Flight delay claims firm teams up with university to develop AI


Bott & Co: Learning will be used in other areas of the practice too

Cheshire-based Bott & Co has unveiled a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) with the University of Manchester (UoM) with the aim of incorporating artificial intelligence technology into the firm.

It is funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s industrial strategy and is the latest in a series of KTPs involving law firms, although usually larger ones than Bott.

International firms DWF and Kennedys both have their own KTPs with Manchester University.

Bott & Co was traditionally a personal injury practice but has developed a ground-breaking flight delay business which heavily automates what are small claims under EU law. It is now moving into other areas of consumer claims.

The 30-month project will embed a state-of-the-art platform for legal text mining and predictive modelling into the flight delay workflow process.

Managing partner Paul Hinchliffe said a combination of natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning techniques would “enhance decision making, reduce wasted costs and improve service delivery”.

He told Legal Futures that the ultimate objective was to teach its existing eight-strong software development team skills they do not currently have and that the systems developed for flight delay claims could be transferred to personal injury and other processes for low-value consumer claims.

More than half of flight delay claims handled by the firm are litigated, and the platform should help Bott make better predictions about which cases to take on.

“There is a high volume of cases, and although they are relatively low value, a relatively small improvement could have a big business impact,” Mr Hinchliffe said.

Though some “mid-level automation” has been introduced, claims that pass the initial rules-based check are then manually triaged. Given the low margin of the work, full automation is seen as fundamental to ensure a profitable return.

Predictive analysis would also empower staff to take more complex decisions without referral to senior staff.

Professor Sophia Ananiadou, director of the National Centre for Text Mining and a Turing Fellow in the university’s school of computer science, said: “Our research in text mining over many years has always been conducted with a view to discovering hidden knowledge, helping to solve practical problems, increasing productivity and contributing to innovation and growth, particularly in collaboration with business and industry.

“Our project with Bott and Co takes us into a new area that will benefit both the legal community and the public.”

The partnership will involve the university recruiting a KTP associate who will work within the law firm’s software development team full-time. They will require a BSc and an MSc (PhD desired) in computer science or related areas to take on a role that will pay up to £40,000 a year plus performance bonus.

Last month, the Court of Appeal ruled that uncontested flight delay claims brought by Bott & Co did not amount to litigation services and so it could not claim an equitable lien over the damages for its costs.

This decision has been criticised for not giving solicitors credit for being more business-like and efficient.

Bott & Co has twice won flight delay-related litigation in the Supreme Court.

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