required to use many analysis tools and the volatility in the vendor market.
“The service side of our business mostly ends in corporate legal departments, and there’s constantly this disappointment—all these products that are marketed as perfect and don’t quite do it,” Bommarito noted.
LexPredict has been up front about the limitations of its out-of-the-box software, with the idea that the company can offer the core of its platform free and open sourced, and charge only to retrofit the contract software to a given organization’s needs—which Bommarito calls “last 20 percent”—if the organization so chooses.
“The platform is 80 to 90 percent of what you need; you can build the last 20 percent as you want,” Bommarito said.
Bommarito also found that the rapid speed of consolidation and movement in the e-discovery market also has corporate legal departments wary of investing in analytics platforms. While e-discovery continues to attract new players, especially as artificial intelligence technology continues to create buzz, the market seems to be continually consolidating and changing to adapt to the times. This can create some uncertainty for legal organizations who contract with these vendors, Bommarito noted.
Using ContraxSuite as an open source platform offers legal organizations the option of sidestepping the vendor market and retaining proprietary control over software themselves. “The end user organization can at the end of the day have outright ownership of the software in a sense that allows them some protection,” he said.
Open sourcing can seem fairly unintuitive from a business perspective—why give away what you can sell for a large profit? Bommarito explained that LexPredict operates as something of a managed services platform; it can still draw revenue from offering services such as customizing the platform for a given legal organization. He compared the business plan to Red Hat, a company that produces open source enterprise software and contributes heavily to the Linux kernel.
“We are increasingly thinking that there’s room in legal tech for what you might call the Red Hat in legal, the companies that really focus on development of software by providing wraparound services, but offer their software open source,” Bommarito said. “They don’t really sell $3 billion of free things; they sell this ‘last mile’ problem. That’s kind of where we see ourselves, the same kind of company as Red Hat. We want to shepherd this kind of shared infrastructure, and we want to build actual economies.”
Bommarito also noted that although many companies may be interested in contributing to open source infrastructure in the legal industry, the business structure of many startups, which generally involves a set of venture capital investors who operate in advisory roles to a company, makes open sourcing a little more difficult.
“If you’re just a software company and you’re not a service company, you can’t really get away with this,” Bommarito acknowledged. “Dan and I own the company. We don’t have external investors; we don’t have a board with venture capitalists to tell us this is a stupid idea.”
Bommarito and LexPredict co-founder Daniel Katz both have backgrounds in academia, teaching at Michigan State University College of Law and the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law, respectively. Perhaps because of this, the two have more of an eye to broader industry futurism and technology adoption.
Bommarito hoped that open sourcing the ContraxSuite platform and giving legal organizations some proprietary power over technology will encourage them to adopt technology in the first place. Ideally, he hoped LexPredict is not alone in producing open source infrastructure in the legal community.
“We don’t want to be a monopolist on this open source idea. If other people do this, or even do it more successfully than us, we’ll have felt like we did the right thing and it was a success,” he said.
Contact Gabrielle Orum Hernández at email@example.com.