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新冠疫情迫使法律从业者改变工作方式,也使他们更为大胆地尝试创新法律科技工具。ALB邀请总法律顾问分享此领域经验,我们同时也和一些法律科技服务提供商聊了聊。

新冠疫情深刻重塑了企业法务部门的工作方式,部分变化在后疫情时代预计将成为常态。企业法务们必须面对远程办公下,工作流程从线下到线上的转移;他们更要调用有限的精力,去应对愈发频繁、复杂的风险。这都迫使法务团队更快速地拥抱科技工具,将人力从繁杂枯燥的事务中解放出来,为企业带来更多价值。

根据汤森路透最新发布的《2021企业法律部门状态报告》,30%的受访法务团队在过去一年中增加了科技经费,44%的团队则采购了新的技术工具。该报告指出,法务团队的这一举措是为了应对“疫情下法律预算的冻结或削减,以及不断攀升的工作量”。

中国企业的法务部门也不例外。中国最大的家电生产企业海尔商业集团总法律顾问张翠美告诉ALB:“随着国内外经济和法律环境的不断变化,作为一家全球公司的法律平台,我们面临越来越多挑战,如何用最少的人力和资源,解决更多重复性、普遍性的合规及法律风险问题,是所有大公司都要考虑的议题。”因此,“法律+科技原本就是重要的战略布局,疫情只会增加我们的重视程度”。

实际上,在中国,过去几年中法律科技已经发展到了世界领衔地位。根据汤森路透的数据,2018及2019年,中国与法律科技相关的专利申请量都位居世界第一——在2018年,世界上51%的法律科技专利申请都来自中国。

究其原因,英国《金融时报》在一篇报道中分析道,可能源自中国法律专业人员的严重匮乏和巨量法律服务需求之间的不对等。《金融时报》指出:“借助政府对庭审创新的支持和法律科技软件对人工智能技术的普遍应用,中国在法律科技专利方面的支配地位很可能持续下去。”

加速拥抱科技

正如《金融时报》在上述报道中所指出的:“当下越来越多法律科技创业公司将企业法务部门作为自己的目标客户,他们的产品正在取代传统的律所服务。”过去一年,伴随法务部门需求升温,该领域玩家也发现游戏正变得愈发有趣起来。

幂律智能是一家专注于法律领域的人工智能公司,主要通过自然语言处理、数据挖掘等人工智能技术,提供智能法律咨询、合同智能审查、全域信息检索、知识管理等产品及服务。其创始人兼CEO涂存超告诉ALB,过去一年中,客户对相关产品的接受程度“明显有一个跃迁”。

以幂律的核心产品“MeCheck”智能合同辅助审查系统为例——该产品主要为企业法务团队等提供智能合同审查与管理服务,“最初大部分人只是有新鲜感,持观望态度。随着外部势能增加——例如企业数字化转型的大趋势、相关企业对律师/法务业务场景理解的不断加深、标杆案例出现,目前愿意主动去了解法律AI、愿意体验并达成合作的客户数量有了明显提升”,涂存超说。

另一家法律科技服务提供商法大大——其主要提供电子签名与电子合同云平台、“实槌”可信证据平台,以及合同智能审核平台——也感受到了这一变化。法大大联合创始人兼首席法务官梅臻观察到,那些提前布局了法律科技的企业甚至“在疫情期间享受到了巨大的竞争红利”。

以金融机构为例,“前几年已经有某些金融机构找到法大大,对其业务流程进行信息化重构,并引入实槌系统进行证据保全。” 梅臻说。因此,疫情期间,“当所有银行线下门店都无法正常营业时,这些机构借助业务线上化,保障了60%以上原业务不受影响——其中包括原本只能在柜台上办理的签约动作,例如信用卡办理、理财产品投资等等。”

需求升级

虽然对科技工具的需求增强,但法务团队绝非“有病乱投医”,他们在此领域往往有清晰的策略。

谈到选择法律科技工具时的考虑因素,海尔的张翠美分享了三点:首先是“承接战略”,即工具的选择要符合公司本身的商业战略和流程要求;第二是“安全合规”,相关工具要能够保障企业数据的安全和独立性;第三则是“成本效率”,新工具要能够与已有业务流程和系统匹配,还要考虑到未来升级改造的成本,以及是否可以模块化。基于这些考虑,海尔法务团队目前采用了“一般科技工具自主研发,或者整理部分科技产品加以组合”的方法。

