Five ways document collaboration can leave you feeling out of control

Whether you’re using modern online collaboration software or sending marked-up files via email, working with others on documents can often leave us feeling out of control.

In this short blog, I’ll explore five ways collaborating on documents can heighten the stress and frustration we can feel when we aren’t in control.

The intellectual property might belong to your employer or client, but until handed-over “work in progress” text drafts feel like they belong to you.

If you’re the technical expert or have been assigned a complicated task there is always pride in your work. People accessing, commenting on or changing your outputs before being explicitly invited can feel like trespass.

Someone’s avatar is lurking in the top right corner. What are they doing? Are they actually just watching you type? Are they even there?

If you’ve ever had to write up notes for a meeting on a projector you know the pressure of typing correctly, but at least in that case there’s a collective responsibility for the content. With a lurker, you can feel judged or even as entertainment. That perfectly crafted sentence can take three or five redrafts to get right and they’re only seeing a snapshot. “Go away!” you want to scream.

Now we get to the other side of the equation — receiving changes from others.

There’s a gap in your own section. You can’t complete it, you’re waiting for the other section to be complete. It won’t take you long, but you’re blocked. Have they made any progress, or should you progress plan B. You only need the gist anyway…

You’ve planned your day out. It’s going to be productive and focussed… then a bing from your email inbox. “Hi, please find my latest edits attached. Can you merge and recirculated the master draft by close of play tomorrow?” ARGH!

The beautiful finalised copy. Blood, sweat and tears have been spilled (or at least one too many cups of coffee drank). Comments have all been resolved, tracked changes accepted and you can finally save as PDF.

There’s a query from a key stakeholder, “why does paragraph 5.1 say that?”

Internship Success: welcoming Dániel as a full-time team member

Barbal is delighted to announce, Dániel Benedek will be joining us full-time in a junior software engineer role. After a successful 2-month internship in Summer 2020, and progression to part-time whilst in his final year at Cardiff University, studying a BSc in Applied Software Engineering, Dániel will be joining us full-time basis.

Headshot of Dániel Benedek

Dániel is the second Cardiff University student that Barbal has successfully collaborated with during an internship. It is our pleasure to work with and help support so many great students, and we are thrilled to have Dániel join the company full-time.

Dániel began working with Barbal in May 2020 and immediately introduced a new dynamic to the team by becoming Barbal’s first overseas remote worker. Dániel lives in Hungary and has integrated seamlessly into Barbal’s culture and workspace.

Theo, Barbal’s marketing assistant, spoke to Dániel about his future with Barbal.

How has your experience with Barbal been so far?

It has been an exciting one and a half years for me so far. I was lucky enough to join a fantastic team of developers last May and get an insight into a small start-up that plans to solve an interesting problem with document collaboration. It has been such a great experience contributing to the product and seeing the real impact I’ve made with building the software.

I feel like being part of a professional team has had a massive impact on my knowledge and the support I have been given has improved the way I’m looking at problems today. It also helped me to appreciate and better understand the work that goes into building a maintainable software architecture for the future. For me, as a guy who is mostly interested in software architecture solutions, this was a huge thing to be involved in. Barbal has also been really good with flexibility, they have provided outstanding support during my time at Uni which I can’t thank them enough for. Being trusted in what I do is my first priority.

What are your future aspirations with Barbal?

Although I am only one and a half years in, I feel like there is still a long way to go and many problems to solve, but we have definitely come a long way and all that invested time has started to bloom results. In the next couple of years, I’m planning to further contribute to making Barbal an excellent product for our customers and users whilst devoting myself to become an expert in the software engineering and architecture field. I could not be in a better place to achieve this and with the support of the team, I feel like it can become reality.

Have you got any advice you would give to future interns?

As a former intern myself I would say that the approach I’ve learnt from the most was being curious. I assure you that there is no such thing as “stupid” questions and there is always something to learn from the answer. So I would recommend being open to asking questions and for help! Asking for help is one of the best investments in yourself, especially in the software industry where there are a lot of people with various skill-sets and experiences that they are willing to share with you. Don’t waste that opportunity.

Also, don’t be afraid of sharing your ideas and views with the team. The team is always open to new perspectives and there is a good chance that your idea is the way to go forward.

Anything else to add?

It is such an exciting time for Barbal and the software industry, and being a part of shaping both is something that I’m utterly grateful for!

Our View

We spoke to Dave Balderstone, Barbal’s CTO about Dániel’s journey with Barbal so far, “Dániel originally joined us for an 8-week internship before starting his final year at Cardiff University’s National Software Academy (NSA). He performed very well on his first assignment which automated the build of our development environment. Dániel then began contributing to sprints as a dev team member with small defect fixes at first. As he demonstrated his software engineering capability we were able to give him more complex tasks to complete.”

