Alternative legal services provider Axiom has been ramping up its tech offerings as it chases after opportunities generated by the European Union’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation, as well as Brexit.
Both the GDPR— which affects all entities that process data belonging to EU citizens—and the U.K.’s impending departure from the EU demand that large organizations update thousands or even tens of thousands of contracts.
Axiom executive vice president of global solutions Chris DeConti sees the two disruptions as “proof points” for the company as an alternative to traditional law firms. Both GDPR and Brexit “stretch the limits of what law firms can do,” he said.
“They’re not necessarily built for large-scale endeavors like that,” he said of the entrenched competition. “They have a hard time introducing technology into their processes.”
Axiom in October hired Microsoft and Amazon.com Inc. veteran Doug Hebenthal as chief technology officer. One of his first tasks was to help the company hire and organize a team of data scientists and engineers to operate a Seattle-based research and development center.
The Seattle hub is already up and running, and Hebenthal suggested it’s not difficult to recruit technology experts to work on innovations that could disrupt the legal industry—it’s akin to offering middle schoolers the opportunity to update bankers’ dress code.
For the recruits, the opportunities for breakthroughs in law business seem boundless, since it’s one of the few remaining industries that hasn’t undergone massive change in recent years.
“Our mission resonates very well with developers,” said Hebenthal, who has worked in the technology sector for three decades—including more than 20 years as a systems engineer, partner and executive producer at Microsoft.
Generally, he said, law firms “focus on how technology enables lawyers to do a better job.” His team, on the other hands, is busy addressing a fundamental need for clients: “How do I find and leverage my business information?”
The work of optimizing contract analysis for corporate clients falls under Hebenthal’s purview. About one-third of 1,200-lawyer Axiom’s revenues come from its automated contract drafting and analysis services, so GDPR and Brexit have emerged as prime opportunities for the company.
In November last year, Axiom launched an artificial intelligence-based tool specifically aimed at helping sort through Fortune 500 companies’ millions of contracts to determine if they complied with the new European data privacy rules. The company has over 400 people working on client solutions for GDPR, according to DeConti.
Brexit provides a similar opportunity. In March, the company unveiled its new BrexitBridge tool, pointing to an internal analysis that said more than 7.5 million financial services contracts will require amendments in the next 12 months.
DeConti emphasized the scale of the Brexit work is even more significant than GDPR.
“These sort of events don’t occur that frequently. You might have to go back to the year 2000 [Y2K] anticipation to look for a precedent,” he said. “That one that turned out to be scarier in the hype than reality, but in this case there’s some fairly concrete grounding in terms of the size and shape of challenge that companies face.”
The key to the company’s ability to meet the challenge lies in its combination of legal expertise, technology and process control.
Both Brexit and GDPR, DeConti said, give clients the opportunity to consider allocating a wider share of their legal budget to upstarts like Axiom.
“If it works for Brexit and it works for GDPR, I can probably start to apply it to our routine work as well and not just one-of-a-kind projects,” he said, describing how he hopes clients will respond.