Law firms collaborate on artificial intelligence training
By Alejandro Pérez
Lawyers were trained to think that practicing law is a zero-sum game, with no space for collaboration. Some recent events gave me hope that this is no longer the case. I know I am biased, because in the past I’ve been an open innovation manager in a global corporation, but even now that I’m working on legal technology adoption for a big law firm I think we might have a good chance.
I recently attended a working breakfast in Milan (Italy), organized by Luminance, a leading contract review company, which was the first in a sequence of similar events. On that occasion, several partners and innovation heads from big Italian law firms openly discussed ideas and best practices on the matter.
Not long ago, I also read about a more formal example of LegalTech collaboration between LitiGate, a Tel Aviv-based legal tech litigation venture, and Taylor Wessing, Baker McKenzie, and Mishcon de Reya. These prominent firms are helping the startup to develop its AI arguments analysis platform.
In light of this, I assert with confidence that in an increasingly globalized world where not only law firms but business and international entities are merging on one or more aspects of their activity, growth is based on forces "teaming up" rather than being single players. I could not have imagined something like this would apply to the legal field a few years ago. But today, as we benefit from significant technological innovations, keeping information for ourselves is no longer a profitable paradigm.
Nevertheless, change is never simple. Many firms are still reticent about sharing significant information with their competitors. Indeed, information-sharing (especially in the legal field) represents a risk around issues of confidentiality, competition, and relations with clients. This fear makes firms stay independent from other entities, while potentially jeopardizing their growth and efficiency compared to new entities in the legal market.
In particular, going back to the AI contract review, I must admit that one of the first questions I usually receive while presenting such solutions centers on whether "the training remains within our firm or whether is it shared". I have always acknowledged that as a fair question, and I always assure my audience that no private information would be ever shared and suggest that now it is time to look
to things with a new perspective.
When we contribute to the collective knowledge or, more accurately, when we contribute to the training of an AI tool, we know sharing is option that will deliver the best results. If I have to choose between not taking advantage of the training of others, and to keep my training "private” versus taking advantage of the collaborative effort and add my information to enhance the collaboration, I must always default to the second option.
Why collaborate – and on what
Contract review software leverages machine learning techniques to extract information from unstructured data. Typical use cases include contract analysis, due diligence, lease abstraction, regulatory compliance, and more recently litigation. Some well-known players are Diligen, iManage RAVN, Kira Systems, Luminance.
Data + Talent: Training AI tools to be effective requires surmounting two hurdles: 1) data collection; 2) labeling. Considerable time and resources are involved in those activities. There is no public database of contracts that can be used as an initial training set. Even when we find good examples of data, we still need to label them by hand. Labeling involves tagging consistent examples, either positives or negatives. We know that people engaged in labeling activities need to be quite specialized in the field, if not, we won’t gain the desired "maturity" out of the training due to inconsistent examples, or even worse, bad examples could result in lousy advice.
Tools that enable collaboration: The number of provisions to train an AI system can be huge. According to Kira Systems, their system delivers more than a thousand concepts and data points, out of the box. However, there are always more specific use cases, such as non-English language cases, changes in regulation, etc., so their customers have built more than 20.000 of what they call "smart fields". Just imagine how much time individual law firms have dedicated to a task that could be shared with others with almost immediate benefit. Which brings me to a key requisite to make this collaboration mindset possible: Software companies should actually facilitate it. Right on point, in a future release this year, Kira is announcing the introduction of a new feature that allows their customers to share that expertise with others, opening "new client service models" in their own words.
Organization: Making everyone agree on the scope of the project, and later who gets the benefits can be challenging. After all, what could possibly go wrong if you make lawyers collaborate? These doubts might jeopardize the whole project and open the door to bigger players used to this game. In other words, is it something that law firms will take advantage of or will big editorial powerhouses dominate that space with their ready-made content? We will see in the next few years.
A broader perspective and some network questions
At the same time, focusing on AI training is only part of the picture, and it should be an element of a larger ecosystem of collaboration. Some concrete examples came from Spain. Indeed, the Spanish model presents a set of tools that enable greater cooperation and interconnection among firms, forming an information-sharing network that increases the speed and efficiency of legal transactions. As a matter of fact, the Spanish Instituto de Innovación provides a platform that compares 300 legaltech solutions in the country. Furthermore, the firm Cuatrecasas has organized four editions of its legal startup's acceleration program -Acelera. Finally, the recently launched Global LegalTech Hub is creating a meeting point where startups, investors, universities, and law firms can collaborate. Such factors help lead to a vibrant atmosphere of excitement and build up the trust towards cooperation in the LegalTech business.
Collaboration and coordination among law firms could strengthen every firm as a singular entity while making work faster, easier, and more accessible. Law firm networks could lead by example or global law firms’ networks can offer this benefit to their associates. We should be happy to collaborate. We’ll benefit, and our clients will too.
Final note: I focused here on collaboration examples with the outside world. Internal collaboration requires a specific article and another pair of hands.
About the Author
Alejandro Pérez, JD (Univ. Cordoba, Argentina), MBA (Bocconi, Italy), is an innovation management and legal technology expert with 20+ years of experience in the information and legal services industry. An Argentinian Lawyer by training, he led product management roles working for LexiNexis in Argentina, Mexico (Dofiscal) and Italy (Giuffrè), and later open innovation for Thomson Reuters in Switzerland.
Currently he is back in Milan (Italy), leading key adoption projects on document automation, automated contract review and research working at Chiomenti, a leading independent law firm of 330 professionals (including tax advisors) with offices in Rome, Milan, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Brussels and New York.