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?”

Adopting digital doesn’t need to be disruptive to have transformational outcomes

Modernising Business Strategy

The pandemic has highlighted that adopting new technology is not a choice, but necessity for modernising business strategies. Digital transformation provides many benefits including enabling more coherent inter-and intra-business collaboration, improving productivity, and helping businesses grow.

Dell’s Digital Transformation Index 2020 surveyed over 4000 business leaders and found that 89% of CEO’s said the pandemic outlined a need to improve their IT ecosystem. However, there is often a general anxiety about the disruption digital transformation can cause. In this blog, we will explore the benefits of digital transformation, how to manage change, and how adopting Barbal complements, rather than disrupts, how professionals work.

“Not disruptive – Not scary” Digital Transformation

Contrary to popular belief, digital transformation does not always cause a wave of company-wide disruption.  Some technologies are designed to replace whole business processes, or create new business models. Whereas others, like Barbal, are designed to complement how you work today, supercharging teams to deliver better client experiences and higher profit margins. 

Before embarking on technology investment, make a clear statement about the problems you are trying to solve in your organisation.

Not every digital transformation needs to be large-scale to have long-term benefits.  Small-scale changes can have huge impacts whilst reducing the fallout of the disruption. Digital transformation does not need to overthrow current working practices. Adopting functional technological changes that slot into workflows will have little adverse impact on employees but will reduce waste by saving time and money. 

A smaller-scale transformation that replaces a traditional process but positions it into an overall workflow can save companies huge amounts of waste and money, without having negative consequences for employees and customers.

Change Management

In any technology implementation, management of the change is the most difficult aspect. Adopting any new technology needs to be managed vigilantly, poor leadership and a focus on cost-cutting will lead to failure. 

Firstly, firms need to understand what the change hopes to achieve. State the problem as a “burning platform” that puts your firm in an unsustainable position and must be addressed for long-term survival.

Decision-makers and users alike need to understand why change is needed and the objectives of the change. From your burning platform, you can create a business case painting a picture of a future state, such as how it will positively impact the business by improving the way people work.

Second is planning the change. This includes how you will secure sponsorship for the change, receive company-wide support, and how the decision-makers plan to achieve this support.

The final stage of change management is to communicate the change. The ADKAR change management model is an effective method to embed change. The model outlines the awareness of the need for change, desire to support the change, knowledge of the change, ability to change, and the reinforcement to sustain the change. 

What adopting Barbal will look like.

Barbal is a cloud software for reviewing and iterating technical docs like contracts, specifications, and policies, with less pain and more control.

Barbal incorporates a catalogue of all document drafts, version control, and comment flagging directly into the user interface. The software eliminates any security or privacy risks, keeping a full audit trail of contributions and changes by all parties in one place without the need for any exterior tools. Barbal frees teams from needless admin and waste, ensuring business-critical documents get signed off faster.

Superficially, investing  in any new technology could be seen as a high-risk digital change, yet adapting a tool that slots into your existing workflow will have a positive impact on profit, stakeholder engagement and the return on investment.  When teams collaborate in real-time, the workflow can become abrupt and chaotic, Barbal’s platform allows space for each participant to bring their objectives to the table when focused on a single shared goal.  

Companies that work on technical documentation need to be aware of the profit leaks in their current collaboration processes, Barbal’s solution fixes those leaks, and adopting the technology does not need to be disruptive, the need for the change just needs to be communicated from the top down.

Find out more about Barbal’s solution and book a call with our CEO Tom Bartley here

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


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


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.


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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Learner Collaboration: Barbal & Working Knowledge

It’s #learningatworkweek!

It’s #learningatworkweek and to celebrate we are speaking to our very own digital marketing assistant, Theo Tay-Lodge. In December 2020, Theo joined Working Knowledge’s digital marketing apprenticeship scheme. Working Knowledge is a digital marketing organisation that offers government-subsidised training to ensure businesses achieve a high standard of marketing.  We are going to catch up with Theo and see how he is getting on in his apprenticeship.

How has the apprenticeship affected your work at Barbal?

The apprenticeship has had a massive positive impact on my work. Personally, the two skill developments which stand out for me the most are increases in my self-confidence and creativity. Before I started the apprenticeship I would not have considered myself to be a creative person. The apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to express creativity in my writing and digital skills, whilst providing a real-time impact on Barbal’s business.  I have been lucky enough to have great collaborative support from both the team at Barbal and Working Knowledge. This support has given me greater independence and responsibility in my role at Barbal allowing for a reciprocal benefit from the skills that I am learning.

Could you highlight a success story?

For me, the most notable impact the digital marketing course has had was the success of our virtual event; The Bristol & Bath LegalTech Showcase.  Our marketing team coordinated and managed the marketing campaign across several social media platforms, created the design and branding for the event, and facilitated the virtual event on Zoom. The transferable skills and understanding of digital platforms and processes learnt from Working Knowledge’s digital marketing scheme assisted the successful execution of the event. Having the knowledge and confidence to use the multiple different digital platforms to successfully deliver an online event of this calibre was certainly assisted by the learning from the digital marketing course.

