A recent spate of Big Law firms creating technology hubs and hiring developers in-house is making it harder to justify the stereotype of the technologically-backward law firm. Joining this trove is international firm Allen & Overy (A&O), which announced this week what it’s billing as a “tech innovation space.”
Based out of the firm’s London office, the space—called Fuse—will serve as a collaborative environment for A&O lawyers and their clients and technology companies to brainstorm and develop technologies for transacting deals, regulatory compliance, and the delivery of legal services and advice.
A release announcing the opening of Fuse says the space is “specially designed” for 60 individuals. A&O partner Jonathan Brayne told Legaltech News that 30 to 40 of those will be from outside the law firm.
Following an application process opening in April, selected companies will move into the space in September. Brayne described the ideal applicants as “both startups and more mature businesses” that do “interesting tech-enabled things that fit well” with the work of the firm and its clients.
“Those could be projects that are specifically relevant to our clients, so perhaps not enabling how we ourselves work but delivering a product to clients that might substitute or extend what we do, or they might be solutions targeting law firms in particular,” he said. “The fit with A&O and clients is important because that is what will get engagement from our people and from clients, and we want to avoid over-promising what we can deliver.”
The firm considers the space part of its “advanced delivery” projects, which includes a “toolkit” of client-facing solutions that dives into legal services, project management, and legal and financial technology.
Bryant said collaboration on technology solutions “will vary from participant to participant, depending on how each business fits with A&O and our clients.”
“For a tech company, it could mean putting A&O’s market knowledge to work helping the company shape its application to fit what the market needs; helping the company get access to the right companies and financial institutions in the market to develop it further and promote it; [and] actually piloting the application among a small group in A&O. For clients, there can come a stage in the development of a solution to their challenges where it makes sense for the client,” he added.
A&O isn’t a newcomer to the legal technology space. In April 2015, the firm started its i2 group, which focuses on investing and development of “technology-related opportunities” and is composed of technology specialists and what U.K. publication The Lawyer referred to as the firm’s “younger lawyers.” A&O has also created its own online platform for online legal and flex lawyer services.
Nor is A&O unique in its decision to take on legal technology itself. Fellow global law firm Dentons started its Nextlaw Labs technology accelerator, which provides mentorship and networking support for startup companies working with legal challenges. Accelerator has been involved with companies such as ROSS Intelligence and U.K.-based RAVN Systems. Likewise, Foley & Lardner started accelerator and incubator Catapult Chicago in 2011, while Bryan Cave launched its incubator TechX this past February. Bryan Cave chief innovation officer Kathryn DeBord told LTN that the project was her response to the observation that at legal technology conferences, it was rare to “actually see a practicing lawyer sitting on a panel or in the audience participating in these discussions.”
Other firms have started creating technology in-house or by collaborating with technology developers. Littler Mendelson has a slew of client-facing tools , such as its Construction Industry Toolkit, designed for employers to comply with state and federal labor and employment laws. Similarly, Latham & Watkins released its OID Threshold Calculator app.
In terms of how this positions A&O in a changing law firm marketplace, Brayne said, “We have to remain grounded about this. We aren’t a tech unicorn. We’re a law firm with a partial view of what is coming down the road and a desire to improve our view so that we can meet client needs better and position the firm and our young lawyers for the future.”
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