“At the end of the internship, we were delighted to come to an arrangement with Dániel where he continued working with us flexibly, while he completed his studies. It is clear that the course at the NSA has played a big part in Dániel’s ability to quickly add value to our dev team. Dániel is a valued team member with lots still to learn, but he clearly has also learned a lot in the time that he has worked with us. With the potential that we see in Dániel combined with the support that we are giving him, we are very excited to see what great things Dániel will achieve as his career grows with us at Barbal!”

Our next set of interns will be joining us soon and we hope to have as much success with them

How we apply Git to solve document collaboration and version control pains

Barbal was inspired by how software teams collaborate on code and delivers those benefits to professionals working on documents in traditional industries. Under the hood we’re powered by the popular Git version control system.

To mark the 500th pull request on our own codebase, we thought it timely to explore how Barbal uses software engineering approaches to make collaborating on documents painless, including an explanation of our opinionated approach and where we depart from what you might expect.

When we looked at how engineers, consultants and lawyers were working together on complex documents we saw similar trends:

  • Documents are highly structured and require consistency of style and numbering throughout
  • The content and presentation of documents are decoupled and under the control of different people
  • Rigorous approaches to review and approvals are applied before documents can be shared externally
  • Professionals don’t like using real-time collaboration, they prefer working in private and sharing their changes when their ideas are fully formed
  • Version control is essential both for efficiencies, but also to manage risk and liabilities in case of dispute
  • Often teams need to look back at how decisions were taken in the preparation of documents
  • People often have no control over who they will be required to collaborate with externally or receive comments from, and frequently it’s more people than expected

Barbal provides an intuitive document editor that addresses these needs. Under the hood, we’re powered by the world’s leading Git version control system, which has solved these challenges for software engineers.

Git was released in 2005 to address the pains software teams faced when working on source code. It has become the de-facto version control system for software teams; used by the likes of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Netflix to reliably manage their software codebase.

In this article, I explore how Barbal makes the best use of Git for collaborating on documents whilst providing a user friendly tool with little-to-no learning curve. I assume if you’re reading this that you have a basic understanding of how Git works, if not this brilliant blog on Lawtomated explains it for a non-software audience, and this video from Git themselves gives a good introduction to what it looks like.

How we apply Git for documents

Principles

First and foremost, our users don’t need to know that we’re powered by Git or even what Git is. Barbal is operated solely through a graphical interface in the web browser. We use Git as a dependency on our Google Cloud Platform and interact with it via APIs. Barbal is designed to be intuitive with no training requirement, so we have abstracted and reframed many of the functionality and concepts that software people might expect or be familiar with.

Whilst people will use tools like Github, Gitlab or Bitbucket to manage their codebases, developers will be most familiar with Git as a command line tool for day to day interaction when writing code. For all its strengths, Git comes with a reasonable learning curve. So until a certain level of Git-mastery is attained, developers can get themselves into a myriad of different “pickles” To overcome these issues, we apply very opinionated ways of working to the point where allowing git-savvy users access to the git repositories directly, would risk breaking it.

A key challenge for us in building Barbal was remaining inspired by how Git works, but allowing ourselves the latitude to move away when it makes sense to do so. When taking decisions about when and how to be opinionated in using Git concepts and functionality our primary focus is on helping people to reach consensus. Barbal is now actually quite abstracted from the core Git library where we have replaced many of the plain text oriented aspects with new algorithms that can cope with rich text.

Barbal isn’t distributed in the way software teams would be familiar with, but we do allow authorised users to pull local copies for backup purposes.

If you haven’t yet seen a demo of Barbal, it would be worth watching it now and referring back to it as you read this.

Document format

Barbal supports rich text documents, so we store them as HTML. We clean the DOM at several stages of the save and merge cycle to strip any unsupported nesting or attributes.

For the types of documents we work with HTML offers several benefits over both markdown and .odf/.docx. For instance it is much more standardised than markdown and allows more complicated document functions like in-line diff’ing (tracked changes) paragraph classes and cross-referencing between parts of documents. But we don’t need to support the complicated layout and in-line markup of docx. With translation libraries like Pandoc available we expect at sometime in the future we will support bi-directional translation, but for now all work is undertaken within Barbal.

Branching strategy

Git is natively un-opinionated about branching strategies, especially when combined with tags, etc. Whilst norms have emerged around feature branching, when dev teams start working together there are decisions to be taken around branch naming, release management, pull request review and approvals, etc. In some ways, which task management and Git GUI system you use will lead you towards some of these answers as Git management tools are often themselves opinionated.

We tried introducing feature branching for document development, but found that this doesn’t reflect the way people work with documents. People flit between different sections, spotting errors and introducing ideas in an ad hoc way. When reviewing changes, people need to see the net effect of all the changes not just individual features or bugfixes as would be the case in a software pull request.

