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Dentons invests in pre-artificial intelligence for lawyers

'It was foreseeable and inevitable,' says Chrissie Lightfoot

6 August 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Dentons has announced today that its collaborative innovation platform, NextLaw Labs, has signed two deals that will enable it to leverage IBM technology.

In a deal with its first portfolio company, ROSS Intelligence, NextLaw Labs is developing a legal advisor app powered by IBM Watson.

NextLaw Labs is also partnering with IBM Cloud to create a cloud-based technology platform to enable legal tech startups to create and deploy legal applications more quickly.

"This is an important moment in our profession. Joining the world's largest law firm with the world's leading technology provider is just one of the ways that NextLaw Labs is working to transform the legal industry," said Joe Andrew, global chair at Dentons.

"By focusing on using new technology to work smarter and ultimately lower our clients' costs, our interests and our clients' interests are one and the same."

Dubbed 'ROSS', the legal advisor app is expected to streamline legal research, saving lawyers time and clients money.

With the support of Watson's cognitive computing and natural language processing capabilities, lawyers ask ROSS their research question in natural language, as they would a person, then ROSS reads through the law, gathers evidence, draws inferences and returns an evidence-based answer.

Dentons' lawyers and staff are working with ROSS to refine the body of legal data and knowledge before it is made publically available.

"Technology is now and will continue to be a real differentiator in the legal profession," commented Dan Jansen, CEO, NextLaw Labs.

"The potential in companies like ROSS shows how the approach to solving client challenges is going to change. NextLaw Labs wants to be a part of transforming what is possible into a tangible offering in today's legal market."

Under the second deal to leverage IBM technology, NextLaw Labs will provide legal tech startups with access to IBM Cloud and the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program for Cloud Startups.

These companies will also have access to IBM's platform-as-a-service, Bluemix, the largest cloud foundry deployment in the world.

Rise of AI in the legal sector

Technology is increasingly being leveraged to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of legal services.

A recent Managing Partner survey found that tech-savvy lawyers are key to law firms' survival.

Chrissie Lightfoot, author of Tomorrow's Naked Lawyer: NewTech, NewHuman, NewLaw, predicted in a 2011 Managing Partner article that law firms would use AI and robotics in future.

Asked for her view on the news that Dentons was investing in ROSS, she told Managing Partner: "I'm not at all surprised by this news. It was foreseeable and inevitable."

"It's a natural progression with regard to the evolution of Robot Lawyer and the coming together of brilliant technologies - cognitive computing, AI and robotics (in due course).

"ROSS, haled as the world's first AI Lawyer, albeit not yet Robot Lawyer, is the smart result of a deal between the company, Apple (using Siri's slick voice capabilities) and IBM (Watson's cognitive computing prowess) and will be a huge boon for lawyers, law firms and clients. I'm really excited by this progress."

However, Lightfoot warned against describing ROSS as "pure" artificial intelligence.

"ROSS isn't really pure AI, it's cognitive computing; ROSS will not be doing the same as a human. The evidence-based answer will be drawn from a range of possible answers and the best suited presented from an existing data-set. AI comes up with something new," she said.

"Nonetheless, ROSS is first out of the lab, and Dentons, not unlike Riverview Law which is using an element of Watson's cognitive computing for simplifying workflow, is utilising what I would describe as the low end of Watson's capabilities."

She concluded: "In time, Ross and its competitors will evolve and utilise the high end Watson talent which tackles complex due diligence legal work. I am confident that more law firms will embrace cognitive computing technologies and AI technologies in due course such as RAVN's and IBM's. This is a really positive thing for the legal eco-system."

In January 2015, Riverview Law announced that it was investing in artificial intelligence.

Under its agreement with the University of Liverpool, Riverview has IP ownership to new technology that automates legal workflow processes and creates visualised analytics.

"This is the holy grail of technology," Riverview's CEO, Karl Chapman, told Managing Partner at the time.

"Our platforms are highly configurable, such that knowledge workers can do it - you don't have to be a professional IT developer - you or I could do it with one day's training. You could create end-to-end workflow processes and all the analytics would come out of it."

In an interview with Managing Partner, Chapman predicted that artificial intelligence will change the future of legal work.

"I think the future is really clear and many law firms will adapt to it, but some won't."

In 2015, Dentons launched NextLaw Labs as an autonomous, wholly-owned subsidiary, with physical and virtual locations in technology centres worldwide.

NextLaw Labs is intended to be an active technology investor, accelerator and business incubator. It intends to create new products and services that will change the practice of law, improve client service and enhance client solutions.

"As NextLaw Labs continues to grow, our lawyers get early access to tools that help them deliver better outcomes, and our clients benefit from cutting-edge technologies not yet available on the market," said Elliott Portnoy, global CEO at Dentons.

Ryan Calo, assistant professor of law at University of Washington, recently warned that developments in artificial intelligence and robotics will test law and policy.

"I join a chorus of voices, from Bill Gates to the White House, to assume that robotics represents an idea whose time has come," he said.

Lightfoot's thoughts on how law firms can use AI to improve client services will be published in an upcoming issue of Managing Partner. Subscribe today to read her ideas.




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