In this episode of The Geek in Review podcast, hosts Marlene Gebauer and Greg Lambert wrap up their series of interviews from the LegalWeek 2024 conference in New York with a conversation with Kelly Griswold, CEO of Onna. Kelly shares her objectives for attending the conference, which include interacting with customers and partners, staying on top of industry trends and innovations, and bringing her remote team together to build community.

Kelly provides an overview of Onna, explaining that the company primarily serves enterprise and corporate clients by managing their unstructured data with a focus on internal collaboration apps. Onna collects and integrates with various data sources to establish live connectivity and data transformation, making the data ready for searching and discovery to power downstream workflows such as litigation requests, early case assessment, and investigations. Kelly emphasizes the importance of data management as a necessary enabler for future innovations in the legal tech space.

The conversation touches on the challenges of managing data in the enterprise and how Onna helps clients improve their processes. Kelly explains that Onna’s approach involves helping enterprises build a data foundation that is accessible when needed, allowing them to skip several steps in the traditional linear workflow. This value proposition is particularly appealing to enterprises looking to avoid downstream costs by having better visibility and control over their data.

Kelly also discusses the impact of generative AI on the legal industry, noting that while there is a lot of buzz around the technology, companies are realizing the importance of getting their data in order before diving into experimentation and implementation. She believes that the awareness brought by the hype around generative AI is driving companies to make fundamental investments in data management.

Looking to the future, Kelly shares her crystal ball prediction for the next 5-10 years, envisioning a world where natural language communication and automation will transform the way legal workflows are handled. She imagines a scenario where drafting a contract could be done through verbal communication and a system that asks questions and generates the agreement, reducing the need for manual, hands-on work.

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Music: ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠Jerry David DeCicca


Marlene Gebauer 0:07
Welcome to The Geek in Review. The podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal industry. I’m Marlene Gebauer.

Greg Lambert 0:13
And I’m Greg Lambert. And we are joined by least chronologically our final guest. I don’t know how we’re going to release these. But Kelly Griswold is the CEO, from Onna. Kelly, thanks for taking time to talk to us.

Kelly Griswold 0:29
Thank you so much for having me here and for letting me wrap this up for you.

Marlene Gebauer 0:34
That’s cool. So Kelly, you know, what brings you to legal week? And, you know, how are you going to use this event to interact with customers or potential customers? And, you know, gather new ideas to bring back with you?

Kelly Griswold 0:49
Yes. So legal week coming to legal week, I have three objectives, usually, first and foremost is it’s a great opportunity to interact with customers and partners and kind of like, get that live feedback in terms of trends in the market and how they’re using their your product and how the two things can intersect. So that is absolutely the primary goal for me of coming. Secondarily, I think just what’s the buzz? What what are people doing, and kind of helps you get like that injection of innovation in the legal tech industry. And then for us, our team is, we’re fully remote. So it’s nice to have events like this, to come together build a sort of a community across the organization. And this has been a great event for us to do all three things.

Greg Lambert 1:44
Excellent. So there may be listeners that aren’t familiar with Onna, can you give us kind of a high level of what you do, who and who your typical client base is?

Kelly Griswold 1:54
Sure. So unlike a lot of legal technology, our customer base is primarily enterprise or corporates, it always has been. And that’s probably because of what we do. And that is that we’re managing data with a focus on internal collaboration apps. And we are able to collect and integrate with those data sources to establish live connectivity, and data transformation. So all of that data, and Onna becomes ready to search and discoverable to power downstream workflows, like litigation requests, early case assessment, investigations. And it’s interesting at this conference, I’m sure you’ve had lots of conversations about it’s you AI everywhere all at once every, you know, that’s all everyone’s talking about, well, I don’t have any flashy Gen AI announcements for you. Part of that is because like, we really believe it’s about the data. And so what we have done for our customers for years, which is manage their unstructured data, is what we believe will continue to be a necessary enabler of a lot of future innovation in this space,

Greg Lambert 3:08
We can really tell it’s the end of the conference, because they’re breaking down. And there’s a guy that’s got a radio that keeps walking through. So to hear that, that’s what it is, we’ll just power through color,

Marlene Gebauer 3:19
it’s color sound, you’re here with us,

Kelly Griswold 3:23
You can turn the podcast into a dance party. Extra interesting.

Marlene Gebauer 3:27
It’s like, so I mean, I know, like enterprise. I mean, that’s always been a challenging area. I mean, you know, and very time consuming. So, you know, what is it that that you bring to the table for your clients to improve that process?

Kelly Griswold 3:43
Well, it’s really about, it’s about the data, and what we came to the market with a focus on the enterprise. And that sits sort of upstream of a lot of the workflows that your law firms or service providers are offering to customers. And what I mean by that is that most enterprises, they want to manage their own data, and then find what they need from that to then go downstream from there. They want to have that access, control and visibility into their data. And they want that themselves. And that’s really the challenge that we’ve been solving ever since we formed the company, you know, years ago. So that’s, I think what’s helped us crack that enterprise net is that we’re taking workflows that have historically been very kind of transactional and linear, which is I need to get information from my data. I’m going to first collect it, and then I’m going to process it, and then I’m going to review it. And really a better way of doing that is investing in building a data foundation. So it’s there when you need it. And then you’re skipping to step sort of three or four. And that’s something that’s a value proposition that is much more acutely realized by enterprises who are avoiding that sort of downstream costs by being able to have much better visibility and control over their data.