法大大的梅臻也发现,过去几年中,法务团队对科技工具的需求越来越明确,要求也不断升级。“例如在数据库方面,提供全面、准确、及时的法律信息早已不是问题。”梅臻说,“问题是如何从提供大量的初级信息到通过人机对话筛选出直接有效的信息;从只提供专业法律信息到同时提供企业及其知识产权等实务工作所需信息。”

“相比单独采购软件工具,客户现在更希望供应商承接复杂系统平台的整体建设。一个个孤零零的系统显然对于数据管理和功能实施造成了不小阻碍,中国客户更希望法律科技公司可以部署到更多的企业系统里,形成规模化效益,进一步提升工作效率。”

—梅臻,法大大

在人工智能方面,企业法务用户则要求实现“从提供查询结果到提供具体事务的工作思路;从提供笼统工作建议到提供基础性工作成果”的转变。

而在实施应用方面,“相比单独采购软件工具,客户现在更希望供应商承接复杂系统平台的整体建设。一个个孤零零的系统显然对于数据管理和功能实施造成了不小阻碍,中国客户更希望法律科技公司可以部署到更多的企业系统里,形成规模化效益,进一步提升工作效率”,梅臻指出。

当然,任何新事物在萌芽阶段都需要供需双方的不断磨合。幂律智能的涂存超对此深有体会。过去几年中,他一方面试图向客户普及技术工具的作用原理,另一方面也不断思考如何根据客户痛点,提供真正被需要的产品。

举例来说, “不少客户会想让机器解决对于人来说门槛都很高的问题,这其实是对智能技术的误解。”他说,“智能技术的核心价值在于把人们从重复枯燥的工作中解放出来,它适合解决的一定是重复性、低门槛的问题。”

这样的价值并不“低端”。例如在合同审查场景中,“法务只有很少时间在思考合同背后的交易结构,设计更好的条款和合同架构,更多的时间是在处理合同中的种种错误和疏漏,或是反复检查合同是否满足合规要求……这些工作琐碎重复,但非常耗时,也容不得疏忽。”他说。

而幂律提供的智能合同审查产品就是为了解决这一痛点。“通过标注大量的合同数据,使得机器见到了每种条款几百、几千种表述方式,来了一份新合同,产品能够识别、理解合同内容,帮助法务同事快速定位其中的各类风险,并提供修改建议和参考法规等,从而使得合同审查工作更加高效和准确。”涂存超说。

此外,涂存超还面对着客户对于科技工具定制化的要求。“目前很多律所、法务通过定制化的项目来满足个性化管理需求。”但他坦言,“定制化程度越高,双方的采购和开发维护成本越高,同样成本下产品的质量、可靠性、可维护性越低,也损失了后续的功能优化升级,并非完美解决个性化需求的方式。”

对此,他建议道:“应该尽可能通过配置、组装等实现方式来满足个性化需求……例如钉钉等协同办公平台可以灵活配置个性化审批流;幂智的MeCheck智能合同审查工具也可以配置个性化审查清单、审查提示文案、修改建议等。”

未来趋势

有趣的是,在借助第三方技术工具外,部分实力雄厚的法务团队已经开始根据需求自研科技工具,并反哺到下属子公司,甚至整个行业。以海尔为例,张翠美告诉ALB,法务团队已经自研了几大产品:包括合同+AI+物联应用、企业信用+AI、合同履约监测、诉讼预测+AI,以及智能公司系统,股权投资管理等。

“以智能公司为例,我们使用了文件自生成工具,用户只需要填写公司新设或变更的基本信息,即可自动生成公司成立的全套工商注册文件;在智能合约系统中,我们则链接了电子签名、区块链、OCR,人工智能等新技术,既可以提升合同签署效率,提升合规水平,也可以做到事先算赢的风险管理。”张翠美说。

被法务团队不断抬高的游戏门槛让法律科技公司们感到未来可期。不过幂律智能的涂存超也指出,目前拥有自研能力的法务团队尚属少数,整体看来,“企业法务端基础信息化水平仍然较低”,而幂律所属的法律AI市场也尚在起步阶段,“目前探索的场景还比较单点,而且单点应用也没有形成规模效应,市场还远谈不上饱和”。