Barbal maintains a master branch (we call branches “copies”, see the section below for a dictionary), a separate branch for each team and then one for each collaborator within a team. When a team or the master branch has new changes we automatically push those out to all the branches on lower tiers. Users have control of their own copies, so we don’t make any changes without their permission.

When git is represented graphically, it looks like the London Underground map, with all branches running in parallel with the occassional fork and merge.

Typical Git representation with two branches

We think of Barbal much like a multi-tiered fountain where changes go up and down until all outstanding edits are resolved.

The Barbal version control approach resembles a fountain with three tiers

If a team wants to mimic feature branches they can do so by creating teams for focus areas, which is often the case with specialist working groups. Similarly, documents are typically structured around the different topic areas, so this keeps parts of the document segregated until the team is ready to share, avoiding potential conflicts.

Merge conflicts

We love conflicts. Or, rather, how we handle conflicts sets us apart from any other product we’ve seen. The typical first step taken by most projects, whether in Git or traditional document email tennis, is conflict avoidance. This is a) a fallacy, and b) a collaboration bottleneck.

In code, a line represents a single piece of logic or instruction and functions should be kept completely separate. In prose, a line (read: paragraph) can contain multiple statements and concepts within a single block of text. Even if you separate out work into features, edits are going to clash. Git has no concept of the structure of the DOM, so native merging algorithms can easily slice tables in two or make lists behave badly.

We have written our own merging algorithms that understand both the structure of sentences and the HTML DOM. Conflicts are handled in-line, our core strategy is to never block someone from working. We use HTML syntax to markup conflicts and allow them to move around the workspace without making things grind to a halt. Users can easily make out the nature of the conflict, comment and discuss the best way forward, then resolve it as agreed.

Example of how merge conflicts are handled in Barbal

Issue tracking and pull requests

The relationship between tickets in an issue tracker and feature branches in code is loosely coupled. They bear a strong resemblance but it’s not unheard of for feature branches to have no issue, or issues to be resolved without a corresponding branch.

As mentioned, we do not support feature branching. But issue tracking is clearly an important part of how work is planned, executed and ultimately approved and it’s a capability we wanted to give to Barbal users.

In traditional Word Processors, tracked changes show where edits are made in a kind of build-as-you-type diff. Users like this because it allows them to quickly see where their changes have been made and find those needles in the haystack.

Barbal has a classic issue tracker much the same as Github’s, but to put a positive (or at least neutral) spin on it we call them Proposals. Authors can tag individual tracked changes across a document with links to Proposals so that they can flip between conceptual discussions about the ideas and the details of the actual drafting. Proposals show extracts of the document with the changes so non-authors can quickly see what the changes are and make comments without wading through the whole document.

This latter serves like pull requests, rather than approving individual tracked changes (which is also supported), changes to documents can be approved in bulk via the associated Proposal.

Screenshot of proposals in Barbal's editor

Benefits of applying Git for documents

Collaboration

Barbal’s mission is to help professionals collaborate and reach consensus faster. Everything we do is geared around this, so naturally we selected Git on this basis.

Moreover, we were inspired not only by how Git allows internal teams to collaborate, but how it supports highly structured collaboration across organisations where everyone keeps control of what happens with their own copy. Take this to its logical extreme, as with open-source projects, Git allows people to collaborate with people they have never even heard of or otherwise interacted with. It’s such a powerful idea that runs counter to how we manage documents today with legacy editors; limiting the number of collaborators to avoid merging and version chaos and risks.

That everyone has control of their own copy, whether they are the owner of the master version or a just a minor contributor, is the key to supporting collaboration without having first to build trust.

Version Control

Version control is more than just making sure everyone is working with the latest changes.

With Git it means having several versions of the same document in circulation at the same time without causing an administrative nightmare. Imagine a fixed published version along with a draft revision that’s out for consultation, whilst teams continue to work and share new edits internally. Being powered by Git means that we can merge the latest changes in any direction at the click of a button with the full provenance of each edit preserved for scrutiny.

It means being able to look back and see how a document evolved over time, which team made which edits and how the discussion unfolded. Unlike with a vanilla Git implementation, we sometimes abstract a contributor’s details; when sharing documents with the other side in a negotiation the changes were made by the organisation, not the individual.

Forking documents

One of the most powerful aspects of Git version control is that a codebase can exist in separate repositories simultaneously whilst supporting merging between them. It means that two products can wander off in different directions, but their shared heritage means that features can be brought across between codebases simply.

