The future in legal tech is AI – Assistive Intelligence – and the space is heating up as Sweden-based Donna Technologies announces $2.5 million in seed funding led by VC firm Point Nine Capital and notable angel investors.
Donna, an AI powered assistant for lawyers, is a Microsoft Word add-in that spots issues and alerts users by providing helpful suggestions to typical proof-reading errors in legal text. “Think of it as a sophisticated spell-checker that improves the speed and accuracy of legal contract reviews,” explains Rik Nauta, co-founder and CEO. Bearing a striking resemblance to the witty and all-knowing legal assistant from the USA Network series Suits, Donna provides the right insights and comments at exactly the right time.
Lawyers, like many professionals, face hours of repetitive tasks that include proofreading and going over every tiny little detail. This is precisely the area where AI tools like Donna excel, by replacing the robot within the human and allowing lawyers to focus on being lawyers, not proofreaders. Unlike most enterprise legal tech software, Donna is simple and easy to adopt, for large firms as well as solo lawyers. Convenient to download as a Microsoft Word add-in, it only takes a few minutes to get started. This simplicity is what Donna’s users love and why they can’t quite imagine being a lawyer without Donna by their side.
Some mistakes might seem simple, but missing an important detail is a huge blow to a lawyers’ professional reputation and can even bring with it high costs to repair the damages. Famous cases like the $2 billion Dodgers Divorce prove that even highly skilled lawyers are humans, and humans make mistakes. Donna even found a few material typos when used to analyse Elon Musk’s SEC settlement. Embracing assistive intelligence tools like Donna will help lawyers do their best work, whilst reducing expensive errors and improving productivity. This will mean more time for high-value work at law firms and more contracts out the door for time-strapped, in-house legal teams.
To date, the response from lawyers has been overwhelmingly positive, with users from across 50 countries. Lawyers fall in love with the simplicity and effectiveness of the tool, demonstrating that this is a universal problem and a definite gap in the market. “We’ve had a very clear focus on the user from the beginning. By getting to know lawyers and encouraging frequent feedback, we’ve been able to build a productivity tool that makes lawyers happy. This is one of the reasons why we are so pleased to partner with the Point Nine team, who has been at the forefront of investing in the consumerization of enterprise software for many years,” explains Rik Nauta, co-founder and CEO of Donna. Point Nine is also known for its strong track record of knowledge transfer between portfolio companies, whose notable investments include Clio, the leading Cloud-based software for legal practice management; Juro, an end-to-end contract workflow solution; as well as Zendesk, the leading Cloud-based customer support software.
“Donna is a perfect example of how AI can be used to assist, not replace, humans. Donna doesn’t pretend that it can do all of the work that lawyers do. Like a lane change assistant, Donna stays in the background most of the time, but it knows when to show up to help lawyers avoid expensive or embarrassing mistakes. We are impressed by the team and what they have done to date and we look forward to supporting them in this next stage of their growth!”, shared Christoph Janz regarding the investment.
Co-founders Rik Nauta and Anton Gerdes first came across the idea for Donna three years ago, when reviewing the Terms & Conditions found on websites, as part of their studies into Natural Language Processing (NLP). Having indexed over 2 billion websites, they found that almost a quarter of T&C documents were copied and contained errors that might invalidate them. By training a number of NLP algorithms over time to learn the context of legal language, Donna learned how to recognise a wide range of errors, clarify ambiguities, and provide helpful suggestions to the lawyer.
Although Donna is a simple tool today, looks can be deceiving. By leveraging their expertise in NLP the Donna team is constantly furthering Donna’s understanding of the law. The next step will be to leverage Donna’s wits to add collaborative knowledge management features that enhance the productivity of teams or an entire firm as a whole. And who knows, one day she might even pass the bar exam, but until then Donna is one kick-ass, personal COO.
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