In this podcast episode, Casey Kuhlman the CEO of Monax, shares his unconventional journey to becoming CEO, which involved engineering, military service, law school, and work in Africa.

Monax Labs is a company specializing in digital legal infrastructure and blockchain technology. Monax aims to simplify contract management by offering a digital contracting platform that can automate tasks like milestone notifications and expiration date reminders.


If you enjoyed this episode don’t forget to subscribe in your favourite podcast app or on YouTube, that way you’ll never miss an episode…


Dom Burch: Welcome back to Legal Tech Made Simple with me Dom Burch. I’m not a lawyer and I’m not particularly techie which makes me perfectly well placed to help make legal tech simple. I’m delighted on this week’s podcast to be joined by Casey Coleman, the CEO of Monax. They’re a leader in digital legal infrastructure and a respected blockchain native software as a service company.

Monax builds decentralized systems and a growing ecosystem of applications. Before co-founding Monax, Casey was the head of legal information systems at the U.S. Open Data Institute. Casey, welcome to the podcast.

Casey Kuhlman: Thanks for having me.

Dom Burch: No, no, absolute pleasure. So, let’s just start there actually. Do you want to just give us a little bit of background and your journey to becoming CEO?

Casey Kuhlman: Sure. I’ve had a little bit of a windy road through life, particularly my professional life. I started as an engineer and did my first degree in engineering. Rather than building things, I decided to blow them up, and then I was an infantry officer in the Marines. After that, I decided that it might be time to do something different, and so I went to law school. But rather than doing the sort of big firm, suit-on thing, I went first to West Africa, where I worked in war crimes tribunals. Then I went to East Africa, where I did governance reform work, and then laterally ran my law firm. And it was while I was there that I fell in love with the idea of computers running the contracts and what this could mean. So, I went down the rabbit hole of what used to be called in the academic literature computable contracts, and then laterally now we call these smart contracts. It was along that journey that I came across the ideas, the very early ideas of blockchains before they were started to be flushed out and so I fell down laterally that rabbit hole as well. And that led me pretty much to found a company that was quite interested in how we can help the computers run the contracts and how can we build technical infrastructure that can do that, which kind of gets us to now.

Dom Burch: So, tell us a little bit about Monax then, and perhaps describe what’s a typical deployment for you guys?

Casey Kuhlman: We’re a software-as-a-service company focused on digitizing contracts. So, it’s a digital contracting platform that at its most simple is a little bit smarter than Google Drive. So rather than putting your contracts on Google Drive and having them not be able to do anything for you, you can put them on Monax and have them email you when specific milestones have been accomplished or when the expiration date is upcoming. The system is much more complex than that and can do more complex things. But at the end of the day, at its most simple, that is what we’re focused on doing for customers.

Dom Burch: And it’s amazing, isn’t it? Just how many large organizations still aren’t in a position, particularly from a legal general counsel sat there, not able to put their finger on all their contracts and know where they are? And then at the touch of a button, be able to sort of interrogate them and just say, right, how many are coming up to termination or how many have force majeure in them because of having a global pandemic land on your plate? There’s so much more work to be done, isn’t there?

Casey Kuhlman: We’ve only entered; we’ve only really begun. And that is what is very intriguing from an industry perspective. I often analogize to how a CLO or general counsel, their ability to, as you say, interrogate their contracts, how different that is to a CFO’s ability to interrogate a balance sheet. If a CEO asked a CFO a general question about the balance sheet, and the CFO just looked at them like they were crazy, why should they have an answer to that question, that CFO probably wouldn’t have long in their job. The CEO to ask the CLO, or general counsel, depending on the company, what they call it. You know, how many contracts do we have outstanding at this point and how many are set to renew this year the General Counsel typically would just look at the CEO like they were like that was just a nonsensical question to ask because they just don’t have this data at their fingertips and historically have found no reason to have this data at their fingertips. Now, query whether it is the general counsel’s job to maintain contracts. And I think that’s something we may get into a little bit later, but you know, that notwithstanding, basically no one within most companies will know, unless it’s a very small company and all the contracting is within the CEO’s head or founder’s head, it’s very likely that no one will know where the contracts are and what state they are in, which is a big challenge because, well, contracts define basically what our business relationships are and what is happening within our business. And so, they are the progenitor of most of what we do from a business perspective. And so therein lies the risky bits.

Dom Burch: I think that’s right. And I think if you’re the CFO, surely, you’re looking in and going, well, how do we optimize commercial relationships?

Casey Kuhlman: Exactly. But I mean, before you even query how we optimize, you should be asking what commercial relationships and there are innumerable examples of companies that have, for example, multi-year contracts and after the first year, an ability to charge more. For some surplus, we’ll charge you 5% after the first year, or whatever the case might be. And that information that we’re now at a year after the effective date on this particular contract, and therefore we can charge 5% more is often a super important bit of information to get over to finance, but not always get over there. And that’s a big challenge from a revenue perspective.

Dom Burch: Now we bumped into each other on Twitter a month or so ago and I’m just going to read out your tweet because it tickled me at the time. Dear Legal Tech, dear blockchain, can we please for the love of all that is holy, just stop and completely erase the parts of our brain that contemplate smart contracts. Except for those that are deep futurists. What were you trying to get off your chest there, Casey?

