EU pumps £4m into Welsh legaltech innovation lab

Marshall: lab will help firms innovate

The EU is pumping £4m to fund an innovation lab at a south Wales law school which will carry out research into artificial intelligence (AI) and other legal tech innovations.

From mid-2020 the innovation lab, based at Swansea University’s Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, will include a cyber-threats research suite, a legal AI lab, a legal innovation centre, and a law clinic.

One of its key aims is to reduce the risk of data hacking.

The European Regional Development Fund is to pay £4m of the total cost of £5.6m, with the remainder funded by the university itself.

The law school’s centre for innovation and entrepreneurship in law leads the LegalTech Wales initiative, an emerging network of legal practitioners, technology companies and other organisations interested in the application and impact of technology in legal practice.

The centre also works closely with the Department of Computer Science and they recently jointly appointed an associate professor in law and computer science to specialise in the application of machine learning in the legal domain. Last year, the university launched an LLM in legaltech.

A spokesman said the EU funds would help pay for improvements to the law school premises, along with researchers to work with law firms and others.

The AI lab will involve the university’s law and computer science academics and attempt to push forward development in new AI techniques, along with machine learning, legal design, and natural language processing.

In a statement, the Welsh government said the lab “will be a unique research and innovation hub that will develop Swansea University’s existing and new partnerships with international law firms, security agencies, professional and trade bodies, and technology and social media companies”.

The investment follows publication last week of a major report headed by commission headed by the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. It recommended the reinvigoration of the legal sector in Wales and described the law school as the “one major exception” to the “comparative lack of engagement in Wales with the opportunities presented by digitisation and the rise of AI”.

The law school’s director of knowledge and economy, Dr Chris Marshall, said: “A core focus of the [lab] will be to help law firms innovate at the intersection of law and technology, whether that means through the better use of data, improving the design of legal processes, or applying machine learning to legal matters.

“The project will also work with law enforcement, security agencies and technology companies to advance understanding of how terrorists and criminals exploit digital platforms and emerging technologies, and to develop safeguards that can be integrated into technological design.”

Wales Counsel General Jeremy Miles said the Thomas commission identified opportunities to strengthen the legal sector in Wales.

He added the new lab would help “discover the potential of emerging technologies such as machine reading techniques and AI, and enabling Welsh government, legal professionals, professional bodies and academia in Wales to work in partnership to develop and promote the technological capabilities of the legal sector.

“EU funds continue to play a vital part in modernising our economy, increasing productivity, and developing employment and business opportunities, and I look forward to seeing how far legal technology can help promote access to justice for the citizens of Wales.”

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