Q&A with Jessica Block, the Woman Behind the Launch of Factor’s Contracting Platform

Cassandre Coyer, Legaltech News
March 7, 2023

Originally published on Legaltech News

On Feb. 22, alternative legal service provider Factor announced that it appointed Jessica Block to its executive leadership team to design and launch its new Integrated Contracting Platform.

Starting her career at a law firm, Block then spent about 15 years of her career on the consulting side of legal tech, with about 10 years as the senior managing director at FTI Consulting and five years as the senior managing director, global business group leader of Data and Technology at Ankura Consulting Group.

Below, Block discusses how she sees emerging technologies like large language models transforming the contracting space, why community building matters in legal tech and what plans she and Factor have going into 2023 and beyond.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Legaltech News: What was the impetus behind your career move from the consulting space to the ALSP side of the legal tech industry at Factor?

Jessica Block: Factor is at a super exciting inflection point in its growth. There’s this long lineage of good work going back to when the business was founded within Axiom, but there’s also this new energy and investment since the launch of Factor as its own company in 2020. And that was very exciting to me as a point to jump into the story of the company.

So my favorite part about my last role is definitely having a very direct hand and creating a place where people could build their careers, building the firm and this role has given me the opportunity to draw on that experience as well as my long [time] spent in legal and technology and professional services, to help Factor grow and connect with more legal departments and creating that growth.

How do you see the experience and perspective you’ve gained during your time in consulting translating to your new role?

I think the work of any successful professional services/consulting firm is really to soak in and absorb the broad perspective of all of the different clients that you serve, to see how different companies solve their business challenges, how they mitigate against risk, and to have a lot of different contexts in which to try out new working methods, new technologies, new data sources.

And then bringing that perspective, bringing those successes back into the core of the company and really systematizing what worked and what created an impact on all of your different clients. So that you’re creating a community of experience and your knowledge of the problem is multiplied by all the different people that you have contact with.

How do you plan on drawing on your background in data analytics to deploy AI-enabled tools and oversee Factor’s Integrated Contracting Platform?

AI and technology is a part of it. But as we think about the Integrated Contracting Platform, it’s really bigger than that. It’s the proprietary set of efficiency, talent, customer experience drivers that we at Factor use to run our broad-based contracting business. And over the tenure of Factor, which is 10-plus-years of doing this kind of scaled contracting work, we’ve had the opportunity to use a lot of different technologies and build some proprietary tech. So we are always continuing to refine the way that we work and are looking to introduce some new tech in the coming months … via some exciting partnerships and offerings.

It is about using AI and technology to decrease the effort required to do contracting work, but it’s also about increasing the quality and consistency of the negotiated outcomes. So you’ll see that in some of the partnerships that we will introduce.

Speaking of AI, the contracting space has evolved quite a bit over the years. And now several firms and legal tech companies are actually harnessing the power of GPT-3 models in contracting tools. How do you see emerging technologies influence Factor’s approach to contracting going forward?

When we think about the work of contracting, we think about it sort of on a few different dimensions. One is efficiency, so that sort of new law perspective, get the work done faster, take advantage of workflow scaling, things like automated redlining, clause identification—things that are meant to decrease the time it takes to do work. But then we also think about the layer of expertise. So this is sort of what you think about traditional law. It’s what we know, our perspective on best practice with respect to positioning, as well as negotiation and layered into that our clients’ perspective on their own position and risk tolerance.

I think there’s some very interesting technologies, that beyond just that efficiency-creation, are actually helping to boost the quality and the controllership around how we apply our clients’ framework for what good looks like and that is where I think Factor is very excited to make some strides to make it easier for our legal teams to scale. Because there are some technologies that help to facilitate that kind of high quality oversight, and make it easier to maintain that level of legal consistency and good negotiated outcomes.

Taking a step back from AI and contracting, and looking at the legal tech market more broadly, with overhead and payroll costs a growing concern for Big Law and their clients, many suggest both parties may increasingly look to ALSPs to meet demand. How do you see changing economic dynamics impacting ALSPs’ share of work and Factor’s specifically?

2023 is a year of in-house legal doing more with less across the board, getting more output and more value from each lawyer while maintaining the same degree of responsiveness to business needs. … It’s the same workload, no reduction in business contracting in particular, but those headcount reductions are really making themselves felt.

And I think that is a really important inflection point for getting the legal team working smarter and making more use of alternative legal solutions, like the Integrated Contracting Platform.

What can we expect to see from you and Factor going into 2023 and beyond?

I already alluded to how we at Factor have been thinking about how to make some of this very necessary transformation in the space of doing more with less easier. It is a big overwhelming shift to move your workloads to maybe better resource-match alternatives to take advantage of efficiency-creating technologies to transition your business processes to a new way of working. And from a Factor perspective, we just want to make that easier and help our clients get to improved outcomes and the impact those tools are meant to deliver faster by taking advantage of our expertise and experience in the Factor contracting environment.

In addition to that, … we pride ourselves on giving our clients access to market perspective and creating a community of sorts in the way that we are bringing insights from inside of some of the largest and most complex legal departments back to the way we work and improving that in a way that benefits all of our clients. But we want to expand that to give legal leaders access to each other. So we are creating and rolling out some really exciting community building events to give general counsels and legal operations leaders the opportunity to speak to each other and share insights and advice as they all navigate this current climate of resource constraints and complex problems like ESG and changing regulatory landscape. We want to be part of facilitating that ongoing productive dialogue.