Casey Kuhlman: Yeah. I wasn’t trying to get anything particular off my chest, but I’ve had for a long time a big challenge with the term smart contracts. Because it leads people in crazy directions, if we have smart contracts, suddenly we can do X, Y, or Z. It’s a very imprecise term that is being leveraged by all kinds of different emergent technology to mean very, very different things. And so, if you’re a consumer trying to buy legal technology right now, it may be very intriguing when a vendor comes to you and says, we have smart contract capabilities. And it will be entirely misleading whatever they say is their smart contracting capabilities. For the simple fact of what I was mentioning earlier that we don’t have as a rote, I mean, across industries, we haven’t digitized contracts until we digitize and understand across the board what contracts look like digitally. We don’t need to be worrying about automation. We don’t need to be worrying about smartifying things. We don’t need to be worrying about applying AI and we don’t need to be worrying about any of this stuff until we just do the basic thing of making contracts be digital objects on a digital platform so that we can then understand where are we within this particular contract. You know, we have a range of technologies that look to, as I often say, give birth to a contract. Most contract management systems that exist today are very focused on helping lawyers get to a signature on a page. But I would argue that’s not digitizing contracts because they don’t give us much information, if any, as to what is the state of this thing as a digital object. And so that’s what I was trying to interrogate in the entirety of that thread.

Dom Burch: And then also, I mean, it’s the classic, isn’t it? Don’t try and digitize a bad process. So, there’ll be an awful lot of paper-based analogue contracts out there that if you are looking to digitize them by all means get them digitized so you can read them, you can store them, you can interrogate them, but also take that opportunity to go, is there a better, simpler way of dealing with this piece of legal text? Is there an easier way to contract with us? Or are we always falling out over the same terms? Do we need to have a look at that term?

Casey Kuhlman: Exactly. Or do we have Archaic text within our contracts that means nothing? I mean the classic example of this is how notices work, if you can move contracts onto a digital platform, do you need half a page of very specific information about how we get information back and forth, including mailing information that goes to the post office boxes or mailing systems that nobody uses and nobody is ever going to check in a contract and yet it takes up half a page and many contracts or sometimes more or sometimes a little bit less. But there are all kinds of opportunities if you can assume that the baseline to some extent, we’re going to have some digital mechanisms around this. Then you can look at your, textual templates and see if you need them to be so unapproachable and so long and such a challenge to get at.

Dom Burch: We were talking a bit earlier about whose job it is to maintain contracts. Do you see a world in the near future, where business users ultimately are the ones who are doing the deals on the ground, right? They’re set up to each other in a figurative way these days, doing it, doing the deal. And all they need is a legal contract to go with it. It should be a case that you should be able to do some of this on your iPhone in the meeting. It shouldn’t be something that then you have to trot off to the legal team and start from scratch each time.

Casey Kuhlman: I think it depends on the context. I mean, if you’re doing a super complex multi-year like bet the business type deal, then obviously you would probably want some legal assistance on that deal. Whereas if you’re doing just a routine supplier contract, then why should you go to legal? The way that most companies are organized, it’s legal’s job to help folks get to a contract. And then if something is going sideways with a particular relationship, to come in and provide advice. But if we’re on the happy path and we haven’t realized that we’re going sideways on a deal, then it’s really up to the front office of a particular business to manage that business relationship. And I think it’s awkward that a lot of contract management systems are built by lawyers and sold to lawyers when, as I said earlier, lawyers, in general, in most companies have a very limited scope of management when it comes to contracts, namely, getting us from a kind of orally agreed deal to a signature, squiggly lines on a paper. And then taking over if a deal is going sideways or a business relationship is going sideways, but outside that lawyers aren’t involved. So why are contract management systems built for lawyers when they have such a limited perspective on the management of contracts? I find that a bit weird.

Dom Burch: And where do you see the future, right? So, you know, can you imagine a future where there are so many tools now in the marketplace and there are so many right-ups to the enterprise level? We’ve got huge organizations using CLM tools and all the rest of it. Can you see a point in the future where there’s going to have to be this kind of interoperability? There’s going to have to be almost an agnostic nature between tools that allow organizations to be negotiating with one another, real easy flow of data, potentially, maybe even anonymized data from all the contracts that are out there, all the deals that have been happening so that we could optimize it. When you look out into the future of your crystal ball, where do you see all this heading?

Casey Kuhlman: We’re heading in the direction of balkanization as a legal tech industry. As an industry, unless users demand that vendors meet certain specific requirements that allow users and customers to easily import and export their data in a manner which would then there’s going to be a big problem as more and more legal technology gets adopted at specific points along a value chain. And I think one of the things that’s important to understand from a technology perspective, both on a consumer and vendor perspective, is that each of us plays a role at some point within a value chain of, I have a deal. That is a business relationship, then I’m going to have to contract that, then I’m going to have to negotiate that, then I’m going to have to sign that, then I’m going to have to manage that, then I have to deal with it if it goes sideways and all those stages along that value chain in an ideal world need to have the ability to have multiple competing platforms that you can leverage and move data around in between them. Right now, unless you go with one vendor and try to make them the golden vendor that can do all those things, you’re not going to find an ability to cleanly move information between and across platforms that may optimize for a specific point along that value chain. And you know, it’s going to be a big problem in the next year to two years, I think.

Dom Burch: Well, Casey, I can’t believe our time is up. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I appreciate you taking the time. I’m looking forward to having a few more, I won’t say spats, a few more conversations on Twitter, because we’re at that point in the sector where we need to have these debates and we need to have them out loud.

Casey Kuhlman: Fully agree.

Dom Burch: Well, listen, Casey, CEO of Monax, Casey Kuhlman, thank you so much for joining us.

Casey Kuhlman: Thank you for having me.