Greg Lambert 5:10
Yeah, we were joking. And I have said it many times this week that we had that 25 year old overnight problem of, wow, our data is really not great. And every time there seems to be this advancement in technology, whether it is database structures, whether it’s Large Language Models as it is, now, we go back to that problem of boy, our data is really crappy. And so, you know, how do we fix that? Do you see, I know, this is something that the Onna has been doing for a while, do you see there being a much more intensive focus on gathering the data and structuring it in a way that the new tools can be used?

Kelly Griswold 5:54
The short answer is yes. But I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg. I think that what we’re seeing from our customers is the trend and the noise around Gen AI ai, has maybe taken some of the discussion out of how important your unstructured data is, and building that data foundation. So this trend of companies now need to have control over and visibility into all of the data in their collaboration applications for you know, eDiscovery, or other use cases, that kind of started in 2020. And it’s been emerging really fast. So this sort of data and application proliferation inside the enterprise, people are talking less about it, it doesn’t mean it’s less of a challenge. And so we’re talking more about generative AI. And last year, last year was the year of experimentation. This year is the year where companies are looking to implementation, and you talked about that, like age old problem. So the ones who have moved from experimentation to implementation are pretty quickly circling kind of back to basics, and they’re like, oh, my gosh, garbage in garbage out, what I really need to be doing right now is not tinkering with a bunch of Large Language Models and fine tuning them and whatnot, it’s about figuring out how I get my data in order, and then how I can use that to sort of more transparently and sustainably adopt these new technologies that I now have access to, to drive meaningful outcomes for my company.

Yeah, clean up first and do the process, you know, clean up first, and then start the experimentation.

Yeah, and I think, you know, we’re not starting from square one here. There have been companies, not just Onna, but many companies in this space that for the last 10 years have taken this kind of, you know, peer to peer adoption tooling that’s hit the enterprise and helped build governance around that. And a lot of these technologies can be applied to what we’re now trying to do with generative. But I think on the positive side, there’s this halo effect where everybody’s talking about it, but it’s bringing awareness into some of these fundamental investments that like, you’re finally realizing there’s more value to you carving out the time to making.

Marlene Gebauer 8:14
Tell us about some of the big accomplishments for the company, you know, what are some of your goals, you know, on the agenda for the upcoming year or two?

Kelly Griswold 8:22
The thing that I’m proudest of is at the company is we have amazing customers. And so we’re trusted by some of the, you know, largest and most recognizable enterprises to manage, you know, really important data for them for really important matters. And I think it’s a testament to the technology and the value that it adds. And also a testament to like, we have a really good team. And we have a team that our customers rely on and like to work with. It’s the combination of those two things, being able to trust the technology, and then trust the people that you’re working with, that help you not just solve the first problem, but also build an add value into the next few that you’re going to be tackling. And so I think that that Onna just does a really good job of that. And I’m proud of it.

Marlene Gebauer 9:10
Do you have advice or thoughts on sort of how to sustain or create those types of trust relationships? Because, you know, I agree with you, I think that that’s critically important in terms of doing business and working on projects, you know, that there’s there’s got to be a good feeling between the parties.

Kelly Griswold 9:29
Yes, I think it definitely comes back to accountability, and setting the right tone for partnership. And really, technology, especially in the legal industry, where we didn’t all grow up this technologist, like some of this is new for us, and understanding and appreciating that and having empathy that like, sometimes technology breaks and we’re gonna work through it because if you’re just you’re adopting something that’s that’s really complex on the back end, if you’re just going to expect it to be seamless, that the whole time, you’re probably going to be disappointed. But then at the other end of that, being able to get in front of it, and then work through issues and challenges as they come up and really partner collaboratively. You know, sometimes that’s on the tech side. And sometimes that’s, you know, a customer coming to you and saying, I just really need your help with this thing. And I know it’s outside the scope of what your software is providing me, but how can you help me work through it? Those are the conversations that build that culture. And at the end of the day, just knowing that we’re accountable for providing our customers with an experience where they’re getting value from the product and standing behind that.

Greg Lambert 10:42
Now, I know we talk a lot about generative AI and AI and technology. But the, you know, there’s other things that are going on in the market as well. And in fact, the the two of you both were down in Miami back in December, at the TLTF Conference. And so there’s a lot of private Equity and venture capital that’s coming into the legal tech market. They’re looking at clients, products, technology side of the industry, finally, seems seems all of a sudden, like there’s a lot more attention in those areas. So, you know, what, are you seeing that affecting how maybe you approach the business needs of your clients and others?

