We are incredibly excited to introduce you to our collaborative contracting platform – The Contract Network.
We are a destination where all parties to a transaction and their advisors can come together to get deals done faster and to simplify contract compliance.
To make this possible, we’re equally excited to bring an unprecedented range of AI experiences and advantages to every stakeholder that comes to our platform. Sometimes these AI experiences will be readily apparent – when we help you review an unfamiliar agreement in comparison to your standards, or when we autonomously generate simple and shareable summaries of the latest revisions to the agreement. And sometimes these AI experiences will be more deeply embedded – for example, when we use AI to start the journey of creating agreements that are “data from the first draft.”
For many, we know this will be your first substantial exposure to the use of AI as part of your day-to-day practices. To that end, I wanted to share some insights from the perspective of someone who has been building businesses centered around AI for legal-related use cases for nearly 20 years. Over those 20 years we’ve analyzed tens of millions of contracts across the globe. We’ve reviewed in excess of 100 million emails. We’ve done all of this with AI as the cornerstone for our relationships with many of the world’s largest businesses.
During that time, we’ve produced many incredible outcomes on behalf of our clients and we’ve built highly scalable and defensible processes that have withstood the toughest scrutiny by regulators (including the SEC, DOJ, FTC and other authorities), courts, and compliance teams; but we’ve also had to dig deep to understand and explain exactly how these technologies work. And we’ve had more than one tough conversation with both clients and counsel about the difference between an “AI assist” vs a magic button. Here are some insights that I believe are worth sharing.
Mastering the Capabilities and Limitations of Generative AI
When we speak of AI, it’s essential to understand that it’s not a monolithic entity. We started using AI in 2004 using a form of natural language processing called latent semantic indexing (specifically “clustering”) and we have continued to advance from there.
AI comes in many forms, and the form on everyone’s mind today, generative AI (like OpenAI’s ChatGPT), holds unique and compelling capabilities. Generative AI has captivated the attention and imagination of a vast audience. While many people’s first exposure has been playful (“write a debate between Einstein and Daffy Duck about the meaning of life ”), executives and professionals have now begun a headlong dash to tap into the immense potential of AI for their businesses – automating routine tasks, analyzing vast data sets, and identifying patterns that might be elusive to the human eye.
However, generative AI is notably not without its limitations. And understanding and addressing these limitations is vital. For example, generative AI is infamously prone to hallucinations, which means that it requires real oversight. We know this, and to that end in our platform we strive to avoid “unconstrained AI,” instead targeting output to known and consistent data models and taxonomies. We then try to make it easy to compare and confirm the AI output side by side with the original source data.
More subtly, and equally critical for our use case, it’s important to understand that generative AI depends heavily on the data on which it’s trained. Consequently, its effectiveness can be compromised when faced with unstructured data or unfamiliar scenarios. For the most complex legal use cases, including some forms of commercial contracting, it often lacks the ability to interpret the nuanced implications of law or the subtleties of many business requirements. These are areas where human expertise still reigns supreme. We note this not to suggest that AI output isn’t useful – to the contrary, in our recent LinkedIn survey, we showed how challenging the interpretation of contract language can be for even the most experienced professionals and also how useful an AI assist can be – but rather to set expectations that the best outcomes will be the result of a melding of technology and human expertise.
Harmonizing Generative AI with Human Judgment
Despite some premature doomsday predictions, generative AI should not be seen as an adversary or replacement for human expertise. Simply stated, generative AI should be viewed as a tool that can augment and extend our capabilities. AI is a wonder in its ability to rapidly process and synthesize information, providing insights and executing tasks at a speed and scale beyond human capacity. However, these insights and abilities are best utilized when paired with the nuanced understanding and critical thinking that human professionals bring to the table.
