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No-Code and the Blank Canvas Dilemma

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Jackson is Global Head of Innovation at Neota Logic, responsible for working with clients across the globe to create solutions and derive value out of the Neota no code platform. He is a recovering lawyer and management consultant and an expert in how technology can positively impact the Tax, Legal and Compliance sectors.

No-code and the law

When I entered the world of legal technology six years ago, the concept of no-code was relatively unknown in the legal industry . Tech buzzwords back then centered mostly on ‘AI’ and its many forms. Time has certainly changed. I like to say that legal technology has evolved into a more practical form and that the rise of no-code platforms was inevitable. 

As far as names go, it doesn’t get more self-explanatory! No-code platforms allow non-technical (i.e. non programming) business users to build and deploy digital solutions without the direct involvement of IT. The fundamental advantage of no-code platforms for the legal industry is accessibility. These tools are designed to be used by anyone and without a steep learning curve. In an industry where time is of the essence (both in terms of expenditure and revenue), it’s no surprise no-code platforms have found a home in law.

The Blank Canvas Dilemma

No-code platforms face what I call the blank canvas dilemma. This is the Catch-22 that while everyone wants the tools to be creators, no one wants to start developing from the ground up – no matter how good or easy the actual technology is to use. Some tools attempt to address this using pre-built templates. Microsoft PowerPoint, for example, offers templates which it describes as ‘a pattern or blueprint of a slide [which] can contain layouts, theme colors, fonts, effects styles and even content.’ The building industry has something similar in the form of modular construction techniques. This prefabricated construction methodology sources pre-built components (made offsite) which are then transported to the construction site to be assembled. In essence, it’s a lean technique applied to the construction industry!

No-code platforms are no different. In order for everyone to make software, it needs to be easy to make software. The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) this year posed the following question to its members who are planning to adopt new technologies in their corporate legal departments: ‘Specifically, what legal technology are you looking to invest more in the next 2 months?’ The five most frequent responses were specific workflow solutions (e.g. contract management). If the majority of consumers know what they want, why not make their development journey as simple but customizable as possible?

Enter the concept of Templates and Building Blocks:

  • Templates are pre-built, runnable digital solutions which, although are preconfigured by the no-code vendor, allow each minute detail (logic, functionality, content) to be configured by the customer to suit their own needs.
  • Building Blocks are fully built, functionality-specific components which through simple no-code ‘plug-and-play’ can be connected to any solution built on the same platform. In legal terms, this could mean functionality like integration with DocuSign or iManage, digital negotiation, clause libraries and approval workflow routes. 

An example in practice

Let’s look at an example of this method through the Neota Logic lens. Neota (the company I work for) recently released a Master Service Agreement (MSA) template that can be customized either with the Neota no-code platform or with any number of our existing Building Blocks. The template automates the end-to-end creation, negotiation, execution and management of MSAs and associated Schedules.

If you were building such a complex solution from scratch, it would be a very daunting task no matter how good the no-code platform is to use. But here, you have a starting point: a purpose-built MSA solution that not only has negotiation and digital signature workflows built in, but also has document storage and search functionality to allow a user to locate and manage previously executed MSAs.

Want to create an additional review workflow or additional signatories? Simply add a new Pool / Lane and connect in an additional DocuSign Building Block. Want to amend the way the MSA and Schedules are negotiated? Easy — the default feature is an ‘Open Negotiation’ Building Block – a digital redlining tool. However, if you want to use, say, a issue table or even take the entire negotiation process offline, all you would need to do is replace the negotiation Building Block with another. Each task (or process as represented by the rectangular nodes) can also be substituted. An obvious place to start would be to swap the default MSA and Schedule documents for your own. 

No-code has indeed come a long way from the early years of Lotus and Excel. What is already a popular toolset in most other industries and business verticals could become the perfect tech companion for the law!

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