For knowledge or advisory businesses serving a portfolio of clients with similar work, this unlocks new revenue opportunities. It creates the facility to truly productise their knowledge, hand finishing the outputs for different clients but allowing them to push changes out when, for instance, legislation changes. It not only gives a new scalable capability based on automating tedious admin, but also allows them to reframe away from per-hour billing to subscription based models. We call this capability Knowledge as a Service.

Collaborating externally

Also leveraging the forking capabilities of Git for documents, Barbal supports collaboration across organisational boundaries. Businesses shouldn’t be exposing their internal discussions about tricky technical or commercial matters, especially where privileged legal advice is sought. So not only can we create a hierarchy of teams within a workspace, we can also create a hierarchy or transactional workflow across organisations; squashing the intermediate changes as they’re transferred between repositories so each only has access to the net changes and information they require.

Audit history

Raised several times throughout, collaborative technology does not only need to remove frictions for working together today. In litigious, complicated or contentious areas knowing why a document says what it does and how decisions were reached is crucial.

Whilst the version control capabilities of Git allow a timeline of changes to be maintained, Barbal augments that by preserving the comment history and Proposals in the issue tracker.

Imagine three years after a contract was signed being able to click on a paragraph in a specification and see the full history of its authorship and negotiation. It’s the sort of capability that will accelerate the resolution of disputes and solve many organisational knowledge management conundrums.

Conclusions

In the two years since we launched our first prototype for Barbal we’ve had all sorts of people use it. They all tend to be experts in their field, but their technical literacy ranges from just about confident with MS Office to cutting code with the latest web frameworks. We’ve found that across the board there’s an unsolved challenge to be addressed and that Git provides an excellent foundation to build upon. We’ve also found some severe usability challenges with Git that we’ve had to develop a lot of opinionated and proprietary approaches overcome.

Collaboration involves people and so is, by its very nature, a messy problem to solve. Consensus, getting people with opposing worldviews to find a middle ground with something they can both stand behind, even more so. We’ve launched our beta platform and had over 500 pull requests on our own codebase to get to the stage we’re at, but we’re only at the beginning of our journey with helping professionals collaborate and reach consensus faster.

If you’d like to speak with me, have a demo or explore how Barbal can help your organisation, I’d be delighted. Please book a meeting here.

Git to Barbal dictionary

Git term Barbal term

Branch Copy

Code Document

Commit Save

Diff Tracked changes view

Issue Theme or Proposal

Merge Merge

Merge conflict Conflicting changes

Repository Workspace

Barbal joins prestigious LawTech accelerator Barclays Eagle Labs

Barbal is delighted to announce that it is has been accepted into the Barclays LawTech Eagle Labs accelerator. This follows on from the successful launch of Barbal’s beta application and onboarding our first users, who are collaborating on an international specification in the platform. 

Barclays Eagle Labs logo

Barclays LegalTech incubator provides mentoring, co-working, events and office space for LegalTech startups. Businesses are brought closer together with commercial organisations, universities and industry players to allow startups the opportunity to develop, encourage growth and innovation across the LegalTech sector. Collaborating with partners such as The Law Society and Legal Geek, as well as top innovative firms such as DWF and Clifford Chance, the incubator aims to close the gap between the legal industry and tech solutions. This helps companies scale up and progress, further setting in stone the UK’s prominence as a leader in the legal services sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further outlined the need for law firms to adopt emerging technology. The majority of LegalTech startups are small innovators looking to break into the legal sector and they’re yet to work nationally or globally. This poses the challenge for decision-makers in the legal sector to invest in the right technology, and be in the race to improve client engagement overall, that’s why some of the larger legal firms have set up their own incubators. The Barclays Eagle Labs incubator bridges the natural gap between small LegalTech organisations and national or global law firms. 

We spoke to Tom Bartley, Barbal’s CEO, about joining Barclays Eagle Labs

What are your thoughts on this opportunity?

It’s a really exciting opportunity for Barbal, our Beta application has just gone live with our first users. Joining the incubator will give us an opportunity to further evaluate the use cases for the tool. Having access to feedback and validation on our product and value proposition is really important to Barbal’s growth and we are really proud to have been given this opportunity.

What do you hope to achieve from joining the incubator?

We have established good relationships with the law firms in the South West, however, we have not yet branched out to the large London firms. In terms of LegalTech, London is one of the most innovative regions in the world, with an active ecosystem of startups, tech companies and progressive law firms, joining this environment is the perfect next step for Barbal. The incubator partners with a range of different law firms, which is great news for Barbal as it will help us test our value proposition and use cases across a range of distinct legal organisations. 

The fact that we will be working closely with other LegalTech startups is another exciting prospect. As a company, we are all about collaboration, and we relish the opportunity to be a part of a collaborative community. Barclays Eagle Labs will provide us with a gateway to future partnerships with LegalTech businesses with complementary solutions that could transform the legal industry.