Kelly Griswold 11:26
Yeah, well, certainly, I think that it is wonderful for the industry to see private Equity and venture capital come in industries where it’s been buoyed by capital, innovation accelerates. And this industry has been innovating for years. But it’s, I think, really primed to kind of hit the next level of that. And this all comes back to the fact that it’s, it’s the confluence of the prevalence of unstructured data inside of organizations. There’s been a lot of innovation in tech around structured data. But the legal industry is uniquely positioned, because we’ve for years been sort of processing and applying, you know, systems like TAR, to being able to transform unstructured datasets into structured data sets that are able to be used with downstream capabilities. And I think that that’s triggering a lot of the interest is that, okay, we have this very language based practice of law. And we now have technological capabilities that can be married to this, like, there’s going to be disruption here. And I think at the TLTF Summit, specifically, there was a lot of like, really interesting conversations about like, how do we put these recipes together? And where are you going to see the most innovation fastest, but like, on one end, it’s about like, accessing and transforming unstructured data into structured datasets. And on the other hand, it’s about like, using these capabilities to marry this to workflow and automation that then is able to create really domain specific outcomes on the other end.

Marlene Gebauer 13:05
Yeah, and I mean, the conversation was fantastic. Although I, you know, I sort of wonder when I kind of go back to my client base, it’s like, is that going to be terrifying? You know, for them?

Kelly Griswold 13:16
Yes. It’s gonna be terrifying. And also, I think, wonderful in certain ways. There’s going to be a greater need than ever, on people that think like lawyers about how we can ethically and sustainably use these technologies, and where the best places are to apply them and how to make sure that we’re doing that in kind of a risk adjusted way. I think we’ve started to see some of that and more legislation around this and applying the expertise of that industry to that challenge, I think is going to be important. And then also just kind of putting it out there like, there are certain things that we as humans are uniquely capable of doing. And these are things that we typically like doing. The parts, that technology automates may not be the highest and best use of our time. And so I’d love for this to be an advancement where we’re getting back some of our human time and giving away some of the things that are less valuable. But that change is terrifying. So I think that will be kind of a predominant theme.

Marlene Gebauer 14:31
Yeah, kind of goes back to those trust relationships sort of being able, you have clients, I have clients kind of walking, Greg has clients sort of walking them through this and sort of just explain the hows and the whys. And you know what the benefit is? Yeah. And getting them comfortable with it.

Kelly Griswold 14:46
Yes, exactly.

Marlene Gebauer 14:49
So now’s the time where we do our crystal ball question. So what we do is we ask you to put your crystal ball in front of you, and tell us about like what challenges or changes or trends that you know, we think that you think you’re going to see for the next maybe two to four years. And you can adjust that timeframe if you want.

Kelly Griswold 15:09
I think I’ll go on the long end of that timeframe. And we’ve been talking a little bit about, you know, how people are reacting to the innovation and the new technologies we’ve had over the course of this podcast. When I kind of take a step back, and I think, what is the future going to look like? I have an eight year old and a 10 year old. And sometimes I take a step back and look at how they’re interacting with technology. They don’t type. Everything is out there running Google searches, you know, voice to text, and thinking through like, how are we going to be drafting a contract, and maybe it’s three years, 5-10 years, I think that it will be about breaking down workflows, about automation, and, about verbal and natural language communication. So my crystal ball has, you know, what we’re going through, and we’re kind of, you know, populating workflows for CLM to draft a contract. And maybe that’s more efficient now, because we have synthesis, synthesization, and summarization with Large Language Models, but like, that’s gonna get trumped up with how this next generation is using technology. And where you could sit on a podcast, and we could talk about, you know, the licensing rights to the podcast, and there will be a system somewhere that maybe we don’t even see that asks us a number of questions, and we’ll generate a licensing agreement and we, in natural language will, will be communicating those things to a lot of the sort of pen and paper hands on keyboard work that gets done right now. And like, I think that that’s where this industry is going. And that’s going to be crazy.

Marlene Gebauer 16:54
Gonna be very exciting.

Kelly Griswold 16:55

Greg Lambert 16:57
Well, Kelly Griswold, CEO from Onna, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us at LegalWeek.

Kelly Griswold 17:04
Thank you very much for having me.

Marlene Gebauer 17:05
Thank you so much. And thank you all of our listeners for taking the time to listen to The Geek in Review podcast. If you enjoy the show, share it with a colleague. We’d love to hear from you. So reach out to us on social media. I can be found on LinkedIn or on X at @gebauerm. And on threads at @mgebauer66

Greg Lambert 17:24
And I can be reached on LinkedIn and on X at @glambert. Kelly, someone wanted to learn more about you or Onna, where’s the best place to find you?

Kelly Griswold 17:35
Well, you can certainly go to our website at O N N A and you can absolutely reach me on LinkedIn.

Marlene Gebauer 17:44
Terrific. And as always, the music you hear is from Jerry David DeCicca Thank you very much Jerry.

Greg Lambert 17:50
All right. Thank you Jerry.