Thursday 21 January 2016

BLP pioneers ‘contract robots’ for lawyers

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) in real estate, its largest UK practice area, the firm has revealed to Managing Partner.

Developed in conjunction with London tech start-up RAVN, the global law firm's 'contract robot' can complete within seconds legal work which would take a team of paralegals and associates months to do.

"I am fairly sure we have built the UK's first contract robot," Matthew Whalley, the originator of this project and head of BLP's legal risk consultancy, told Managing Partner.

"Right here, you are seeing the future of the legal industry change and begin to evolve in a new direction."

He compares the impact cognitive computing will have on legal work to that delivered by document automation and e-discovery systems.

"The difference in technology and processing power now is massive."

Application of contract robotics

BLP decided to test cognitive computing in its real estate practice because it was felt that it provides the best opportunities for repeat work.

Affectionately called 'LONald' because of its use for Light Obstruction Notices (LONs), the firm's 'contract robot' can now finish in less than two seconds work which would have taken a team of people 100 days to complete.

The robot extracts data from Land Registry documents and enters it into a spreadsheet in the same way associates and paralegals would do. It cross-checks data points to remove duplicates and then uses the spreadsheet to send LONs and queries out.

For example, LONald will send an enquiry to Companies House to check if the address in the document matches the company number. If the address is out of date, the robot will flag it for review. The team will then consider all flagged documents in one go at the review stage.

"They can deliver a huge amount of work in the fraction of the time," said Whalley.

"They'll still need to do some checking and make sure that everything is okay, but they will add brain power rather than just processing power."

Impact on talent management

Cognitive computing is eliminating the need for associates and paralegals to do 'drudge work' - a frequent complaint of millennial lawyers, who expect interesting and varied work.

Indeed, research has found that Generation-Y lawyers value job fulfilment more than financial rewards, an issue which law firms have been trying to address through talent management initiatives and even through gamification.

Cognitive computing appears to provide a solution to this talent management problem.

"All of the sudden, young lawyers see this future mapped out for them where they are not having to do all of the routine repetitive reading through documents, taking bits of information out of documents and then writing that information into a spreadsheet to give to somebody to do some analysis on in it," said Whalley.

"They can actually see machines doing that for them so that they can start doing the analysis, and then their careers start to look much brighter and far more attractive."

The associates in BLP's real estate team do not consider LONald's ability to complete repetitive legal work much faster than they could as a threat to their livelihood, according to Whalley.

"All of the young lawyers were thinking about the different potential applications for the technology," he said.

"There is a big gap which they are not uncomfortable with at all. They are quite happy they can fill that doing more useful, interesting, value-added work for clients and for themselves. It has been incredibly good for morale in the team."

Risk and compliance benefits for in-house counsel

BLP is just getting started with using AI, but there are a range of opportunities for its further application, such as with helping corporate clients to improve risk management and compliance.
Formerly head of knowledge management at HSBC Group's legal and compliance division, Whalley has inside knowledge of the challenges facing in-house counsel.

Managing Partner asked him to consider, with his former client 'hat' on, how he would like to see cognitive computing leveraged in future.

Whalley said he would want it to be used to analyse large document sets that had previously been ignored because the time and financial cost of doing so was prohibitive.

"There is risk sitting in documents that nobody is wanting to unearth because the ROI isn't right," he said.

"It takes too long and I may find nothing. So if it's going to cost me £100,000, I am not going to do it. If somebody can do it for £10,000, it is an investment that's worth making.

"So I would want to see it pointed at specific document types where, if something goes wrong, it would cost me, it would become a big problem."

Having successfully piloted the technology in its real estate practice, BLP plans to start rolling it out in other areas of the business. The firm is currently investigating where to next use contract robotics.
Commented Whalley: "As far as leveraging the technology, it is early days for what we are doing."

Added Bruce Braude, head of strategic client technology at BLP: "We plan to extend the application of ACE and similar technologies across our range of legal services, to further serve clients more efficiently and to be able to provide clients with greater insights into their contractual relationships. Initial applications will be on routine process-oriented tasks but, as the technology advances, we intend to apply it to more complex legal work."
Reposted from: Manglani, M. (2016). BLP pioneers ‘contract robots’ for lawyers | Managing Partner. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Jan. 2016].