Ulster University launched the UK’s first legal innovation centre last night, bringing together its law school, school of computing and intelligent systems, and global law firms Allen & Overy and Baker McKenzie.
The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Paddy Nixon, said it would operate at the intersection between legal process innovation, technology and access to justice.
The centre – which have received financial backing from Invest Northern Ireland as well as the two law firms – aims to provide education and training to equip law students and legal professionals “with the tools to navigate the emerging tech-driven legal services market”.
It is also undertaking research for industry clients, the public sector and the academic community, to explore and better understand the impact of legal technology, and developing technological innovations through partnership with stakeholders in order to capitalise on the benefits of tech-enabled practice. There are similar centres already in the US.
It hopes to add to the appeal of Belfast to large law firms, with Allen & Overy and Baker McKenzie among those to have opened operations in the city to support their practices elsewhere.
Professor Nixon said: “There is a growing recognition of the crucial and ever-expanding role of technology in law. The centre will undertake much-needed research on technological innovations to facilitate legal process improvement, and so promote greater economic efficiency and improved access to justice.
“The centre will also enable those interested in lawtech, whether legal professionals, law students or others, to study the technological transformation of legal practice, and the implications of this change. In this way it will foster the emergence of legal technologists, ready for the challenges of legal service provision in the information age.
“The legal sector is immensely important to our economy and in recent years Northern Ireland has attracted significant investment from several global law firms which has created a hub of legal expertise with a focus on innovation.
“This new centre will underpin the strength of our legal sector and further enhance Ulster University’s global reputation for law and computer science research excellence.”
The launch saw centre director Catrina Denvir show the first results of a project on ‘visual law’ – helping people to understand their legal rights and responsibilities through visual representation – that involved collaboration between the university’s law students, its legal advice clinic and art students.
Jane Townsend, partner and head of Allen & Overy’s legal services centre in Belfast, said: “Across our firm, we seek to continually improve and enhance our systems and the way we do things. This collaboration gives us the opportunity to work towards these and other goals while deepening our strong relationship with Ulster University.
“We’ve been greatly impressed by the high calibre of the legal innovation centre and its strategy for accelerating innovation and technology in the legal sector.”
Jason Marty, executive director of Baker McKenzie Belfast, added: “Terrific education at all levels was a deciding factor for us in choosing to locate in Belfast. This new centre extends that strength and directly connects to the opportunities and challenges facing the law and the legal industry.
“We expect our partnership with the centre to provide tangible impacts in how we build our teams, technologies, and business. We also look forward to contributing to the good work of the centre on issues with direct benefit to the people and legal system of Northern Ireland and beyond.”
The centre will give students and lawyers the opportunity to familiarise themselves with different types of legal technology software provided by the partners Clio and Caselines.
Clio is a leading cloud-based law practice management platform and Caselines a leading service to prepare bundles and electronic presentation for the court room.
Ulster University is currently the top institution in the UK for the impact of its law research.