As any student lawyer will know, legal tech is an increasingly important area for law firms looking to stand out in the competitive legal services market. Using legal tech can greatly increase efficiency in carrying out basic tasks, such as document review or drafting boilerplate contracts, leading to savings for clients. We discussed this previously in our article on the use of artificial intelligence by law firms.
In this article we look at different models used by the UK’s top law firms to ensure they stay ahead in the race for the latest legal tech. These are divided between firms who look to create their own in-house innovations and firms who adopt an incubator model, investing in external tech companies.
The Internal Development Model
Clifford Chance is at the forefront of legal tech innovation through its Innovation & Best Delivery Strategy. One branch of this strategy is Clifford Chance Applied Solutions, an in-house developer of innovative software to meet its clients needs, headed by Jeroen Plink, the man behind the development of Practical Law Company (PLC – if you don’t know what this is yet, you will within a week of starting work at a law firm). Clients and lawyers within the firm put forward ideas for new products for Clifford Chance Applied Solutions to develop. Success stories include CC Dr@ft, which offers an automated document assembly system allowing clients to quickly and independently generate tailor-made and house styled documents, which Clifford Chance says can lead to a 50-75% reduction in the time it takes clients to create such documents. Another service is its SCMR Manager tool, which helps financial services companies comply with their FCA registration requirements.
Linklaters is another firm that has encouraged its own lawyers to innovate through its Ideas Pathway scheme. The firm allows all staff members to submit ideas for improvements to different areas of the business (for example, agile working) with a select few of these ideas funded through proof of concept. Another of Linklaters’ innovations is aimed specifically at law students. Its Inside Sherpa program allows law students to undertake a 5-6 hour virtual internship at the firm, taking in different aspects of legal practice such as legal research, client communication, and project management.
The External Investment Model
Rather than developing in-house technology, another option for firms is to invest in external start-ups. By working with these start-ups at an early stage, law firms can influence the shaping of the technology to best meet their own and their clients’ needs, and if they choose to invest in start-ups that go on to be successful, they can also profit from their success.
Often this is done through an “incubator” model where start-ups will pitch to become part of annual cohort of companies that reside at the firm for a short period to work with the firm’s lawyers and clients in order to develop their technology. Companies that impress during their residency may receive investment from the firm.
One such incubator is the MDR Lab run by Mischon de Reya. Each year, Mischon de Reya hosts a 10 week programme with start-ups across 5 different categories, Litigation, Transactional Law, Cyber, Real Estate, and the Business of Law. Alumni of the programmes include PING, a product, which automates timekeeping for lawyers and provides data analysis for law firms and Digitory Legal, a pricing prediction and management tool for litigators. Time recording and costs budgeting are two aspects of legal practice that are necessary but time consuming. Reducing the time spent on such administrative tasks is a prime area where investing in legal tech can create real savings for firms.
Slaughter & May has launched a similar incubator through its Collaborate program. The first cohort of six start-ups was selected in 2019 to work alongside Slaughter & May lawyers and test their products in real-life scenarios. Alumni include Tabled, a platform which helps lawyers manage tasks and projects by automating workflows and assigning tasks to team members, and Logiak, a tool which allows users with no coding experience to create complex logic/rule-based systems, for example to create an app to assist in working out if a particular law or regulation applies in a certain situation.
This focus on tech innovation presents a real opportunity for junior lawyers to make a mark, as they are often more comfortable working with technology than some senior lawyers. Candidates can stand out from the crowd by showing experience with coding, for example, persuading firms that they are the innovators of the future. At the very least, if you are applying to a firm, check their website to see what they are doing to embrace legal tech – this is something that you will be expected to know about at your interview.