Damian Olthoff discusses how legal tech is enabling rapid-growth businesses to redefine the purpose
of a legal function.
Since I joined PROS Holdings in late 2011, I have seen the
company triple in size. Most of that growth happening
during the last few years, so its fair to say we have been
on an incredible upward trajectory.
PROS Holdings is an AI-based software business in the B2B
space that optimises shopping and selling experiences. For
example, we create the software that airlines use to price
tickets. In a range of sectors and industries, we develop
innovative software that services some of the largest
companies in the world to deliver frictionless, personalised
purchasing experiences designed to meet the real-time
demands of today’s B2B and B2C omni-channel shoppers.
In 2015, we made the decision to pivot our on-premise softwarebased
service to a subscription-based cloud software model. At
that time, roughly two-thirds of our revenue came from licenses
and professional services, so the move was a major change for
our business model. Although not an easy transition, it was a
necessary and successful move that secured a path to further
As a result of this work, we were well positioned to work
virtually using digital tools as a company, almost at the flip of
a switch. Even so, when the pandemic hit the working culture
of our organisation changed quite radically, and the legal
department had to evolve at speed.
One important change was shifting the way legal interacted
with business. When working in the office, it was common for
people to swing past the legal department with their questions.
In a virtual environment that opportunity does not exist, so it
was something we had to adjust to very early. We were able
to modify a service desk software system our company was
already using and implement that for our legal team. Since
people were already familiar with the program it was very
quick and easy to set up.
The results have been very positive, and it has certainly caused
me to question why we didn’t think of doing something similar
before. We have since built this out to handle all day-to-day
legal matters. Now, instead of knocking on the legal team’s
door, employees know where to submit their requests and how
to track them in real time.
A secondary benefit of this approach is that it has given us
metrics on the work we do. We can see who is working on
a matter, the response time to the matter and we can easily
review the volumes of work coming through. We can also scale
by analysing the complexity of the work and the cycle time it
takes to complete tasks. There have been a lot of benefits from
adapting our processes.
The biggest advantage with going more digital is transparency.
This system allows us to give great visibility into how matters
are doing overall, and how they are being handled. It also
allows us to see how much of what we are doing is actual legal
work – as opposed to process work – and whether a matter can
be handled more efficiently. This empowers our team to better
delegate work and to focus on matters that require specific
Contract automation has also shortened the time it takes to
put together standard agreements. We did some analysis and
worked out that it takes a paralegal 20 to 30 minutes to put
together a standard contract. If you take into account the
volume of contracts the average business does, you realise
pretty quickly that you will need a small army of people just to
keep up with that side of things.
By automating standard company contracts we enabled
commercial teams to assemble their own documents, injected
a level of transparency into the process, and allowed the legal
team to focus on more strategic questions and less on standard
operational work. When it comes to contract work, being able
to flag and address non-standard terms in real-time is the next
Just like the GPS in your car, I believe in the future we will be
able to use relevant data signals to navigate legal matters using
AI. I do not think this will happen broadly in the next couple
of years, but certainly it may in the next decade.
Implementing these processes did not happen overnight,
but the impact has been transformational. Compared to a
few years ago, the quality and sophistication of the work
we do today can be attributed to capacity created from the
implementation of legal tech.
We now have systems in place that allow us to track the
common questions we have dealt with in the past. This is
truly empowering. It means legal advice is based on real
data and gives us all the conviction that what we are doing
is not only reasonable, but also marketable. For a support
function, it is incredibly powerful to be able to assign a dollar
amount to the contribution you’re making to the bottom
Just as importantly, it frees up our capacity as in-house
counsel to focus more on other things, whether that be data
privacy, compliance, ESG or D&I. Lawyers are more than
contract jockeys and they can add value to many areas of a
business. Technology is liberating lawyers and giving them a
Despite all the clear advantages technological innovation
provides, the legal profession as a whole has been slow
to adapt. The next step will come when legal software
providers move their offering to target in-house
practitioners. This tends to be an area of the market that is
receptive to new ways of working, and we are already seeing
a shift in the focus of software vendors.
I have encountered many conservative professionals in my
time who are averse to change. But, as with everything, the
moment will come when the pain of staying still becomes
greater than the pain of moving. We are not far from
seeing that tipping point as the pace of change continues
to accelerate, and GCs as a group are increasingly aware