Weightmans has become the first law firm to secure Bridging for Innovators (B4I) funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which will help it develop a legal redaction tool.
By providing access to computing, big data, and artificial intelligence experts at STFC Hartree Centre, the firm will receive in-kind funding worth £100,000.
The innovation team at Weightmans will work with the Hartree Centre to develop a tool for reliably and accurately carrying out automatic redaction of sensitive data on documents.
The council said: “If successful, the developed solution will have significant impact across the entire legal and other services sectors within the UK.”
Stuart Whittle, director of business services and innovation at Weightmans LLP, said there was currently “no tool of this kind available within the legal market that is underpinned by this level of intelligence and learning capability”.
Redaction is still a largely manual process that requires sustained concentration and attention to detail, and tools that assist with it at the moment rely on search functionality.
Mr Whittle said: “But if your document contains any variations on a particular name, or even a typo, this can be missed – and leaving one rogue detail in renders the whole redaction exercise useless”.
The tool Weightmans is developing employs machine learning to enable rapid, accurate redaction, working alongside the lawyers.
Mr Whittle said: “It can recognise any information that is GDPR-sensitive or commercially sensitive information. It highlights this sort of information within a given document, allowing lawyers to reject or approve its recommendations instantly.
“Because it can continuously learn, the tool continues to increase in accuracy. It is intelligent enough to detect similarities and variations within a text, such as shortened names or abbreviations, and recognise them as one and the same.
“It can also generate replacement dummy names where multiple people or locations are referenced within the same document – critical when handling work such as childcare proceedings or police work.”
The collaboration with the Hartree Centre involves a six-month feasibility project for a prototype tool. On completion, it will be piloted within Weightmans.
Mr Whittle said: “We will then look for additional funding to help us evolve the tool, expanding its capabilities so it can be applied across a variety of legal functions and disciplines, such as litigation and disclosure.
“Ultimately, we hope to roll it out to any business that has to deal subject access requests, or handle sensitive information.”
B4I is an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programme run by STFC to support UK industry in a bid to boost productivity.
It offers businesses in-kind funding for projects that tackle specific innovation challenges with unique access to a suite of world-leading, high-tech scientific facilities, with extensive support from scientific and technical experts with the knowledge to fast-track solutions.
Andrew Gargett, AI team lead at the Hartree Centre, described this as a “particularly significant and complex issue faced by a variety of legal and other professional service organisations”.