French-headquartered global construction giant Bouygues Construction has begun to roll-out AI driven contract review software Della across its international legal and commercial teams and subsidiaries following a successful one-year pilot, which concluded earlier this year.
The pilot started in March 2021 within building subsidiary Bouygues Batiment International, led by in-house legal counsel and innovation lead Simeon Bloch. It began with three users but after six months was expanded to 40 users across Asia, the United Kingdom, Australia and Switzerland, and is now being rolled out across the company, which has operations in over 60 countries and circa 53,000 employees.
Bloch, who spends around 70% on legal work and 30% on leading innovation, explained to Legal IT Insider that Della was first introduced to him as part of an innovation contest, commenting: “It’s a contest organised on a regular basis by Bouygues Construction but before it was only for our technical team. In 2020 it was a legal challenge for the first time, and the challenge was to augment contract analysis. The wording is important because we weren’t looking for a tool to automate the work of the lawyer but to improve their everyday life, and assist them in their everyday analysis.”
Several legal tech vendors pitched their contract review software and initially Bloch and his team were only looking at a tool that was capable of finding deadlines in contracts. He says: “We weren’t very ambitious and that is what we were looking for at first.” But he adds: “We came across Della and found that we could do much more than this, so we decided to extend the initial scope of the project.”
Previously the task of reviewing contracts was entirely manual, and Bloch told Legal IT Insider: “We were doing it by ourselves, and we were manually reporting the information to a chart or table. We had no digital tool to help us on this aspect. Actually, the legal department had no digital tools.”
Bouygues’ commercial and legal teams analyse a huge number of complex contracts on a daily basis and Della is being used to create checklists, highlight relevant language, detect potential red flags, prepare custom reports, and generate letters and other documents to help them to get to grips with a project.
The plan is to canvas opinions of Della in March next year. One issue will be how to evaluate any ‘before and after’ improvements and Bloch says: “It’s a really difficult exercise because lawyers in the group all work differently, and so it’s difficult to make an evaluation.” However, he says: “For myself I gained maybe 30-50% of time back. Before I had to read the contract many times, but now I have this tool to assist me I can be more relaxed on the basis that I know that Della is capable of extracting the information I need so I can focus on the important aspects of the contract, and it improves my productivity.”
Della’s founder and CEO Christophe Frèrebeau points to another success metric, which is that when Bouygues is involved in construction tenders, it can take the legal team three days to review contracts and write risk reports, but Frèrebeau says: “The are now able to do it in one day.”
Bloch says that one of the things that the Bouygues team like is that the output of Della’s contract review is fed into their existing report templates. Frèrebeau says: “One of the differentiations for Della is that we allow clients to use a template they are already using – whether it be a risk report or another kind of report – and the Della checklist allows them to check things and comment on those answers, then to feed the comments directly into the report.”
Fee-earners create their own checklists, asking questions in natural language, so for Bloch and his colleagues they will be looking for the likes of retention of money and release clauses, in order to assess if they can be replaced by a bank warranty.
Frèrebeau says: “The way AI works is by similarity, and you would normally have to train it to detect certain clauses and nuances. Della is trained to present the answers so that each lawyer can just type the questions they are looking for, which we call a checklist.”
Della is currently working on multiple document review, so that construction documents that are part of one transaction and linked can be reviewed as one contract.
If this project is a success with lawyers, it is likely to be expanded out to non-legally trained contract managers.