Anything else to add?

We are delighted to have been accepted into the programme and look forward to working with the Barclays team. It’s a fantastic opportunity for the company and a huge milestone for Barbal. I’m very grateful to the Barclays team for giving Barbal this platform to expand and I’m excited to grow with the programme.

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Headshots of the BBLT Showcase judges

Bristol and Bath LegalTech Showcase: The judges

The first-ever Bristol and Bath “Meet the LegalTechs” showcase is set to take place on Wednesday 5th May 2021 from 8:30 – 9:30 am.

Eight legaltech providers from the South West will showcase their innovative technologies in a 90-second elevator pitch. To add an extra dimension to the proceedings, winners in three categories (Define categories) will be crowned by a judging panel that brings together a wealth of expertise in innovation and legaltech.

Get your ticket to attend at Eventbrite.

The judging panel comprises representatives from locally-headquartered national firms TLT and VWV as well as the nationally renowned legaltech incubator, Barclays Eagle Lab. Find out more about them and their work below.

Meet The Judges

Antonia James

Director of Client Relations, VWV

Antonia is Director of Client Relations at award-winning law firm VWV where she provides strategic guidance and leadership in BD and marketing. She is also passionate about the creation of legal products and services that transform reach through the use of technology. This led to the launch of VWV Plus, for which she is the founding Director.

VWV

VWV Plus LogoAlready firmly established with the tech start-up and scale-up ecosystem in the South West, VWV is taking big strides in its development of digital solutions: not only is the firm launching new products and services via VWV Plus, it is collaborating with tech businesses and supporting industry research and growth.

Shara Gibbons

LawTech Manager, Barclays Eagle Lab

Shara Gibbons works within Barclays Eagle Labs LawTech Team and is focused on changing the way legal services are provided and accessed. Shara has experience in both strategy and startup business development. For the past 4 years, Shara has been supporting startup businesses scale, and since 2018 has been focused on LawTech and supporting the much-required change for the legal sector. Delivering several talks on the need and demand for change within Legal and is an advocate for technology-enabled evolution.

Barclays Eagle Lab

Barclays Eagle Labs logoBarclays Eagle Lab bridges the gap between emerging LawTech innovation and major law firms to help to transform the legal industry. Working with partners like the Law Society and Legal Geek, Barclays Eagle Lab brings the legal industry closer to tech entrepreneurs so that they can collaborate and find solutions that will drive efficiencies and progression for the whole industry.

Siân Ashton

Client Service Transformation Partner, TLT LLP

Siân’s focus is on client service and transforming the way TLT delivers its services. Siân has a particular interest in innovation and LegalTech and is part of TLT’s FutureLaw team, leading the firm in the way TLT delivers legal services and products to ensure that clients receive the most efficient and cost-effective solutions.

TLT

TLT Changing the future of lawTLT FutureLaw is an aligned, integrated and indispensable approach to meeting the changing needs of our clients. Delivering new products and services built on insight, process and technology to achieve better outcomes for clients, partnering with best in class legaltech providers to solve clients’ needs such as TLT LegalSifter and Clarilis.

About the LegalTech Showcase

We hope that the event will increase visibility, create a collaborative space and facilitate a sense of community, whilst simultaneously giving the South West legaltech organisations a chance to pitch their business to potential customers or partners. The event is open to anyone who would like to join to watch and we encourage you to share the event on your socials and with anyone with an interest in the South West legal sector. Best of luck to all the startups who will be pitching their businesses. We look forward to seeing you at the event.

Tickets are available now on Eventbrite.

For more information, on the format of the event please follow this link or please contact Tom Bartley, Barbal CEO.

Meet the LegalTechs: A showcase of Bristol and Bath LegalTech providers

Barbal is delighted to announce the first ever Bristol and Bath “Meet the LegalTechs” showcase.

Following the successful launch of the Bristol and Bath Legal Tech Report (BBLTR) in March, we thought that this is the perfect time to bring the LegalTech community in the South West even closer together.

The report identified that the West of England is undergoing an emerging movement of legal innovation. Key findings include:

  • The growing cluster of LegalTech companies in the region is significant in size compared to other regional locations.
  • The region’s LegalTech sector could create powerful differentiation on a national and international level if collaboration in the legal sector was fully joined up with and modelled on the tech sector’s well-established regional collaborative ecosystem.
  • A strong sense of societal purpose is evident within the legal sector in the region and this should drive a future strand of LegalTech development.

Core to the report is the huge opportunity for the South West LegalTech sector ecosystem to grow into a centre with international impact.

Bristol and Bath LegalTech Ecosystem Infographic

The showcase will build on this momentum by uniting and giving exposure to Bristol and Bath’s Legaltech companies. The audience will include members of large law firms, regional law firms, alternative legal service providers and in-house counsel from across the region.