The purpose of this event was to increase visibility, create a collaborative space and facilitate a sense of community, whilst simultaneously giving South West LegalTech providers the chance to pitch their business to potential customers or partners. The seamless running of the event created extremely positive feedback from members from all of the South West legal sector who took part, with future events already in discussion. 

If you would like to watch the event unfold, the recording is on Youtube.

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.

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 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 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.

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.

Barbal leads the way on new University of Bristol student entrepreneurship programme

Barbal has supported the University of Bristol to deliver the first project involving the Intrapreneurial Knowledge Exchange Enterprise Pathway (IKEEP). 

IKEEP is a new initiative to boost industry by enabling skilled students to take up industry placements and foster growth and development. Launched in February, the Bristol IKEEP Programme is designed for students to engage with industry on knowledge exchange projects as business advisors, developing business model solutions and market awareness whilst enhancing student’s skills as intrapreneurs/change-makers and future employees.

IKEEP Programme Logo

Caroline Graham, UoB’s lead on the IKEEP project explained, “These knowledge exchange opportunities enable regional businesses to develop and grow, while honing the talent of future graduates.  As a new initiative, we are working closely with trusted partners who have previously offered quality experiences to our students and we are thrilled Barbal could take part. We are really impressed with what Barbal and the IKEEP students were able to achieve in just 4-weeks.”

Three students from the University of Bristol; Jaime Castiblanques, Magdalena Jezierska and Marianna Goryainova completed a four-week project to outline a business case for Barbal. Their task involved industry, competitor and market analysis. The team also devised an Operations, sales and marketing plan.

Key Findings

The project members prepared a report which identified universities as a prominent addressable market for Barbal’s software. The team outlined Russell Group universities as the ideal customer for Barbal. The reason for this being that Russell Group Universities focus heavily on research, therefore there is a significantly high demand for document editing software. The report findings describe the largest departments utilising document editing tools are STEM, Law and IT. Upon collecting data for their research through interviews and surveys, they found that 90.2% of respondents said they would be willing to use Barbal’s product. When participants were asked about the main advantage of the product, the respondents were impressed with the “ability to draft in private” and “merging files/text with ease”.

Marianna Goryainova

Marianna Goryainova

Jaime Castiblanques

Jaime Castiblanques

Magdalena Jezierska

Magdalena Jezierska

Theo, Barbal’s marketing assistant, spoke to the IKEEP project members after they had presented their business plan to Barbal.

What were your thoughts going into the IKEEP project? 

Jaime: I was excited and nervous. On the one hand, I really wanted to be challenged and to learn more about management. On the other, I was concerned I did not have the required knowledge to see the project through to completion.

Magdalena: Pure excitement and curiosity. I study Chemistry and have nothing to do with business, marketing, or computer science but I have always found the unknown things the most fascinating.

How was your experience during the project?

Marianna: The experience was great! I really enjoyed working in a team and applying the knowledge from my course. It was great to conduct market research. Hopefully, it would help Barbal to attract new customers!

Jaime: From the beginning, I felt that the three of us were very engaged, and Marianna and Magdalena proved to be ideal teammates. However, there were times where we felt lost or overwhelmed by the lack of information that we had to work around. Thankfully, Tom was always around the corner to help us.

Magdalena: Very positive! I was able to learn about some parts of the mysterious world of business and its various nuances while working with incredibly ambitious and creative individuals, who made the project an intellectually stimulating adventure. The most rewarding part was, without a doubt, being able to see the completed jigsaw puzzle, which in our case had the form of the business plan.

Were there any benefits/limitations of working with a small start-up company?

Jaime: I would say that the biggest advantage was being able to talk to Tom directly, who was the best person to tell us about the company and the product. It also meant that we felt that our job was important and had meaning. However, since Barbal is in an initial phase, it also meant that there were times that there was as much uncertainty on Barbal’s side as there was on ours.

Magdalena: Undeniably, working with a well-established company comes with a richer network of contacts, which can be very handy for some parts of business plan preparation. On a positive note, because our project was carried out within a very short time frame, being able to access so straightforwardly the people behind the company, such as the CEO, was invaluable. It definitely had a very positive impact on the final business plan developed by my team.

Anything else to add?

Marianna: I just wanted to say thank you for the opportunity and wish all the best for Barbal in the future!

Jaime: It was a great experience and I am very grateful for it. All three of us learned a lot and felt supported all the way through.

Our view

Tom Bartley, Barbal’s CEO, said “We were blown away by what Marianna, Jaime and Magdalena achieved in the time they were given and with such a fuzzy brief.  We have benefited from a number of internship programmes offered by the University of Bristol (as well as other universities) and our membership of the setSquared Bristol accelerator has put us at the front of the queue for top student interns. We wish all the students good luck in completing their studies, they’re all set for stellar careers in their chosen paths.”

Finally, Barbal would like to say a big thank you to Jaime, Marianna, Magdalena, Caroline Graham and the whole team at IKEEP. This project has resulted in a new market opportunity that has been outlined for Barbal to pursue in the future. Their business plan has defined the higher education industry as one of the largest markets that utilise software as a service. Not only has their research outlined a new market prospect for Barbal, their operations, sales and marketing plans have given us a headstart to pursue this market in the future.