Electra Japonas is not afraid to break the mold, or more specifically create change in the incredibly traditional legal profession. Japonas is the co-founder and CEO of The Law Boutique (TLB) and co-founder of oneNDA, companies she created to find solutions to the “dysfunctional area of contract law,” as she bluntly but confidently states.
Contracts are a hindrance in Japonas’s view. Yes, they are completely necessary, but they are complex, often convoluted documents that create tangible headaches for their users and lawyers alike. Early in her career, Japonas worked in commercial and contract roles that leaned heavily on relationship management with commercial suppliers, the business itself, and of course the legal team. In the context of fostering and nurturing relationships, contracts acted as a hindrance.
Japonas moved across industries from Space to Tobacco and Entertainment but continued to find herself frustrated with the way lawyers deal with contracts. She says she developed a “constant conflict between what I was meant to do and what I thought was instinctively right, which was to build relationships. But contracts were not conducive to do that in the way that they were structured.”
Her frustration lay in the obvious inefficiencies of law, and the time in-house lawyers spend on menial tasks when they could be adding strategic value to the business. “We can be sitting at the driving seat alongside the C-suite, advising them on things that are really going to matter, because as a lawyer you are uniquely placed in an organization,” says Japonas. Lawyers have what she calls a map view over the organization, combined with a brain that can quickly and effectively measure risk.
Something had to give, so Japonas created a solution, establishing the world’s first legal optimization company, The Law Boutique (TLB). Japonas’s vision was to create a company that offers outsourced end-to-end contract management and legal operations services, freeing up the legal team from administrative red-lining work to focus on delivering value.
She didn’t stop there, however. Next on Japonas’s to-do list of reinventing the wheel was to analyze the contracts TLB was dealing with, and understand what is requiring the most legal time. She found that 63 percent of their agreements were NDA’s, but only seven percent of their revenue came from these agreements. In Japonas’s words, “a ridiculous amount of volume for very little return.” It seemed that creating bespoke NDAs was creating more trouble than it was worth, cue another problem that needed a solution.
In her brainstorming, Japonas took to LinkedIn to garner interest in creating one standard NDA across the legal industry and quickly received 35,000 views on her post. It was then she knew she was on to something. With the vision of “empowering the legal community to create an NDA document that we all adopt as our own,” the company oneNDA began.
What is most perhaps most fascinating about oneNDA is not the solution it created (albeit that is a huge achievement), but the way it came about. Lawyers are incredibly adversarial, and as Japonas says “you often only find yourself talking to another lawyer if you are negotiating or settling a dispute.” Yet, oneNDA touched on a pain point shared amongst many lawyers and created the rare event where they took a peer-to-peer approach to find a solution.
A steering committee was formed with lawyers collaborating from private practice giants: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Ashurst, Gilbert + Tobin, Norton Rose Fulbright, and Linklaters to name a few. Not to mention in-house counsel from Google, Coca-Cola, Barclays, HSBC, UBS, and Deliveroo. One standardized NDA document was agreed upon to drive efficiency, and after feedback from a wider pool of 1000 lawyers, established for use. Japonas’ takeaway from this situation was that “if we took a step back and out of that adversarial environment in which we find ourselves, I think we can do some really amazing things together.”