“With the LegalTech space moving so quickly, it’s difficult for buyers to keep pace and understand what’s going on in the market. The 15 providers identified in the BBLT report aren’t competing in terms of their tech, but they are competing for the eyes and ears of potential customers. This is a great opportunity for legal service providers to meet us in one hit and create more collaboration within the Bristol and Bath legal innovation ecosystem.” Tom Bartley, CEO, Barbal

The format

The showcase will take place from 8:30 – 9:30am on Wednesday 5th May 2021 and is supported BBLT.

Ten LegalTech providers from the South West will have the opportunity to pitch and showcase their innovative technologies in a 90-second elevator pitch. To add an extra dimension to the proceedings, winners in three categories will be crowned by representatives from locally-headquartered national firms VWV and TLT.

Pitching companies include Barbal, Iken, Klyant, OpenTenancy, Panache Software, PracticeEvolve, Sensecheck and Shout4.

We hope that the event will increase visibility, create a collaborative space and facilitate a sense of community, whilst simultaneously giving the providers the chance to pitch their business to potential customers or partners. And the competition element is just a bit of fun to raise the stakes. The prize? Bragging rights.

The showcase is a must-attend event for anyone interested in the development of the legaltech ecosystem in the South West.

The event, which will be hosted on Zoom, will provide a virtual stage for the 90-second live-streamed pitches by each company. The competition will be judged by representatives of TLT, VWV and another TBA. The event has been created for the South West legal sector but is free to anyone who would like to join to watch the elevator pitches with speed networking at the end.

Tickets are available now on Eventbrite.

For more information, please contact Tom Bartley, Barbal CEO or Karl Loudon, Barbal Head of Legaltech.

British African Business Alliance and Barbal announce innovation partnership to streamline negotiations in Africa

The British African Business Alliance (BABA), the network helping Africa-facing businesses to set up and thrive on the continent, is excited to announce an innovation partnership with British technology startup, Barbal.

British African Business Alliance Logo

BABA’s members deliver projects running to hundreds of millions of pounds each year across Africa, often with complicated multi-party contracting arrangements. A key challenge for businesses investing or delivering projects in Africa is the timeliness in getting contracts signed, meaning that opportunities often fall through whilst legal fees escalate.

Barbal’s collaborative document editor allows different organisations to work together efficiently on drafting contracts without sacrificing the control or privacy of collaborators. Barbal’s innovative software will allow BABA’s members to reach agreement faster, streamlining negotiations so that projects can get started quicker and with lower legal fees.

Through the innovation partnership, BABA will encourage its members to pilot Barbal’s software on upcoming projects, Barbal in-turn will monitor the benefits and adjust the software to further streamline negotiations.

Barbal offers a collaborative document editor that, unlike the prevalent tools, allows people to draft in private or in teams and merge changes with a shared master copy only when edits have been reviewed and are ready. It reduced the risk that someone accidentally discloses private information and removes the admin that can stall deals.

“This innovation partnership with Barbal will help us to deliver even more value to our members. Businesses entering Africa rely on good relationships with other organisations, including investors, delivery partners and regulators. Barbal will help strengthen relationships and get more projects initiated by streamlining one of the most painful aspects of getting started; the paperwork!”

Andrew Jason, Managing Director, British African Business Alliance

“We are delighted to be partnering with BABA and its members. Africa is among the world’s fastest growing economies with huge development projects across infrastructure, housing, industry and health. Africa is also one of the most innovative regions, leapfrogging to a digital-first economy. So it makes sense that people working on the continent want to streamline contract negotiations and are open to new approaches to collaboration, whilst balancing commercial risk and opportunity. I look forward to reporting on the many successes Barbal will help facilitate.”

Tom Bartley, CEO, Barbal

For more information about how you can maximise efficiency and close deals faster, please book a demo or email us.

Note to Editors:

The British African Business Alliance provides space for networks to stimulate alliances and links between members, partners and contacts so that we can accelerate the development of members’ projects in Africa. BABA has regional networks across the UK. www.britishafrican.org

Barbal is a technology startup based in Bristol, UK. Founded in 2018, Barbal’s software is used by lawyers, regulators and knowledge bodies across a wide range of sectors to help experts to work together on important documents, negotiate and reach agreement faster. www.barbal.co

Barbal named in ground-breaking LegalTech Report

Barbal has been named as one of fifteen LegalTech companies making a splash in the Bristol and Bath region in a new report by Whitecap Consulting. 

Bristol and Bath LegalTech Ecosystem Infographic

The report makes five findings for LegalTech in the region which identifies the West of England as an emerging cluster of legal innovation. The report identifies a significant level of LegalTech activity across an established legal sector, including more than 750 tech and innovation roles within a growing cluster of over 30 LegalTechs, tech companies working in the legal sector, and LegalTech arms operating within the region’s law firms.