“接下来几年,合同、案件管理系统等基础信息化需求将得到不断满足,并辅以智能化模块,其中企业合同场景将成为爆发点……法律科技公司也将从提供纯工具/内容型产品,向服务型产品——即直接提供法律服务或产品+服务——转变。”

—涂存超,幂律智能

谈到法律科技市场未来几年的走向,涂存超预测:“接下来几年,合同、案件管理系统等基础信息化需求将得到不断满足,并辅以智能化模块,其中企业合同场景将成为爆发点……法律科技公司也将从提供纯工具/内容型产品,向服务型产品——即直接提供法律服务或产品+服务——转变。”

法大大的梅臻则认为,伴随“合规”在2021年成为企业关注重点,未来法律科技将在该领域发挥重要作用。“每家企业都需要构建完善的合规模型,需要采纳可以在正式开展线上业务前就为业务做好充分风控的技术产品。”他说,“这类技术产品能够全过程记录线上业务的信息流,落实电子证据链的固定。例如在纠纷高发环节,自动化发送短信和邮件实现通知触达;以URL的形式实现与对方互动,将操作行为自动留痕,这类电子证据未来容易被法院和仲裁机构支持,大大提升诉讼效率。”而法大大的电子签和“实槌”产品正能帮助法务团队实现此种合规风控。

谈到对于法务团队布局法律科技工具的建议,涂存超提到了尽早参与和平衡心态两点。“对于单点功能工具,可以咨询顾问、天使用户等方式参与到产品早期研发和反馈过程中,共同打造最切合自己需求的法律科技产品,成为该场景的先行者。”他说。

此外,法务团队也要“保持长期主义心态。任何新产品都要经历从不成熟到逐渐成熟的阶段,不要一开始就寄希望于做一个大而全的完美工具,应该抓住核心功能和核心价值点;也不要以最早期的形态和效果来评估其价值,产品需要迭代,算法需要经过更多的数据训练来逐步提升效果”,涂存超说。

梅臻对此颇有共鸣。他总结道:“数字化浪潮带来的变革并非惊涛骇浪、一蹴而就,常常是顺势而为、润物无声。当大家有一天发现很多新的手段、技术应用渗透在生活和工作中时,才惊讶发现:原来巨大的变化早已发生。”


Reduced complexity

In-house counsel have been forced to transform the way they work during the pandemic, and the experience has emboldened them to experiment with innovative LegalTech tools. General counsel share their experiences in this regard, while LegalTech service providers discuss what’s next on the horizon.

Corporate legal departments have significantly reshaped the way they work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some changes are expected to remain permanent features even in the post-pandemic world. In-house counsel are facing a shift toward more online communication in work processes as a result of remote working; also, they have to tackle an increasing number of complex risks. To that end, they are more ready to embrace technology tools that may reduce the need to spend their time on administrative tasks, so that they are able to deliver more value to their companies.

In the 2021 State of Corporate Law Departments Report recently published by Thomson Reuters, nearly a third of interviewed legal departments globally are upping their spend on technology in 2020, with 44 percent increasing their use of tech tools, and they are doing so against the background of “frozen or declining overall budgets and rising workloads.”

Legal departments of Chinese enterprises are not exceptions. Zhang Cuimei, general counsel of Haier Group Corporation, China’s largest household appliances manufacturer, tells ALB: “As the economic and legal landscape evolves in China and abroad, Haier’s legal department faces a growing number of challenges. How to resolve compliance and legal risks in broader and recurring scenarios with the least possible workforce and resources remains a pressing concern for all large companies.” In this regard, “legal + technology remains a strategic focus for us, the importance of which will only increase on the backdrop of the pandemic.”

As a matter of fact, China has fostered a world-leading position in terms of LegalTech development. China led the world in LegalTech patent filings in both 2018 and 2019, and filed 51 percent of all tech patents in 2018, according to a Thomson Reuters report.

As a Financial Times article points out, this may be a result of a critical shortage of legal professionals as opposed to the massive need for legal services in China. The article adds that “China’s dominance in LegalTech patents is likely to continue as its government encourages court innovation and artificial intelligence maintains a significant role in LegalTech software.”

EMBRACING TECHNOLOGY

As reported in the Financial Times article, “a growing number of lawtech start-ups are vying for business from companies’ in-house legal departments in an effort to take work away from traditional law firms.” Over the past year, players in this field find the game is increasingly interesting as the needs of the legal departments increase.

