Meet Me! Partner Q&A with Arreis Automation

Arreis Automation manages the physical coding process behind contracts used on the Documate platform, Auxana’s premier contract automation partner. Arreis is the brainchild of Craig Sanford and Mike Jeffery of Sierra Legal, a legal services firm in Australia. Read on to learn more about their backgrounds, how it all came together, and how we all met.

Tell us about yourselves!  We want to hear about your backgrounds and how you met.

MIKE: Craig and I have been working together for around 14 years. When we met, Craig was a senior partner in the M&A and corporate team at a large law firm called Middletons (which later become the Australian office for K&L Gates). I was recruited by Middletons while still finishing my law degree, and joined Craig’s team as a graduate. We worked together in Middletons’ M&A team for a number of years until we both left the firm at around the same time – Craig to start Sierra Legal – and me to relocate to my home town after my wife and I had our first child. However, we joined forces again a few months later – when I was hired as Sierra Legal’s first employee (working remotely).

Where did your business concept come from?  What was the catalyst for launching each business?  How were you considering the legal services landscape at the time, and what sort of ‘needs’ do you aim to fill?

CRAIG: After finishing my law and computer science degrees in the early 90s, I went straight to work at Middletons.

I worked extremely hard at Middletons, and made it to partnership by the time I was 30. I learned a lot and had a fantastic experience. However, after 19 years at Middletons, my wife, Katie, and I decided that it was time for a change – I wasn’t seeing a lot of my family, the 12+ hours a week of commuting to and from work was starting to wear a bit thin, and I thought that if I didn’t try something else after such a long time at Middletons, I never would!

I wasn’t really excited about the idea of jumping into another large law firm or changing to a different profession, so I decided to “give it a crack” and start a new law firm from scratch in March 2010!

At the time, there were very few small boutique firms with flexible working arrangements. Sierra Legal was probably one of the first “NewLaw” firms in Australia.

I wanted Sierra Legal to be a lean and low overhead operation, so that we could work with clients of all sizes (including small businesses and start-ups) on a wide range of interesting M&A and corporate transactions… which was becoming increasingly difficult in a large firm with budgetary pressures.

MIKE: The Arreis Automation concept spun-out of some of our internal precedents and systems work. I had been investigating various document automation systems for many years and was struggling to find a platform that was powerful enough to automate long and complex corporate agreements – like sale and purchase agreements and shareholders agreements.

When doing our research, we found that most platforms fell into one of the following categories:

  • platforms that were too complex for lawyers (with no computer science background) to use;
  • at the other extreme, platforms that were too basic to able to do anything more than simple “form filling”;
  • platforms that were heavily locked down – requiring the platform operator to make changes (adding significantly to the cost); or
  • platforms that required the lawyer to use the templates that had been pre-built for the platform – rather than being able to use their own documents, templates, formatting and style.

After almost exhausting our search for the perfect platform, we finally stumbled across Documate. Documate provided the perfect balance for us. It has:

  • sufficient power to automate practically any template or workflow process;
  • tools to help our lawyers build automation workflows with no-coding (or limited coding);
  • for those that have the skill to do so, the ability to create further customizations and integrations using the Python programming language; and
  • best of all, license fees that are a fraction of the cost of most other providers.

After using Documate ourselves for a year (both internally and building automated contract packages for clients) we further strengthened our relationship with Documate, and Arreis Automation became Documate’s official partner and reseller in Australia.

While being able to offer automation as a service for our clients is really cool, we feel that the people that can best benefit from Arreis Automation’s services are other law firms.

When we speak with other lawyers that have already tried automating their own documents and templates in their firms – we keep hearing the same story over and over again… they hired IT consultants (even IT consultants that purportedly specialized in legal document automation), but never ended up getting a finished product that they were happy with. Either:

  • the IT consultant could not understand how their templates worked (from a legal perspective) in sufficient detail to be able to create the complex and bespoke automated packages that the lawyers were expecting; or
  • the IT consultant (again because they did not understand the templates from a legal perspective) required more guidance from the law firm than the lawyers had time to give.

Craig and I are in a fairly unique position. Craig completed a computer science degree before finishing law school and I have always been a “computer geek”. We speak both languages – both legal and tech. For lawyers that want to automate their own templates (but either do not have the time to do it themselves, or feel that they do not have the technical skills to do it themselves), we can take that pressure off them and build those packages without requiring constant “hand-holding” from the lawyers (given that we think like lawyers and understand how contracts and other documents should be drafted).

How did you meet Beth?

CRAIG: Beth and I met through EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) – an international organization for entrepreneurs that have launched successful businesses. Beth and I are both members of EO and we were introduced by another member who knew that we were both trying to shake-up the traditional law firm model.

Why Auxana?  What is your goal for partnering with the community?

MIKE: We are excited to be working with the Auxana community, mostly because we want to be working with other lawyers that also want to revolutionize the way that law is practiced – especially lawyers that appreciate that the traditional law firm models and workflow processes are incredibly inefficient and antiquated. We have not yet met many people within the Auxana community, but Beth assures us that you all fit into this category.

What would you be doing if you were not currently running these businesses?

CRAIG: I have always been a lawyer, and don’t have any real desire to change that. However, the flexibility associated with running my own business enabled me to take up 2 other passions, being athletics and share trading. In terms of athletics, I have been able to juggle the demands of the business with a proper athletics training schedule, and have been fortunate to win medals on the National and World stage at various masters athletics championships – a couple of highlights have been a silver medal in the 800m at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth, Australia in 2016 and a gold medal (and Australian record) in the 4 x 400m relay at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Spain in 2018. I was supposed to be competing at the World Masters Athletics championships in Toronto this year, but unfortunately they were cancelled due to COVID-19.

MIKE: Like Craig, I have always been a lawyer and don’t think that is going to change any time soon. However, if money was no object, I would be spending most of my time on the beach. The beach is where I relax and refocus. Craig is a pretty keen surfer too. If it wasn’t for the fact that we live 1000 miles apart, I think we would be conducting most of our “board” meetings sitting on our surfboards in the water!

What are you watching right now?

CRAIG: I just watched a sports documentary on Netflix, called The Dawn Wall. It followed a couple of daring rock climbers who took on the incredible challenge of free-climbing a seemingly impossible 3,000 foot rock face in Yosemite National Park. The documentary also brought back some great memories – I had the privilege of visiting Yosemite about 10 years ago while on a holiday with my family, and it is one of my favourite places in the world. Yosemite’s location in the Sierra Nevada also inspired the name of our firm, Sierra Legal, as well as Arreis (which is Sierra spelt in reverse!).

MIKE: I have just started re-watching X-files right from the beginning. I’m into season 2 and just watched the one about the half-human / half-fluke worm hybrid. As a nerd in the 90s, I loved X-files and it has stood the test of time!