When Dan and I first started working on Outlaw, we didn’t know that the industry we’d be classified under was called “legal tech” or that the software category we’d land in was typically dubbed “contract management”. (We also hadn’t come up with the name “Outlaw” yet, but that’s a story for another day). More simply, we just had an idea for how technology could be better used to help humans form agreements.
The experience I’m talking about is frequently called having a beginner’s mind and it refers to the wonderful perspective of being free of preconceived notions, especially about what’s possible or impossible in a given domain. Now, “beginner” is a bit misleading here; both of us had plenty of prior experience working with contracts and lawyers, and we’ve also both been designing and developing software for over a decade. So we were anything but beginners with respect to legal and tech separately, but as far as legal tech, we didn’t know what else was out there, and at the outset, frankly we didn’t really want to know — because a beginner’s mind is a valuable asset when you’re trying to create a better way to do something.
Fast-forward to today, where we’ve recently added two major capabilities to the Outlaw platform: redlining and version control. These features are inherently related and together they add a ton of value for our customers, but interestingly, they have very different relationships to a beginner’s mind.
Redlining, it turns out, is cost of entry. As we made our way into legal tech we discovered that nearly all other contract management platforms are built around Microsoft Word, and so they have some notion of redlining (AKA “track changes”) built into their software. So when customers started asking for this, we weren’t too surprised. Had we not been beginners in legal tech we might have prioritized redlining sooner, but ultimately we still launched this after only about 6 months in market, so our inexperience didn’t really cost us much.
But the design of Outlaw’s version control not only benefitted from our beginner’s minds; it required them. If we’d known how everyone else did things, we too might have based the core of our platform around Word. Instead, we built a bespoke structured data format, a professional legal drafting environment, and a customizable workflow system, all designed specifically for contracts. We designed and built all this from scratch, not because we love product development (though we do), but because to us as beginners, this was what was required in order to solve the problem! (Side note: don’t worry, Outlaw also has Word export/import support, for customers and counterparties who aren’t yet ready for the future in its entirety).
So with that foundation, we were able to create the version control system that anyone who has ever touched a contract has longed for. Between section-specific versioning, unlimited history, ad-hoc version comparison and rollback, lawyers are thanking us for building it before they’ve even used it.
And here’s the kicker: if I sound pompous in describing a seemingly brand new and unproven system, that’s because 1) it’s not actually our own invention, and 2) it actually has been proven by millions of professionals. Ever heard of git or github? That’s the world’s leading software version control system, used by millions of developers around the globe. It helps groups of people collaborate on highly structured documents by tracking and attributing granular edits and offering proposal/approval/rejection/merge processes to build consensus around agreement workflow. Sounds pretty relevant to contracts, doesn’t it?
While this may be a huge step forward in the legal tech space, there’s nothing new under the sun. Thanks to our beginner’s minds, Outlaw made git for contracts. Come’n’git it.