Kira Systems has a unique perspective when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal industry. From introducing one of the first solutions on the market for contract review and analysis to being a leader of one of the fastest-growing sectors in the tech world, their story is truly captivating.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Tony Ensinger, Director of Sales at Kira Systems, to discuss a number of topics—the legal AI landscape, separating fact from fiction, how to solve the “real” problems law firms face and more.
HighQ: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and share your insights about Kira Systems and its AI solution, Kira, artificial intelligence and the legal industry.
To start, would you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role at Kira Systems?
Tony: I’m so glad to talk with you. I’m Tony Ensinger, the Director of Sales for the legal markets. I was the first sales rep at Kira Systems in early 2015, which makes me a dinosaur in this sector.
My background is in legal and computer science. Before this position, I was part of the original sales team at Practical Law, where Jeroen Plink was the CEO. Jeroen knew that my passion was technology and that I wanted to get deeper into tech, so he introduced me to Kira Systems.
It's been an interesting ride to see how everything has evolved over the last four years. It seems like a lifetime of change from what it was in 2015, as Kira Systems has become a household name within law firms.
HighQ: So, what does a day at Kira Systems look like for you?
Tony: I work remotely. So, it's either taking my kids to school or my dog waking me up first thing in the morning. But every day and every week is different. I travel quite a bit. In early 2015, some of the earliest firms showing interest in this technology were in Australia. I spent a lot of time traveling globally to work with clients in Australia, Europe and recently in the US as well.
If I'm not traveling and meeting with our clients, I’m spending time with the sales team. I work closely with our leadership team to share the feedback that we're hearing from prospective and existing clients to further enhance the product.
HighQ: After speaking with your colleague, Andrew Jardine, earlier about AI for corporate legal teams, it seems there's a general misunderstanding about AI within the industry.
Explain Kira to me like I'm five years old—what does it do?
Tony: Our founder, Noah, has small children like I do, and they ask, “What do you do at work?” So, to help explain Kira to them, he wrote a book called Robbie the Robot Learns to Read.
The book is about Robbie's journey as he figures out that he needs to keep practicing and learning from examples. Eventually, Robbie can see commonalities in what he reads, and the more he reads, the smarter he becomes. That's essentially what Kira does. It's software that reads documents, sections of documents, or examples of documents and learns from what it's reading.
Ultimately, Kira learns from the examples that you're giving it and gets better at deciding what it needs to find. The software then locates those important things in the documents for you automatically, saving you time. A lot of really high-tech stuff goes on behind the scenes but put simply, that's what it's doing. It's uncovering things that you need to review.
HighQ: That’s a great way to lay out the basics. So, what’s the one thing you wish everyone knew about legal AI?
Tony: It works extremely well with a human. So, you’re not comparing technology versus human, it's human versus human with technology.
Its whole purpose is to make you better at your job. It's not here to take away your job. I think that is the main thing that I want people to understand, that it is a tool in the tool belt to help you do your job better, not to do your job for you.
There’s just so much hype around what artificial intelligence does. One thing that I think we take a lot of pride in at Kira Systems is not to sell that hype. We're extremely honest about what the software can and cannot do.
HighQ: What is the biggest driver for law firms that are adopting AI? Is it client demand? Is it a need for efficiency? Or is it something else entirely?
Tony: It's all of the above. In every firm it's different. One firm I can recall said that the reason they were looking at this technology was for associate retention. They just wanted something that would make their associates happier. For another firm, it could be the efficiency that software like ours brings, or client demand, like you mentioned.
The one thing we hear the most from partners at law firms specifically is that they're able to use Kira to win new business and retain current clients. They're using Kira on pitches. They’re using Kira as a business development tool. It might not be the initial reason that they're evaluating or adopting this type of technology, but across the board, it’s what they report back to us once they've actually deployed it.
HighQ: What do you see as the biggest hurdle for firms considering AI?
Tony: A lack of understanding of what the software does across the entire firm. There's so much that you could do with the software outside of just its original use case, M&A due diligence. It's one of the key differentiators with Kira in particular. You could do so much with the software because, going back to explaining it like you were five, it's software that finds key text in contract and other related documents.
