Praktio’s Digital Tools Help Students, Attorneys Navigate Legalese

Anyone who has ever tried to read a contract or service agreement dense with layers of legalese knows it can be a challenge. Turns out law students are often no less confused than lay people, said University of Michigan law professor Michael Bloom, and that’s why he decided to start a company called Praktio two years ago.

“Learning to work more effectively with contracts is like learning a foreign language,” he explained. “For a long time, we’ve had good interactive digital tools for learning languages. Why not have something like that for contracts? Praktio is a tool people can use to learn the basics and be more effective.”

Bloom also runs U-M law school’s Transactional Lab and Clinic, and it was there that he first started thinking about the language of law. It used to be that students participating in the clinic were required to take an upper-level contracts class “to learn the ABCs before we moved on to Shakespeare.” Though the pre-requisite eventually was eliminated, the students’ need for a basic understanding of legalese remained.

“With a contract, you’re playing a kind of game of chess—it’s about what position you want your client to be in over time,” Bloom said.

Bloom realized that there are key “building block provisions” common to most contracts, and if a student didn’t know what they meant, they wouldn’t be able to understand or structure a contract properly. He developed Praktio’s digital teaching tool, which uses a series of games and repetition exercises to explain the building blocks and provide instant feedback. With each Praktio course, he said, users build their skills and confidence.

“I thought digital tools would be an efficient way to use the students’ time,” Bloom said. “It’s kind of a ‘flipping the classroom’ thing. I use the seminar time to do more advanced exercises now that the students understand the structure of contracts.”

Bloom said Praktio is also a valuable tool for young lawyers and even seasoned vets who want to refresh their skills. “With Praktio, junior attorneys can build intuitive expertise much more quickly than with a traditional combination of on-the-job training and lectures over the course of several years,” he said. “Praktio is intensive, interactive coursework that teaches lawyers and non-lawyers actionable, marketable skills.”

Praktio has partnered with U-M’s Office of Digital Engagement and Innovation (DEI), which oversees the university’s digital learning initiatives and online course offerings, to pilot the coursework. (DEI gave Praktio a grant in an undisclosed amount to help develop the content.) Praktio’s software is also being tested at “some of the biggest law firms in the world” in the U.S. and Japan, Bloom said.

According to Bloom, the feedback from Praktio users has so far been positive. “I’ve learned so much about the different ways people interact with the content,” he said. “One of the big advantages of digital learning ought to be that it’s flexible, so we break the content down into small bites. That gives users the information so they can nimbly fit it into their schedules.”

Bloom, Praktio’s sole employee, is still figuring out exactly how the startup will make money, but for now he plans to license the lessons to users for a set time period—one year, for example. Law firms would be charged a price depending on how many employees they have. As part of Praktio’s deal with U-M’s Office of Technology Transfer, which is guiding the company’s commercialization efforts, the university’s law students have free access to the courses.

Praktio’s lessons cover basic contracts “not particular to any deal or kind of law,” Bloom said, and he will likely add advanced courses on specific contract types, such as mergers and acquisitions, in the future. He’s not seeking venture backing, he said, nor does he expect to down the road.

“I don’t see this as the next billion-dollar idea,” Bloom added. “If we get the product right, it could be profitable, but I don’t want the pressure to make it something big. I’d like to see it grow organically.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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