A new bilingual legal tech platform has been launched in China that could save lawyers “lost in translation” and boost foreign investment going into and out of the country.
Supported by Beijing officials and a pool of international law firms, beta trials are underway to test docQbot, a cloud-based contract bot said to draft quality contracts in Chinese and English in ten to fifteen minutes, with considerable time and economic savings. The automated tool was developed by company Beijing docQbot Huiwen Data Technology and supported by the China Going Global Think-tank (“CGGT”), an independent organisation aimed at helping Chinese companies as they enter the global market.
The platform was conceived as a solution to the challenges faced by Western and Chinese law firms and companies when they engage in complex trade and investment agreements.
“We have discovered that too many outbound deals fail and too few succeed,” said Mary Bai, CGGT and docQbot co-founder and CEO. “Part of the reason is that too many of the new wave of Chinese outbound investors are not familiar with how international deals are done or the rules of the game in the target country.”
Outbound investors are often likely to encounter major issues in the early stages of the negotiations, with many relevant transactions failing due to the different languages spoken by the parties.
“The Chinese side often has difficulty reading and understanding the densely-drafted legal English in the contract presented by the foreign side,” Bai added. “As a result, too many foreign trade companies in China are agreeing to contracts with unfavorable terms, which creates problems with payment collection, additional costs or liabilities.”
Born out of a partnership with Hotdocs, an automated document generation software provider, docQbot currently offers 20 base contract templates in both languages related to outbound investments and foreign trade transactions. These templates were developed under the supervision of Robert Lewis, a former managing partner of Lovells (now Hogan Lovells) in Beijing who worked on cross-border commercial transactions in China for over 25 years and is now senior international counsel at powerhouse Beijing firm Zhong Lun. The firm is helping to the develop the new platform and is docQbot’s lead outside legal adviser.
While half of the templates are already available, the remaining ones will be piloted by the end of the year, with the aim of launching the platform in the first quarter of 2019.
“The main attraction was the dynamic and expanded nature of Chinese outbound investors,” Lewis, who has also been appointed chief content partner for the platform, told The Lawyer. “Everybody has seen more Chinese clients coming through.”
The tool could smooth processes by providing templates that are both customisable and accessible also to non-lawyers. Working on user responses to a few basic questions, the platform’s flexible system can create tens of thousands of variations of a contract.
“There aren’t many international tools out there. When we looked at the global scene, we found that most legal AI tools are geared towards particular requirements of home markets,” Lewis added. “In order to continue to grow, China needs to open up for foreigners to make business here.”
To extend the platform’s reach, a number of law firms from around 100 countries helped localising the system to their own juridictions, including continental Europe, South America, Russia, Thailand, India and Africa. Online transactions are meant to be complemented by offline support from the lawyers involved in the project, who can offer consultation and resources on the best use of the platform in their own countries.
Improved efficiency and an easier interface to do business could help boost economic activity in the country, countering the negative effects of the strained relations between the US and China. The potential of the platform was appreciated by the Beijing Commerce Commission, which in May recognised docQbot as an innovative technology platform to support investment in the country.
“There is anxiety that if the US-China trade disputes are not resolved quickly they could have some disastrous impact on the economic growth,” Lewis added. “This tool can create a bridge by drafting international contracts in an innovative way.”