PowerLaw AI is a developer of artificial intelligence technology focusing on legal services. The company uses natural language processing, data mining and other artificial intelligence technologies to provide legal search, contract review, global information search, knowledge management, as well as other products and services. Tu Cunchao, PowerLaw AI’s founder and CEO, tells ALB that, over the past year, clients’ acceptance of its products has experienced “a visible leap up.”

Take MeCheck, PowerLaw AI’s core product of an AI-based contract analysis system, as an example. "When it is first launched, most people perceived it as a novel product and took a wait-and-see approach. As the growing megatrend of digitalization transformation among enterprises, increased awareness of legal/law business scenarios and emergence of benchmark cases, for now, we saw an obvious increase in the number of clients who are willing to know about the legal AI service, request a trial and express their interest in buying,” according to Tu.

Fadada, a LegalTech service provider backed by Tencent that is engaged in e-signature, cloud contract platform, credible evidence platform and electronic contract analysis platform, has also experienced this. According to Mei Zhen, Fadada’s co-founder and chief legal officer, enterprises decided to take up LegalTech “enjoyed huge benefits in the competitions even during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Take financial institutions as an example. “Years ago, Fadata was approached by some financial institutions. Upon their request, we used information-driven solutions to restructure their operational processes, and installed the ‘hammer’ system for evidence preservation,” Mei says.  After the pandemic broke out, “when all physical bank outlets were closed for business, such institutions shifted their business activities online, therefore 60 percent or more of their existing business operations remained unscathed – including contract signature when handling, say, credit cards or wealth management investments that could only be required handled over the counter.”

MORE DEMANDING REQUIREMENTS

Even as the need for technology tools has increased, legal departments are hardly rushing to adopt the first thing they see. They generally tend to develop clear-cut strategies before proceeding.

Zhang of Haier shares three factors to be considered when it comes to choosing LegalTech tools. The first is to ensure the company will pick LegalTech tools that fit with its business strategy and procedures. The second is to ensure the tools will guarantee the security and independence of the company’s data. And the third and final one is to ensure new tools fit with the existing business procedures and systems, and are, ideally, capable of being modularized upon system upgrade in the future and at a lower cost, if possible.

Given these considerations, Haier's legal department currently adopts the approach of "independently developing general tech tools with in-house resources or collating a combination of existing LegalTech products,” Zhang says.

Mei of Fadada also notes that over the past few years, legal departments have set increasingly clear-cut and demanding requirements from their LegalTech solutions. According to him, “in the area of database solution, for example, what is expected is a transformation from rendering massive primary data towards picking out the real hits and valid data from the human-machine conversation process; or from providing only professional legal information towards rendering practical information needed for companies and for use in their intellectual property right issues.” 

“Clients expect vendors  to build a sophisticated system platform as opposed to purchasing individual software tools. Chinese clients prefer a broader application of LegalTech solutions to corporate business systems to improve efficiency.”

—Mei Zhen, Fadada

As far as artificial intelligence is concerned, enterprise legal departments now expect a “shift toward providing a train of thoughts on how to deal with particular issues rather than providing search results; shift towards providing foundational results rather than providing general advice,” Mei adds.

As regards practical applications, Mei notes that “nowadays, clients expect vendors to build a sophisticated system platform as opposed to purchasing individual software tools. Chinese clients prefer a broader application of LegalTech solutions to corporate business systems to improve efficiency.”

As the development of LegalTech solutions is still in nascent stage clients and vendors need to align with what is needed and what is available. Tu Cunchao knows this very well. Over the recent years, he has been educating clients on the functioning principles behind the tech tools, and in the meantime has continued to tailor products in order to meet clients’ needs and solve their pain points.

For instance, “many customers intend to use machines to resolve issues which are difficult even to human beings, and this is indeed a misunderstanding of the intelligent technologies.” he says. “We use intelligent technologies for the fundamental purpose of freeing human beings from repetitive and dreary paperwork or tasks. In this sense, tech tools should be used to take some repetitive, trivial and mundane tasks.” 

The values provided in such cases is by no means low. In a contract-review scenario, for example, "legal counsel have very little time to assess the deal structure, or to contemplate better contractual terms or deal structure. Rather, they spend more time dealing with the errors and omissions in the contract. These tasks are trivial and repetitive but time-consuming, and there is no room for negligence," he says.