Thus, the true power of AI in the legal field lies in this synergy between machine efficiency and human judgment. In our platform, AI can quickly sift through volumes of contract data, identify patterns and anomalies, and provide invaluable analysis. It’s also arguably the world’s most prolific “first draft” creator, an incredible proofreader, and a tireless analyst. Meanwhile, contract professionals – with their deep understanding of legal principles, client needs, and ethical considerations – can validate this work product and these findings, apply them effectively, and make strategic decisions. This complementary relationship between AI and human expertise paves the way for innovative legal solutions that are both efficient and comprehensive.
Generative AI does not merely represent a technological change; it also introduces new ethical considerations. As legal professionals, we are bound by a duty of technological competence, which, in the era of AI, extends to understanding and correctly using this specific technology. However, our responsibilities go beyond technical competence.
We need to ensure that the use of AI aligns with the ethical standards and responsibilities of our profession. AI, for instance, should not be used in a manner that might enable unjust practices or unfair advantages. This is a fundamental premise of our platform – we don’t take sides and we won’t help anyone to “stack the deck.” Nonetheless, we must be vigilant about the potential for AI to do just these things, to perpetuate bias or injustice embedded in the data it was trained on. As we navigate these challenges, we must uphold our commitment to justice, fairness, and professional integrity, ensuring that AI is used responsibly and ethically. At The Contract Network, we are committed to this in how we’ve built our platform – keeping the playing field level by making AI available to everyone, and never sharing confidential or compromising data between parties – and we expect our customers to take the same approach.
Transparency is a cornerstone of the attorney-client relationship. As AI becomes more prevalent in our profession, we must ensure that its usage is disclosed to our clients. They have a right to know how their legal matters are being handled, and this includes understanding the role of AI in their matters.
This transparency doesn’t just fulfill our ethical obligations; it also helps maintain and deepen the trust that is so essential to the attorney-client relationship. It allows clients to make informed decisions about their legal affairs and ensures that they remain at the heart of the legal process, even as we introduce new technological tools into our practice.
Moreover, client disclosure provides an opportunity to educate clients about the benefits of AI, how it’s being used to serve their interests, and the measures you and we are taking to mitigate potential risks. Through open and honest communication, we can demystify AI and foster a more inclusive, collaborative approach to legal practice.
Embracing Continuous Learning and Interaction
The application of generative AI in the legal field is a journey, not a destination. Cultivating expertise in AI, like any other field, takes time and experience. It requires a combination of technical knowledge, practical application, and an understanding of the unique nuances of the legal field.
More importantly, to fully benefit from these advancements, legal professionals must embrace a mindset of continuous learning and interaction with AI. This mindset is not about merely “keeping up” with the latest AI trends. Instead, it’s about consistent and proactive engagement with AI, understanding how it works, and exploring new ways to leverage its capabilities. As we launch The Contract Network, we’ve put an initial stake in the ground as to how and where we believe that AI can most help you and all of our clients. But from here, the journey is ours together. We want your input and guidance as to how we can continue to invest and support you and every stakeholder working on The Contract Network.
Closing Thoughts – Patience, Pragmatism and Moving Forward
We are incredibly excited to introduce the first platform where every party to a contract negotiation can be powered by forward-looking technology, ultimately delivering acceleration for your transaction as a whole. This is a new platform, and it and its AI, while powerful, is not and will never be perfect. It’s essential for you to recognize this and approach your experience with this new technology with a healthy dose of pragmatism. There will be times when AI falls short of your expectations, when it struggles with complex scenarios or produces results that are less than perfect. But these moments of imperfection should not deter us. Instead, they should be seen as opportunities for learning and improving by refining our approach.
The road ahead together is incredibly exciting and opens a world of possibilities. We look forward to collaborating with you!
Jim Wagner, CEO and Co-founder
Jim is a serial entrepreneur in the legal technology community, most recently serving as VP of Agreement Cloud Strategy for DocuSign, which he joined when DocuSign acquired AI leader Seal Software (where Jim served as President) in 2020. Jim has authored multiple patents and is a recognized leader in the fields of artificial intelligence and analytics for contracting. Jim graduated from Duke University Law School, where he is a frequent guest lecturer and serves on the Duke Law Tech Lab advisory board.