LegalSifter: Another Service that Aims to Tell You What’s in Your Contracts

Via this post on Profit and Laws, I learned about LegalSifter.

LegalSifter’s website offers very little information. More informative is this piece on TechCrunch:

Using natural language processing, the service scans your documents (in Word format only, for now) and assigns them a score based on how favorable the terms are for the user. It also provides users with an explanation of the clauses and provisions in the document and suggests potential changes to provisions that are probably not in the user’s best interest.

Also:

Currently, the service works best for the kind of consulting contracts that designers and developers typically use, so the score the company assigns is most relevant for those types of documents. While LegalSifter is starting with this focus, though, it plans to expand to other areas as well.

LegalSifter aims to help small businesses working on deals where it wouldn’t make sense to get a lawyer involved. I’m inclined to file it under “better than nothing.”

I’m not a fan of contracts that offer the full verbiage accompanied by a quick and easy-to-read summary. In effect, you’re saying the same thing twice in two different ways, and that can lead to grief. For the same reason, the explanation LegalSifter offers can’t be the exact equivalent of the contract itself.

Ultimately, what I find most interesting about LegalSifter is that it’s yet another example of a service using technology to explore contract content. That’s becoming almost commonplace.

But I found the following sentence from the TechCrunch article rather poignant:

The LegalSifter team worked with a lawyer to ensure that all of the information it provides is correct.

Ah, a lawyer! Well, that means everything is sure to be top-notch, given that lawyers have done such a swell job with contracts generally.

Posted in Technology | 2 Comments

  • Matthew Johnston

    I find these services so intriguing. In particular, I would be interested in knowing a little more about he algorithm that goes into determining the score. Using a natural language processor means that the service is only as good as the language processor. There is a part of me that sees these programs as only a little better than those fun and otherwise imprecise “quizzes” on Facebook that purport to tell you what kind of Person you are, or what literary character you are most like based on your answers to a series of questions that seem to have no commonality.

    The software does seem tread a fine line of the unauthorized practice of law since the program (and by extension the company) is in essence providing some rudimentary legal advice or at least interpretation. The greater problem that this program and similar services highlights is that because so many lawyers have abandoned concepts of grammar, style and proper writing, small business owners are now having to rely on an “interpreter” to understand what they see as “legalese.”

    However, by the same token, I agree that this is a “better than nothing” type of service.

  • AWrightBurkeMPhil

    No, no, using a lawyer makes everything great! I read so on the Internet!

    “Better than nothing?” If “less is more,” logic dictates that there isn’t anything better than nothing.