When DC lawyer-turned-founder David Broderick was in the thick of his law days, he noticed something about the language in the contracts he was assessing. While the words differed in each contract, it was essentially the same work, over and over — and exactly the type of thing that could be done by a computer.
“Not only was the client paying us a lot of money to do this work, but it was also not the most fun work to do when you just feel like you’re acting like a robot,” Broderick told Technical.ly. “So my thought was, well, maybe we can teach a real robot how to do this.”
In 2015, alongside CTO Jonathan Herr, he made that a reality with the formation of BlackBoiler, a tech company for legal documents. BlackBoiler, which is based in DC, is an artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language-based program for editing contracts. Instead of lawyers manually changing contracts according to a company’s standards, BlackBoiler’s system makes the changes based on a company’s “playbook” (the data and typical requirements when striking deals). The 15-person company also made the software compatible with Microsoft Word, since Broderick said the majority of these edits are made in documents emailed back and forth.
While language and certain requirements change with each contract, Broderick noted that companies have consistent needs such as caps on liability and provisions if a contract is broken, which the algorithm can find. And, he said, the contract language is often written not from scratch, but rather from different iterations and wording based on existing contracts. What BlackBoiler is doing is picking up on the repetitiveness and editing habits of contract reviewers and automating the process.
“As a result, contracts often share almost a similar DNA when you’re within a certain vertical,” Broderick said.
After its founding in 2015, BlackBoiler received a Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Science Foundation. With the help of some angel investments, the product launched into the market in 2019. In 2020, the company also raised $3.2 million from strategic investors, including cloud contracting company DocuSign, which Broderick said is one of its largest investors.
As it moves forward, Broderick hopes that the technology can become more widespread, given its potential use by a number of companies and sectors. In 2022, he said BlackBoiler aims to make further developments in the technology to make it even easier to use.
“Every single transaction, every single business deal that happens, has a contract associated with it,” the founder said. “So if you want to accelerate the speed at which your organization can do business, negotiating contracts quickly and efficiently is really, really important.”
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