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Less than a week after International Business Machines Corp. acquired Promontory Financial Group to increase the brainpower of its Watson artificial intelligence computing system, an Am Law 200 firm has partnered with a legal startup combining Watson’s AI platform with its own proprietary technology.
Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice announced Wednesday that it has become the latest big firm to ink an agreement with ROSS Intelligence, a legal research service that made waves earlier this year. The company touts its ability to apply advances in “machine learning” to legal services, leaving some to worry, probably prematurely, about hordes of robot lawyers.
ROSS announced its first big firm client in April when it partnered with Baker & Hostetler, which is using the San Francisco-based company to assist in bankruptcy matters. The American Lawyer caught up with ROSS co-founder Andrew Arruda in June to discuss his company’s subsequent agreements with two more firms, Latham & Watkins and Milwaukee-based von Briesen & Roper. The CEO of 150-lawyer von Briesen recently invited Law.com to a demonstration of how the firm is using the new AI technology.
ROSS has emerged as one of the top new vendors offering a competitive advantage to firms in the AI-infused legal search space. Womble Carlyle, a roughly 500-lawyer firm that in June forged a strategic alliance with British firm Bond Dickinson, likened ROSS to an AI lawyer that will help its own staffers perform basic search functions faster so that can provide more efficient counsel to clients.
“[Womble Carlyle] and ROSS have started a pilot in the bankruptcy practice, primarily focused on legal research tasks,” said the firm’s chief strategy officer Bill Turner in an email. “The applications for AI technology are on a rapid acceleration path and we anticipate ROSS, AI and legal technology generally to play an increasingly important role for lawyers practicing across nearly all areas of law.”
Turner said that Womble Carlyle’s commitment to innovation has increased its awareness on such issues and given it a vehicle to try out new ideas. He noted that some ideas will work, and others will not, and that the key will be in “always experimenting and learning how we can better serve our clients.”
The innovation functions of Womble Carlyle and Bond Dickinson will remain independent, Turner said, but the two firms have already held several meetings on how to better work together. Turner noted that the opportunity to share information and learn from each other’s mistakes will help the bankruptcy and insolvency practices at both firms as Womble Carlyle looks for “ways to leverage the transatlantic alliance to further elevate our vision.”
AI’s increased prevalence, as noted in special reports by Law.com and the Financial Times, is disrupting the business of law and sparking competition among legal research providers, including traditional industry giants Thomson Reuters Corp. (owner of Westlaw) and LexisNexis Group.
Last week London-based legal giant Clifford Chance launched partnership with Thomson Reuters to support banking clients, according to sibling publication Legal Week, which also noted Magic Circle rival Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s deal with software provider Kira Systems to use its AI technology to handle contract review work.
NextLaw Labs, a Silicon Valley-based legal technology incubator owned by Dentons that has invested in ROSS, recently took part in a $2.25 million funding round for legal transaction management platform Doxly Inc., according to sibling publication LegalTech News, which along with The American Lawyer covered a panel discussion Thursday that touched on legal technology at Thomson Reuters’ Law Firm Leaders Forum in New York.