BLP enlists AI to shoulder process work burden – and so far the lawyers like it

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16 September 2015


Whalley: firm not exploiting AI technology to full potential

Whalley: firm not exploiting AI technology to full potential

City law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) will be using artificial intelligence across every practice area within three years, the man credited with bringing AI technology to its real estate department has predicted.

BLP is one of the City firms at the leading edge of implementing AI-type solutions to carry out standard legal processes hundreds of times faster than traditional methods that use painstaking human labour.

It has signed up unstructured data processing experts RAVN Systems to assist with searching Land Registry documents ultimately in order to issue light obstruction notices. The technology can do in seconds what would otherwise take its lawyers months.

Matthew Whalley, BLP’s head of legal risk consultancy, told Legal Futures that the firm had hardly begun to exploit the potential of RAVN’s applied cognitive engine (ACE). “The technology has got a huge amount of potential, far more than we are doing with it at the moment…

“We asked them to extract data and put it into a spreadsheet, but that’s a limitation of ours. There’s no reason why that data can’t be passed to another robot that then does something with it, and bypass the more traditional data processing element that we are still tied to.”

He reported that he had “started to get a bit of pressure” from other departments within BLP to widen the implementation of AI solutions to other practice groups. “I was pushing to get this into the firm because I am convinced this is going to change the way that legal services are delivered, and will help the firm to stay competitive for the next 20 or 30 years, if not longer.

“I managed to get it into real estate, the firm’s biggest practice group, and they are using it and exploring how to use it more widely within their practice.

“Things happen relatively slowly in law firms but this will, I think, be firm-wide within three years… I’m convinced of that because it has a lot of broad applications and it’s incredibly good at what it does.”

Mr Whalley, who joined BLP in 2011 after six years as head of knowledge management at HSBC, said his focus was to use AI to help in-house lawyers in particular. “I like seeing how technology can help us to work more effectively for our in-house clients, in what is an increasingly challenging world.”

He said bringing ACE to the real estate team had boosted fee-earner morale and was widely welcomed by the lawyers because it could do some of the most tedious work. “It’s taking away the worst bit of their day job; the bit that is actually their evening job because they have got more important things they have to get done first, and then they do this.”

The technology would not cause job losses because it was “always easy to use intelligent people”, he added. “Within a City firm like ours where we have a huge variety of clients and client work, it’s not an issue.

“But if we were legal process outsourcers doing nothing but process work… I’d be telling a different story.”

He said RAVN was the only business he had found “that can actually deliver what I’ve asked it to”. The technology company is reportedly in advanced talks with around a dozen other law firms.

Last month, global law firm Dentons announced that its ‘business accelerator’ subsidiary, NextLaw Labs, had signed a deal to invest in ROSS Intelligence, a “digital legal expert” built on top of IBM’s Watson cognitive computer.

NextLaw Labs chief executive, Dan Jansen, said: “The potential in companies like ROSS shows how the approach to solving client challenges is going to change. NextLaw Labs wants to be a part of transforming what is possible into a tangible offering in today’s legal market.”

Earlier this month we reported that Riverview Law had completed a multi-million pound deal to buy an American knowledge automation business, New Jersey-based CliXLEX as it looks to increase its use of AI.

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