Many legal departments are working diligently to improve their processes for handling contracts, including through the use of contract lifecycle management (CLM) tools.
Meanwhile, these same in-house teams are often in need of flexible outside legal talent to help them tackle their ever-increasing contracting workload.
Ontra, a contract automation and intelligence platform, aims to offer companies in the financial services industry the best of both worlds by providing its software in tandem with a network of freelance lawyers possessing contracts expertise.
Sara Eng, Ontra’s vice president of legal partnerships, says the company calls its approach the “lawyer in the loop” model. It's one way Ontra attempts to stand out amid an increasingly competitive CLM market.
“There are pure-play software providers and there are pure-play outsource providers, but I think the marriage of the two is that total solution helps bridge the gap to a generally technology-averse or reticent population,” Eng tells Legal Dive.
Assisting with high-volume contracts
Ontra, formerly known as InCloudCounsel, says its AI-powered software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering helps private asset management firms achieve greater efficiency throughout the contract lifecycle process and lower costs. Its clients include Blackstone, AllianceBernstein, L Catterton and Warburg Pincus.
The attorneys in Ontra’s network aid the company’s customers with handling high-volume contracts common in alternative asset management, including non-disclosure, joinder and engagement agreements.
“Every agreement negotiated via the Ontra platform has its terms summarized by an in-network Ontra law firm with advanced training and experience on the specific contract type,” Eng says.
Lawyers in Ontra’s network also help clients who use the company’s Insight product, which is designed to help fund managers comply with the legal obligations owed to their limited partners.
For example, Eng says, an Ontra network lawyer recently worked with AllianceBernstein's alternatives investment strategy to fully digitize their limited partnership agreements (LPAs) and side letters to “create a single source of truth for fund obligation compliance across the organization.”
“By leveraging the lawyer-in-the-loop model, AllianceBernstein was not only able to temporarily extend the capacity and subject matter expertise of their legal team, but now has a sophisticated technology solution in place that can be accessed across all global functions,” Eng says.
The Ontra network consists of both solo practitioners and law firms. Most of the lawyers come from general commercial or corporate backgrounds, and they average roughly 14 years of experience.
Eng says the goal is for lawyers in Ontra’s network to develop long-term relationships with clients. For example, the first Ontra network lawyers and Ontra’s initial customers still work together.
Eng notes this type of consistency is particularly important because clients in the finance space often see frequent turnover on their deal teams.
“There's just a lot of efficiency that comes with having a steady resource handling the same business needs for you all the time, especially in private equity,” she says. “Lawyers are looking for that consistency as well.”
Ontra’s network has grown to more than 500 lawyers, a bump driven by 90% growth in headcount last year and 70% increase in lawyers so far this year.
The increase in available lawyers has also coincided with more law firms joining the Ontra network. While previously fewer than 10% of the network was made up of attorneys at law firms, multi-person firms now comprise half of the Ontra lawyer partnerships.
“The Ontra legal network began as almost exclusively solo practitioners but has trended toward small boutiques in recent years as we've supported firm growth through training, product enhancements and expansion incentives,” Eng says.
Additionally, she says, Ontra has benefited from having its network of lawyers providing remote legal assistance dating back its founding in 2014. As a result, once the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a rapid shift to remote work, Ontra lawyers were poised to quickly step in to help clients.
Maximizing lawyer use
While Ontra is very selective about the lawyers it approves to join the network, Eng says, the company works diligently to ensure attorneys have the ability to complete the amount of work they're seeking.
This could range from a lawyer who assists one client with a few dozen contracts a month to a law firm serving several different clients.
As of May, 92% of Ontra lawyers were engaged directly with at least one client and more than 85% of the network identified as “at capacity.”
“We hear a lot of folks who have come from other platforms where you plug in on some sort of subscription model and maybe sit around and wait for opportunities,” Eng says. “We just don't want that to be the experience that anybody has with us. We keep our legal network very tightly aligned with customer supply.”