The five findings are: 

  1.  High levels of LegalTech activity and service innovation across law firms of all sizes reflect the region’s underlying strengths in technology and law – including the presence of 17 Top 200 firm head office functions. 
  2. Bristol and Bath has built an extensive LegalTech talent pool, with more than 750 legal technology and innovation roles identified by our research.
  3. The growing cluster of LegalTech companies in the region is significant in size compared to other regional locations (as is the case in FinTech).
  4. The region’s LegalTech sector could create powerful differentiation on a national and international level if embryonic collaboration in the legal sector was fully joined up with and modelled on the tech sector’s well-established regional collaborative ecosystem.
  5. A strong sense of societal purpose is evident within the legal sector in the region and this should drive a future strand of LegalTech development.

Bristol & Bath is an established legal centre where the sector has a significant and long-standing presence. 26 of the top 100 firms in the UK have an office in the region, 13 of which have a head office here, making it stand out against other regions outside London.  The primary application of technology within the legal sector to date has been law firms using tech to serve their clients. 

There is an opportunity for tech firms to design highly efficient self service functions used directly by the buyers of legal services, which could make access to legal solutions cheaper, faster and more accessible. The combination of a strong legal sector and the core strength in technology overlaid by the presence of an unusually high number of head office functions for a regional city explain the high number of LegalTech roles in the region. “

Richard Coates, Managing Director, Whitecap Consulting 

Bristol Law Society was essentially founded by a group of lawyers wanting to share the cost of legal text books. That spirit of collaboration continues to thrive to this day and is absolutely central to the Bristol + Bath LegalTech project. Change in technology and innovation is inevitable and we will only be stronger in working together to ensure Bristol & Bath’s place at the forefront of the legal tech market. The opportunities are extensive. Not only will lawyers be able to develop new profitable approaches, we can also assist with access to justice.

Legal tech is a key plank for the legal future and this report is a key stone for taking us to the next step. We now need to move to that next phase and to make innovation and legal tech a long term success story for the region.

Ben Holt, President of Bristol Law Society & Partner, VWV

Bristol has provided a fantastic place to incubate Barbal through our early stages. The region has an excellent startup ecosystem with globally recognised accelerators, great access to funding and a growing talent pool. It’s a better place to live and work that continues to attract people away from London, whilst in easy reach of all other major UK cities. With so many top flight law firms with HQ functions on our doorstep, we’ve had fantastic access to feedback and validation on our product and value proposition. This report will galvanise the sector, encourage even more collaboration and support the “Silicon Gorge” region to grow into a cluster with international impact.

Tom Bartley, co-founder and CEO, Barbal

To find out more about Barbal and explore how concurrent document collaboration and Knowledge as a Service can help your firm to access new revenue streams and grow profits, book a meeting with Tom.

How intent affects collaboration

Collaboration is becoming ever more important in business especially as we overcome the challenges of the past twelve months. But have you ever stopped to consider what it actually means to collaborate?

Since founding Barbal I find myself mulling this more and more. Why is collaboration so important? How does collaboration interface with related concepts like consensus or negotiation? How do we ensure that we build a document editor that is truly collaborative, rather than just allowing people to work together more efficiently?

When I used to run collaboration training in a professional services firm I would ask the attendees to give a definition. It would invariably be something along the lines of “working together to achieve a shared goal”.

They always identified both parts; implying that working together isn’t collaborative unless it’s toward a shared objective.

Including the “shared goal” aspect is critical, it differentiates collaboration from simply resolving resource capacity issues by putting more bums on seats. By collaborating the participants are working towards something they could not have accomplished on their own if they had more time, or without recognising there is a higher order objective than just doing their own job. It distinguishes collaboration from quality assurance processes or procedural pass off of work between people with different skills.

Having reflected on my own work in standardisation, engineering and business ownership and observing how others have sought to use Barbal’s collaborative document editor, I have distilled collaboration down to three different attitudes. I call them intents. They cause the behaviours people display at different times during a collaboration.

The three intents of collaboration are:

  • Creative
  • Consensus
  • Adversarial

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they do result in very different outcomes for participants and their stakeholders.

Creative collaboration

Two people working together at a whiteboard

The old adage goes “two heads are better than one”. That’s because it’s often true. There are many types of work where working closely with someone else with similar or completely different views will turn up something that’s better than either could achieve by working in isolation. Creative collaboration isn’t limited to traditional “creative” industries, but can be applied in any discipline where problems need solving.

The purpose of creative collaboration is to seek synergy.