PowerLaw AI’s electronic contract analysis tool is designed to solve this pain point. As Tu puts it, “with annotations of vast contract data, the database contains hundreds, or even thousands of exemplary expressions for each term or clause. When the need arises to construct a new contract, the product scans and understands what the contract reads, helps legal counsel to quickly spot all potential risk points contained in the contract, and proposes amendments with reference to the relevant regulations, thus improving the productivity and accuracy in contract review tasks.”

Tu also works with clients on their need for customized tech tools. “Many law firms and legal departments are in need of customized tools to meet their unique management requirements.” But as he admits, “a higher customization level leads to higher costs in purchase and system development/maintenance. In other words, this may result in poorer quality, lower reliability and maintainability, and may also jeopardize functional optimization or upgrades in consequent releases. To conclude, higher customization may not be an ideal solution for meeting personalized needs.”

In this regard, he advises that "clients may resort to configuration or product integration as much as possible to meet their personalized needs......  For example, DingTalk, an all-in-one mobile workplace, is capable of flexible configurations on personalized approval flows; MeCheck smart contract review tool developed by PowerLaw AI is also capable of personalized configurations on review checklist, review alerts and alteration suggestions.”

FUTURE TRENDS

Interestingly, in addition to leveraging third-party technology tools, legal departments in some established companies have started to employ in-house solutions and adopt such tools in their subsidiaries and even the entire industry. Haier is one of them. Zhang Cuimei tells ALB that Haier’s legal department has developed multiple products, including contract + AI + IoT application, corporate credit +AI, contract performance monitoring, litigation prediction + AI, intelligent corporate system, and equity investment management.

“Take the intelligent corporate system for instance. Haier provides an automatic document generation tool, with which the full set of business registration documents will be generated for purpose of corporate establishment as long as the user provides basic information. In the AI-based contract system, we embed e-signature, blockchain, OCR, AI and other new technologies for increased contract signing efficiency, better compliance level and sound risk management.” Zhang says. 

As legal departments constantly raise the bar in the LegalTech area, companies in the sector are upbeat about the growth prospects. As Tu Cunchao points out, for now only a very small number of legal departments are capable of developing in-house solutions. Taken as a whole, “enterprise legal departments are barely information technology equipped,” whilst the AI-backed market in which PowerLaw AI is a player is still in its infancy, “now we are only exploring single point scenarios for which no economies of scale is created, so the market is far from saturated.”

“In the years to come, the LegalTech sector will continue to meet the fundamental needs such as the needs for contract/case management systems, and solutions to meet the need for corporate contract scenarios may become a tipping point… LegalTech firms are expected to face a shift in their offerings from tools and contents toward service-oriented products.”

—Tu Cunchao, PowerLaw AI

Tu then shares his predictions for the LegalTech market. According to him, “in the years to come, the LegalTech sector will continue to meet the fundamental needs such as the needs for contract/case management systems, and solutions to meet the need for corporate contract scenarios may become a tipping point… LegalTech firms are expected to face a shift in their offerings from tools and contents toward service-oriented products, that is, offering legal services straightforward or offering products + services.”

Mei of Fadada argues that LegalTech is expected to play an increasingly important role going forward as compliance has become a key concern to businesses in 2021. “Every enterprise must build a well-structured compliance model and needs to adopt technology products that may identify and control risks relating to their business before they officially launch a business online,” he says. “Such technology products shall be able to record all information flows of online business generated from each process, and nail down the electronic evidence chain.” Fadada’s e-signature and “hammer” product are the very kinds of support needed by legal departments to ensure compliance and sound risk control.

When being asked for advice to aid legal departments in exploiting LegalTech tools, Tu suggests legal departments shall act quickly and with balanced mind. He says, “in case of single-function tech tools, enterprises may get involved in the early-stage development of such products and product feedback process. They may make joint efforts with the stakeholders to create the LegalTech products that most cater for their unique needs, and become a forerunner in such applications.” 

In addition, the legal departments should "maintain a long-term mentality. Each product has a life cycle. In developing a product, we should not expect an all-in-one perfect product but focus more on the core functions and core values in the first place. Further, we better not value a product at its earliest stage of growth. It is only after product iterations and algorithm tests will the efficacy get improved,” Tu points out.

Mei agrees. He says, “changes in the LegalTech sector do not leapfrog into the digitalized era, and they are never accomplished at one stroke. When someday when people perceive plenty of new things and new technologies in their life and work, then they surprisingly find out that huge changes have long happened.”

 

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