Senne is a privacy lawyer who trained for several years at an international law firm. Having worked in close proximity with his clients, he thoroughly understands the needs of law firms as well as companies.
Senne’s journey into legal tech started with a childhood fascination for technology which carried on into his legal studies. His decision to co-found ClauseBase stems from having contributed to the legal sector’s time-honoured tradition of manual drafting and being determined to contribute to the new way of working.
How did your interest in law spur?
Like many people, I started law school without fully understanding what studying and practising law is like. As a result, many courses – especially in my Bachelor’s degree – felt unrelatable, and I was unprepared for how much general “cramming” was involved.
It’s only when I started my Master’s degree that my enthusiasm to study law really picked up. Not only because I was able to focus on the domains of law that interested me most, but also because the courses were taught in a much more interactive way with smaller groups of people analysing the finer points of the (case) law. It was a lot more intellectually stimulating and felt a lot closer to what practicing law was actually like.
How was your experience as a lawyer at DLA Piper?
When I first received my offer letter, I remember being incredibly excited and honoured to have the opportunity to start my career at a Big Law firm of DLA Piper’s calibre. When I started, the work proved to be varied, interesting, and challenging. I learned more during those few years than I could have possibly imagined.
Ultimately, though, I had this nagging feeling that a lot of the time I spent as a lawyer was wasted on work that I felt was A) tedious and B) not valuable to the client (like endlessly battling MS Word to fix things like numbering, styling, bullets, etc.). I felt like the actually interesting part of my job – exercising legal creativity and expertise – was only a very minor part of it. That, along with the fact that there was just so much of this menial work (on average, I billed just under 2.000 hour per year) admittedly made me somewhat disenchanted with the profession.
Whenever an interesting project came along, that feeling would subside for a while but I ultimately could only ignore it for so long before I started looking for alternative opportunities.
What inspired you to create ClauseBase?
I should note upfront that I did not create ClauseBase (or, more accurately, our MVP). That credit goes to my colleague and co-founder (and also a former DLA Piper lawyer) Maarten Truyens – who was developing software before he ever became a lawyer.
I had already worked with Maarten previously and we were still in touch by the time he was ready to launch the MVP of ClauseBase. He was looking to find a business partner who had lived through the pain points of legal drafting and could evangelize ClauseBase and its unique approach to document automation as a result.
With the concerns that I had garnered over the years about the state of legal drafting, it was a perfect fit.
Can you please break down legal tech for our viewers and explain how incorporating technology into legal practice is essential today?
Legal tech as a concept is highly varied. Any technology that is used to assist in the provision of legal services can be called “legal” tech. In that sense, MS Word is legal tech. It would take us too far to provide an entire breakdown on all those bits of technology and their application for the legal sector, but it is true that a smart application of technology is essential to legal practice.
The reason why legal tech is so front-and-centre in today’s legal sector is, I believe, in part because lawyers realize the way they have been working in the past is rapidly becoming unacceptably outdated, and in part because of the explosion of legal tech tools out there (ClauseBase included of course).
Yes, accepting that the traditional way of working is outdated and being resolved to improve it is crucial, but it would be wrong to immediately start considering which piece of software you should buy to make it all better.
Rather, I believe lawyers should look back more often, consider their current processes, and focus on improving those (perhaps using the technology they already have lying around) before purchasing specialised legal tech.
Legal tech undoubtedly plays a crucial role, but as an augmenter of existing processes. If those processes are slow, repetitive, and unfriendly to the client then they need to be improved first.
What are the primary gaps in drafting that ClauseBase aims to automate?
ClauseBase transforms documents into stacks of intelligent building blocks. With ClauseBase, you can create a library of clauses that flexibly adapt content and style to fit the document they are dropped in. That way, you can create legal documents by stacking building blocks on top of each other.
Alternatively, you can create templates this way which can then be transformed into a questionnaire to provide easy generation of first drafts or even to outsource the contract creation process.
The main focal point of ClauseBase is restoring the balance between the kind of work that adds value by exercising legal creativity and the necessary evil of battling MS to produce a document that encapsulates that legal creativity.
What are the key uses of clause libraries? ClauseBase has published a primer on building clause libraries. Can you walk us through the topics it covers? What is the best way to go about building one?
Clause libraries allow every lawyer in a team to immediately retrieve the right clause in the right situation in way that – ideally – is standardised and approved by the organisation.
Clause libraries present a way for an organisation to empower its lawyers by making easily accessible, relevant content available in a way that cuts through the noise presented by the entire collection of the firm’s precedents over multiple years (or even decades) of legal service provision.
We recently published a guide that compiles our decades of combined experience on the matter – both as former attorneys ourselves and as legal tech developers. In this guide, we look at how lawyers can get started with building a clause library using the tools they already have available – no prior purchase of specialised legal tech necessary. We talk about such things as how to set up the structure of your library, the information on your clauses that you want to capture and share, and setting up the roles of individual members of the team.
For anyone who is trying to fill a gap in the market, how would you advise them to go forward on that path?
It goes without saying that intricate knowledge of the problem that you want to solve is crucial. Many legal tech companies were founded by former lawyers who lived through those problems and gained their experience that way. Other companies typically start by talking to lawyers and performing lots of market research.
I would also advise anyone looking to build a legal tech solution to avoid putting out too rough of an MVP. While that may work in many different sectors, lawyers sometimes have the tendency to look at a broken stick and claim the tree is broken.
Can you give our viewers some resources that can help them learn more about legal innovation and legal tech?
Some of my recommended newsletters and publications on the topic of legal tech:
For legal innovation in general, I also highly recommend the writings of Alex Hamilton, which are freely available on LinkedIn or in his book “Sign Here: The enterprise guide to closing contracts quickly”.