Consensus collaboration

Two professionals at a desk smiling and high-fiving

Often we have to work with others who have different core objectives, that might be a business that has to make money for its shareholders, or a delivery organisation that provides outcomes for its stakeholders. Consensus is a useful mechanism, it allows different parties to agree a bounded set of shared goals where there’s recognition that helping another party to achieve their goals has a multiplier effect on achieving one’s own goals too.

The purpose of consensus collaboration is seeking the highest order of agreement.

Adversarial collaboration

Shaking hands

Also in life, we have to work with others because we have to; usually because they have something we want. And more often than not it involves money and risk exchange. Sometimes it’s because we’ve been told to by a client or important stakeholder.

In this case the shared objective is simply to get the job done (and as quickly as possible). This collaboration is self-serving, but recognises the need for input or negotiation with others.

The purpose of adversarial collaboration seeking the lowest order of agreement.

In identifying the three intents of collaboration, I hope it helps you to recognise your own behaviours and perhaps is a quick reference framework to check the intent behind your work with others.

Where creative collaboration is laser-focused on a single shared goal, consensus collaboration allows space for each participant to bring their personal objectives to the table too. And whilst I would always advocate for consensus over adversarial collaboration, it can be useful to be aware in particular the distinction between these two intents and recognise the behaviours in the other people involved. Sometimes adversarial collaboration is necessary and collaborating at all is better than aggression.

Tom Bartley is co-founder of Barbal, a collaborative document editor that allows professionals to draft and review documents without the chaos.

This blog complements an upcoming blog in which we discuss the modes of collaboration; linear, real-time and concurrent It was originally published on Medium.

It’s National Apprenticeship Week! Meet Theo, Barbal’s Digital Marketing Apprentice

A headshot of Theo standing in front of a brick wall
This week is #NationalApprenticeshipWeek and to celebrate we are speaking to our very own digital marketing apprentice Theo Tay-Lodge. Theo started as Barbal’s first full-time employee in January 2020 in a business administration role, in December 2020 he joined Working Knowledge’s digital marketing apprenticeship scheme and became Barbal’s Marketing Assistant. We are going to find out about his story.

What made you decide to take up the apprenticeship?

I joined Barbal about 6 months after I had finished my psychology degree, and although I the subject I didn’t know how I wanted to apply it in a career. I started at Barbal in an admin role; I enjoyed the role and getting to know the business, but I felt that I could contribute more. So I spoke to my line manager Tom (Barbal co-founder and CEO), and we discussed my options. Tom suggested the opportunity to join Working Knowledge’s digital marketing course and I jumped at the chance. I think one of the main misconceptions about an apprenticeship is that they are only for those who have just finished school or who are not academic, or they are wrongly seen as not being as valuable as a degree. I have found the skills I have learnt throughout the apprenticeship to be just as important as the skills I picked up during my degree.

How has the apprenticeship impacted your work?

Although I’m only three months in, the apprenticeship has already had a massive positive impact on my work. The work I do now, not only allows me to personally develop my skill set but it also adds creativity to the company. It has given me the opportunity to reap the benefits of career progression whilst providing a real-time impact on Barbal’s business, by bridging the marketing skill gap needed by the business. During the COVID pandemic when many have gone through a period of uncertainty, Working Knowledge’s digital marketing apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to retrain and boost my career.

I have been lucky enough to have great support from both the team at Barbal and Working Knowledge. This support has given me greater self-confidence and responsibility in my role at Barbal allowing for a reciprocal benefit from the skills that I am learning. As Barbal is a young start-up there was a natural skill-gap in marketing for the company. The marketing apprenticeship is providing me with applied knowledge, and I like to think that the organisation is learning about digital marketing in-parallel with me. Learning digital marketing parallel with Barbal as a business has given me a strong sense of responsibility and purpose with the business.

What is the most valuable thing you have learnt from your apprenticeship?

For me, the most valuable skills or skills I have picked up during this course are gaining an understanding of the customer buyer’s journey, understanding the value and learning how to provide the answers to customers’ needs at every stage, and learning how to guide customers toward making a buying decision. Understanding the process of customers thinking and tailoring their experience through the information we provide them is an invaluable skill to have in a business. Gaining this knowledge and skills from the apprenticeship not only providing Barbal with a new approach to marketing but also is giving me a sense of accomplishment. Applying this learning to the business has been really fluid as the team at Barbal have been ever willing to learn with me.

Anything else to add?

I would add that joining this apprenticeship has given me a new constructive outlook on my personal career progression and future at Barbal. I’m looking forward to enhancing my learning in digital marketing and applying this knowledge in the organisation. I would encourage anyone to consider an apprenticeship, it’s a fantastic way to gain transferable skills to gain more confidence in a working environment, especially if you’re thinking of career change like I was. #buildthefuture