There are so many different applications for that across multiple practice areas. You could use it to uncover deal points within your private merger agreements, or if you're reviewing credit agreements in your finance group.
On the flip side of that, no software does everything. So there are some use cases that are outside of our scope. That's why having the API and the technology to tie into products like HighQ is so important. With HighQ and Kira together, you can achieve whatever the end game is, whatever use case or problem you’re trying to solve. It's not only exciting for me, but exciting to a lot of our mutual clients.
HighQ: What is the most effective way for an individual to champion an investment in AI within their firm?
Tony: The best thing they can do is educate people on how to be more efficient. Becoming more efficient isn’t a risk to the billable hour, it’s an opportunity to generate more revenue across the entire law firm and not just one practice group or one partner.
You're going to see the most return on your investment once it's spread out across the entire firm. So the champion should educate the entire firm about all of those benefits we mentioned before—creating efficiency, winning more work, improving the value of your work, and making the associates happier.
Law firms have so much data sitting around. When Kira and a platform like HighQ, for example, come together, it creates structure around that data. Instead of having 1,000 private merger agreements sitting on a hard drive, you can process those documents through Kira, extract key deal points, plug it back into HighQ, and share that information collaboratively with your clients. These technologies are changing the way that people work.
So it's really about us empowering the champion to go talk about all of these things, because there's just so much the firm could do with this tech and being able to convey that to the firm and partners is huge.
HighQ: Was there anything that surprised you about the legal industry in 2018?
Tony: I think law firms are much more educated. When I started in 2015, it was the year of “What is Kira? What is this?” We spent a lot of time explaining what machine learning and artificial intelligence were. 2016 and 2017 were full of hype, with people thinking that you just press a button and everything’s done.
This year, people have cut through the hype and are more educated on what the software can and cannot do and what the key benefits are. That really helps with adoption. When people realize that it's just a tool to assist them, and you still need human interaction, then they're not as afraid.
HighQ: So now that there’s a better understanding of what AI does, what comes next for Kira? What can our joint clients look forward to in 2019?
Tony: We’re going to build out a lot of tools and functionality for prospective clients and customers. We’ll be investing back into the product as much as possible to stay ahead of the curve.
Regarding our joint clients, I can see a lot of great things for 2019. Our clients are our eyes and ears on the street. A lot of our mutual clients are very excited for the partnership and really looking forward to the enhanced features we have planned.
HighQ: AI has exploded in the legal tech market. In early 2018, LawGeex’s Legal AI Landscape index included nearly 70 different solutions. What is Kira’s key differentiator now that there are so many others entering the field?
Tony: We're battle-tested. We really listen to the market. People want to partner with somebody they can trust, who has a track record of success with very large deployments within law firms.
It's also about how much we've put back into the product. We’re continuously building out. In the beginning, we were known as a diligence engine for M&A, but there's so much that we do now outside of just M&A due diligence that firms could benefit from. We have a team of attorneys whose sole job is to continuously teach Kira to find new things. We currently have nearly 700 built-in models, trained by veteran lawyers, that are ready to use right out of the box.
What we've built is incredibly strong and incredibly accurate because we’ve been around long enough to learn it all, work through challenges and improve from them. That sort of accuracy doesn’t happen overnight. At the end of the day, if you put a piece of software like this in front of a partner and it's not accurate and they can't trust it, they're not going to use it.
HighQ: So what advice would you give to law firms selecting and deploying their very first AI solution?
Tony: Educate yourself on the pros and cons of each type of technology. Talk to your colleagues at other firms who have already deployed this type of technology. I'm always more than happy to talk about the pros and cons, but it's so much more powerful if you hear it from one of your colleagues in the industry who have rolled it out. And I'm not just talking about Kira.
The other piece of advice I have is to pick a company that walks you through it and doesn’t expect you to be the expert right away. We have the staff in place who are there to hold your hand, share feedback about how it's been successful in other firms and explore other things to consider. We are fully invested in our clients’ success.
HighQ: That’s crucial advice for picking any legal tech solution.
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and advice. It’s been a pleasure talking with you and learning about Kira and artificial intelligence.
Tony: It was fun! Thanks so much for the opportunity.