UniCourt Influencer Q&A with Tim Pullan of ThoughtRiver
Before long, the pace of legal tech innovation will force lawyers to accept the reality that many – even most – traditional legal services are grossly inefficient. Chief among these services is contract review – the foundation of virtually every transactional legal practice.
Tim Pullan, the CEO and Founder of legal tech innovator ThoughtRiver, identified this issue before many top firms did, hence his resolve to launch a company that pre-screens contracts, saving in-house legal departments and business teams countless hours and dollars by efficiently delivering recommendations and flagging issues.
ThoughtRiver’s website declares: “Today our mission remains true to that first insight – in contracting, consistency means speed.” The company embodies this insight by helping in-house teams efficiently navigate the contract review process by summarizing contractual language through natural language processing (NLP), evaluating risks posed by that language, and recommending the best course of action. What started as a basic prototype has since morphed into a tech company with offices in Cambridge, London, New York, Singapore, and New Zealand.
We were fortunate to speak with Tim about his career path, his motivation behind starting ThoughtRiver, and how true innovation comes through disruption rather than static reason.
UniCourt: Tell us your story. What is your background, and what initially sparked your interest in legal technology, specifically in the context of automating contract review?
Tim Pullan: I am a commercial lawyer by trade, having also spent some years as a business leader in predictive analytics. Back in those days, I was not really interested in old school legal tech. However, I did observe that traditional contracts were not serving the modern world at all.
UC: What motivated you to start ThoughtRiver?
Pullan: Contracts are not standardized, and lawyers are looking at the same issues, again and again, just worded differently. Analogue contracts were simply intended to serve as fairly high level written record of contracting parties’ intentions. The invention of word processors changed all this, encouraging lawyers to create bigger and bigger contracts without addressing the underlying weakness (unstructured information) of the traditional medium.
When I was a young lawyer, that problem got worse, not better. Often, the status of a lawyer is proportionate with the length of the contract he or she is negotiating.
Because this paradigm was unsustainable and no one was doing anything about it, I decided to act.
UC: What purpose does ThoughtRiver primarily serve and who is your target market? What is your most common or recurrent use case?
Pullan: ThoughtRiver primarily helps in-house legal departments pre-screen all contracts coming into the business. When contracts come into any part of a business, instead of going all to the legal team and overloading them, they are instead reviewed automatically by ThoughtRiver. Based on the business’ contracting rules, a simple recommended action is provided to the business user.
This allows for an initial triage of contracts. When the legal team finally receives the risky contracts, they are directed straight to the pertinent issues instead of having to read the entire document. This allows the legal team to do a lot more while spending less time and budget.
UC: As the Founder and CEO of a legal tech company, what advice would you give to others interested in starting their own legal tech companies?
Pullan: Maintain conviction in your vision, while engaging real users as soon as possible to test your propositions.
UC: What do you see as the top trends impacting the legal services industry?
Pullan: The top three trends I see are:
- Alternative business models and providers have shaken up the legal tech landscape in the UK in recent years and with the liberalization of the US legal tech market, this is set to increase.
- The growing pace of regulatory change.
- The globalization of legal services – with the right platforms, legal services can be delivered to worldwide market.
UC: What are some of your favorite sayings? Do you have any real-world examples of how you’ve seen these sayings come to life?
Pullan: George Bernard Shaw said that, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
I have spoken to more than one senior lawyer who thinks what we are doing is crazy. What we are trying to do with a standard digital contract language (Lexible) is living proof of Shaw’s words. This is the case for any disruptive technology or business model, such as F-lex and Lawyers-On-Demand.
Channeling Efficiency Through Speed
Tim Pullan may not be the only disruptor working to streamline the delivery of legal services, but his approach is unique: leveraging efficiency through speed. While the legal profession traditionally leans towards a more manual and lengthy approach to reviewing contracts, ThoughtRiver is using technology – from Lexible to various NLP – to help in-house attorneys and the business accomplish more on a compressed timeline without sacrificing accuracy. This approach will only continue to gain traction in the coming years as innovative in-house legal departments expand the use of legal tech to increase their bandwidth, rather than clinging to outdated methods.