Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Beagle's artificial intelligence redfines contract comprehension and collaboration.

Beagle is a Trusty Guide Through the Maze of Contracts

Cian O’Sullivan, IT engineer by trade, lawyer by training, wistfully recalls an occasion after spending years negotiating contracts. “I was having breakfast with a great friend, and he happened ask ‘Cian, can you take a quick look at this contract? We're having a meeting Monday and I want a general idea of risks.’”

O’Sullivan knew that there was no such thing as taking a “quick look” at a contract. But rather than waste a weekend parsing out 90 pages of legalese, he wrote a script to search and highlight key terms so he could identify the three things any lawyer looks for in a contract: who’s doing what, how do you get out of it, and what happens when things go south?

“It took me less time to write the script than to read that 90 page contract,” he observed. And at that moment, he knew he was on to something. Over the next several months, he refined the business goals of his idea, built a very experienced artificial intelligence team, and built a full-fledged application. “The idea is one thing, but to build it properly you need the people who have commitment, expertise, and share of vision.” says O’Sullivan. The result is an extremely intelligent cloud-based tool that any business can use to find key elements of contract in moments, highlight key provisions, collaborate around terms with colleagues and attorneys, and spot negotiable details amid a flurry of “wherefores” and “notwithstandings.”.

Demystifying the law. Contracts are the foundation of business. With the proliferation of End-User License Agreements and other fine print involved in signing up for any online service, they’ve become an essential part of business. But unless you are a lawyer or have unlimited access to one, the contents of these agreements are likely to remain opaque and meaningless at best, not to mention full of nasty surprises if you ever need to invoke their terms.

“If you read every eurla, or terms of websites you go to and it would take 93 days per year?  Who has time for that?” asks O’Sullivan.

As a result, most businesses enter into agreements they don’t fully understand, or waste very expensive time to find important clauses. Small businesses spend big money dealing with contracts, and a huge amount of that is simply paying lawyers to read through pages of boilerplate to spot a tiny number of objectionable or negotiable terms.

From dozens of confusing pages to one simple page.  O’Sullivan emphasizes that designing an elegant user experience was a priority for Beagle. “The whole point is to keep it simple,” he says. The process is as easy as dragging and dropping the contract into the app.

Beagle’s intelligent contract app reads contracts in less than half a second per page and renders even the most complex document into a single page scorecard that summarizes who owes what to whom (responsibilities), who is assuming or waiving liability (liabilities) and how each side can get out of the deal (terminations). In addition, if the contract contains a link to another set of terms, or a privacy policy for example, it is highlighted as an external reference. The contract is visualized in graphic form to instantly show how the different sides stack up.

Clicking each of these sections highlights all the relevant examples from the text. Users can edit, annotate, highlight and translate any section for additional detail or discussion.

Opens up the conversation. “While the analysis is a great tool, the real value is providing an environment for others to share in that analysis.” says O’Sullivan.

Multiple users can work together on the contract in real time, reducing back-and-forth, eliminating version control problems, and literally keeping everyone on the same page throughout the process.

One useful feature is the ability to tag and send specific parts of the contract to different stakeholders, so that people can focus on the areas of the contract most relevant to them without having to wade through the entire document. “You can send part of the contract to your risk manager, part to your operations chief, part to your CFO, and then combine all their feedback into the master version,” says O’Sullivan. It really does save time. Through simple, and intuitive social media inspire tools, a CFO can be asked to approve or disapprove of a clause, and it takes them only 2 clicks.  

It keeps learning. “Contracts are very personal.  What is important to you in an agreement may be very different than what is important to a business down the road.  Beagle is designed to learn about you.  The more you use it the smarter is get.” says O’Sullivan.  When a user engages with Beagle, using the collaboration and annotation tools, it watches, and learns.  If you click dislike on a similar clause a number of times, or tag a particular clause with “Finance”, the system will pick up the pattern and then start to make suggestions.  This is a personalized and adaptive approach to the intelligent contract analysis.

Doesn’t replace lawyers – makes them more valuable. “Something like 70% of small businesses don’t consult a lawyer even when they know they should, mostly due to cost,” says O’Sullivan.

He says Beagle can change that by making it easier for smaller businesses to engage legal services, and get faster and better answers when they do. “When you already have a sense of the contract and know where the real issues are, you’ll have a much better and more productive conversation with your attorney or corporate counsel,” he says.  “We are making it easier for companies and lawyers to engage in micro-transactions, rather than the traditional large retainer, and abyss of the final bill.”

It’s not just a good idea – it’s the law! Beagle is still just a puppy; the Ontario-based company has only been around since November, 2013. But they’ve gotten a big jump-start as part of the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Seattle. “Microsoft has helped us by providing insight into their products, provided mentors, and exceptional go to market guidance. ” says O’Sullivan. 

In the meantime, Beagle is set to emerge from beta with a full-fledged product on the market by late fall, 2015.  While their beta is invitation only, if you ask nice, you will get to take Beagle for a walk.  It’s a web-based product with its own terms of use, privacy policy and end-user license agreement, but luckily, there’s now an app to help businesses get through it all in a flash.  Visit them at www.beagle.ai, email at info@beagle.ai and follow them on twitter @BeagleInc.

By Guest Blogger: Beagle Inc.