Seal Software: Founder & CTO Kevin Gidney talks poppy fields and smart contracts

Contract discovery and analytics solutions provider Seal Software has been named a “Cool Vendor” by Gartner. Legal IT Insider caught up with founder and CTO Kevin Gidney (pictured) about Seal’s growth, the changing face of competition, and why we need to focus on what will happen 18 months from now.
“Just as you can’t apply to be cool in real life, you can’t apply for Cool Vendor status, either,” says Forbes contributor Curtis Sparrer, and he is right.
At the start of each year Gartner nominates vendors who are too small to feature in the magic quadrant but are recognised as innovative (“enables users to do things they couldn’t do before); impactful (“has or will have a business impact, not just tech for tech’s sake”); and intriguing (“has caught Gartner’s interest during the past six months.”)
Seal’s nomination comes within content services and it is one of only four handpicked companies.
The accolade comes as the contract discovery space – one area within legal tech where organisations are actually applying machine learning as opposed to jabbering on about it – becomes increasingly crowded. Last week Abbyy entered the fray with its Text Analytics for Contracts, meaning that Seal, which was founded in 2010, potentially faces another competitor in what was once an open playing field.
Founder and chief technology officer Kevin Gidney, speaking to Legal IT Insider about all things Seal, said: “Competition is one of those double edge swords – it can be a good thing but if there are too many entrants it starts to become a pain to fight through the noise. What we see now is that there are so many people trying to position their way as the best or that they have a solution for legal AI or GDPR. We were a single flower, now we’re in a poppy field.”
Seal – which mainly markets to in-house legal teams – counts as its closest competitors in legal IT Kira Systems and eBrevia, but Gidney says: “In the broader enterprise machine learning space we’re not just covering legal AI but all things procurement and we don’t have a competitor that falls into that same spectrum.”
He is bullish when it comes to Seal’s strategy and plans on the table, commenting: “The interesting thing is not what is happening now but what will happen in 18 months’ time.”
What will happen, he says, is that AI will increasingly be applied to contracts that are encoded on a blockchain so that organisations can use the blockchain to access and analyse information, building intelligence that they can monetise.
Writing in a blog on Seal’s website, chief marketing officer David Gingell said recently: “Without a doubt, the current focus on Smart Contracts is to be welcomed and Seal fully supports the progress made so far to use distributed ledger technology to reduce work, achieve immutability and improve execution times. But smart contracts are just code, which although “Turing complete” are still just code blocks. By including AI, allowing the models to be used for actions, and extending to data and logic stored out of the public view on chain code, we can see that many more opportunities are available. This approach is being validated by some of the largest tech companies. Microsoft and Intel recognized the limitations and are working towards improved paradigms, with their Enclaves, trusted code and the Sawtooth initiatives that will ensure blockchain networks are enterprise ready.”
Given the level of activity in the sector perhaps it is unsurprising that the California-headquartered company’s growth rate is so high: with offices in cities including London and New York (and developers in Cairo), Seal now sits between 200-220 staff and Gidney says: “We’re expanding all the time and would like towards the end of the year to reach 300.”
For law firms this means they have a serious and growing competitor for the in-house wallet, whether they fully recognise it yet or not.
One of Seal’s biggest customers is BNY Mellon and Gidney says: “Legal departments are trying to bring more and more of their legal function inhouse by using us to reduce their costs. We don’t compete head to head, but we are competing with manual processing.”
As new tech goes, contract discovery is some of the best established in the legal tech sector and Gidney observes: “It’s a much easier sell now. Not just into new customers but upselling to existing customers. Customers are accepting it and expanding it into other use cases.
“We are not just contracts. We started with contracts but in medical we’re doing research documents and in telco we’re doing lease agreements and certificates of funding.”
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