Head of the Contracts Lab: Thomas Pauwels
Why are you so enthusiastic about the Contracts Lab?
Warren Buffet once said that since it is impossible to ‘unsign’ a contract, it is important to think before you sign. That briefly describes what triggers me. I worked as an in-house counsel at Ontex for several years. While there, I realized that contracts are the fuel of business; they describe how sales are generated and how costs are incurred in a safe and structured way. That is why I am passionate about contract drafting, reviewing and negotiating.
What challenges do you see in the market nowadays?
Business relations are becoming increasingly complex, and so are the contracts, such as purchase, service, distribution, transportation, collaboration, settlement agreements and many more, that set those relationships in stone. A business wants to be agile and sometimes feels that complex (and often very long and detailed) contracts slow down the speed of decision-making.
This puts enormous pressure on legal teams. At the same time, legal counsels often don’t regard reviewing this constant flood of contracts as their core responsibility. They know that contracts are important, but reviewing and negotiating contracts sometimes prevents them from focusing on non-day-to-day work.
That is precisely why so many legal teams are looking for solutions to improve contract management, either by pushing part of this work back to the business, implementing legal tech or outsourcing some of the contract work to a third party they trust.
What solutions does the Contracts Lab offer?
Ask Q can take care of the entire contract management life cycle. We draft, review and negotiate contracts. We also provide support in getting the contracts approved, signed and filed. Populating a database with historical and/or new contracts is certainly part of that. We also manage the contracts once they have been filed (for example, to avoid undesired automatic extensions of contracts). Last but not least, we also train business people in contracting.
However, the client can freely decide whether to entrust the entire contract management life cycle to us or whether all we need to do is take care of part of it. Of course, the core of what we do is reviewing and negotiating contracts. Take that away from us and our heart starts to bleed.
(Read more: AskQ_One-Pager_Contracts-Lab.pdf)
What sets the Contracts Lab apart from other legal service providers?
If I could only use one word, it would be ‘dedication’. As a team, we call ourselves ‘contract nerds’. Call us crazy, but we really eat, sleep and breathe contracts. I am not kidding. Deprive us of contracts for more than three weeks and we start to experience withdrawal symptoms.
If allowed to use two words, I would add ‘pragmatism’. Contracts Lab consultants know how contracts work, including in practice. Most of us have experience as in-house legal counsel. We aim for perfection and zero-risk contracts, but we know that a contract is a commercial document. This implies that sometimes, a little more risk needs to be included within the contract. That is not a problem as long as the right people know and approve of those risks. We work together with the business as their partner-in-crime to get the contract across the finish line.
One other thing that sets us apart is what I call ‘following the rhythm’. Clients don’t need to guarantee any volume. We’ve been company lawyers and we know how it works. Some months are extremely busy (typically in periods when the business wants their contracts to be closed as soon as possible, like at the end of the year or before they leave on holiday 😊), and others are not. We are there when you need us and gone when we’re done. That simple fact differentiates us from staffing players who often require a fixed number of days.
What kind of clients do you work for?
Difficult to say... Our clients range from a worldwide top-three pharmaceutical company to promising scale-ups who want to outsource their contract drafting because it slows down the pace. From a strategic point of view, it might sound strange, but we do not focus on a specific industry or size of the company.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a clear vision of where we are heading. Our clients tend to share a certain personality: visionary counsels who want to do things differently, think outside the box and make their own added value more visible to management or the CEO.
Some of those clients rely on Ask Q for one type of contract (e.g., NDAs) and outsource all contracts of that type. Other clients outsource a wide variety of contracts, though only whenever there is a bottleneck within the team. There are also 27 different ways of working with us between those two extremes. We are not picky. As I said, we are contract lovers and it doesn’t matter whether we are asked to take care of routine or non-routine contracts, complex or non-complex, ad hoc or recurring contracts. As long as it’s contracting, it’s fine.
Who’s on your Contracts team?
Apart from a genuine passion for contracting, our team makes me passionate about what we are currently doing at Ask Q. Arriving at the office and meeting a team of contract lovers that is so inclusive, varied and well-balanced... is such an energizing feeling all over again.
Several members of our team are senior, and others are young(er); some speak Dutch and others are native English speakers. Recently, we welcomed our first young graduate who had just left university.
You know, we grew very aggressively over the last twelve months. In similar situations in the past, I’ve noticed that this kind of rapid growth sometimes forms a threat to quality. That’s why we decided to hire several people with over 20 years of experience. Not only are they great mentors for younger colleagues, but they can also maintain a constant, top-level output.
We call ourselves game-changers. That’s easy to say, but you have to walk the talk. That means being on the lookout for relevant legal tech (such as contract management systems, for example) and setting up our own Contracts Lab Academy. Blockchain and other contract-related topics are also on our radar, of course. Hiring senior people was necessary to set time free for me to focus on future growth and this type of strategic initiative.
What does that future look like?
Contracting is a journey, as it is for our Contracts Lab. We nurture a healthy dose of ambition for our name to be the one that comes to mind whenever companies need help with their contract work. Of course, this is only possible if you have a rock-solid team. Our recruitment rate will remain high, as will the investment in our people. Together, we will be ‘getting to yes’ (true contract lovers will understand this joke 😊).