This week, attorneys at Allen & Overy’s New York office are being tasked with bringing some creativity to legal services. But they won’t be doing it alone. As part of the Allen & Overy’s “U.S. Legal Tech Week,” its New York-based attorneys and clients will have a chance to interact and collaborate with four startups from the firm’s Fuse incubator.
To be sure, this isn’t the first time these Allen & Overy attorneys have come into contact with Fuse. Shruti Ajitsaria, head of Fuse and counsel at Allen & Overy, said the firm regularly hosts video conferencing sessions between its worldwide offices and its incubator, which is housed at the firm’s London headquarters.
The U.S. Legal Tech Week, however, will be the first chance attorneys in New York get to interact with Fuse startups in person. “What we haven’t been able to do up until now is bring [Fuse] members to New York and develop a relationship of trust and a one-to-one relationship,” Ajitsaria said.
Fuse, which launched in 2017 and supports a rotating mix of eight startups, is somewhat different from other incubators in the legal market in that focuses solely on fostering legal tech innovation and forgoes equity investment.
Instead, Allen & Overy offers each startup in its incubator office space and direct access to the firm’s attorneys and clients for advice and support. In return, the firm gets early access to each startups’ technology, and importantly, a chance to work together on ideas around improving legal services.
For the firm’s New York attorneys and clients, this was the week to capitalize on those benefits. “We’ve organized [Legal Tech Week] in a very structured way,” said David Lucking, partner and head of the firm’s U.S.-based International Capital Markets group.
At the end of the week, Allen & Overy’s New York office will have had around 100 client meetings about Fuse, a client networking event, a partner-level meeting to discuss legal tech ideas, and five days of “open sessions” where anyone at the office could meet with Fuse startups one-on-one and sample their technology, he added.
The four Fuse startups participating in U.S. Legal Tech Week include Avvoka, a contract drafting, workflow and analytics platform; Regnosys, a regtech company that aims to help the financial industry with regulatory compliance; Signal Media, an AI-powered intelligence firm; and Nivaura, a platform that uses blockchain technology to automate the issuance and administration of financial instruments.
Nivaura is only startup Allen & Overy has invested in, a choice that Ajitsaria said “makes sense from a strategic perspective,” given the startup’s and Allen & Overy’s historical focus on bond issuance work. Most other Fuse startups have received funding from a variety of venture capital and other investors.
Ajitsaria added that some of the startups, such as the ones impacting the financial industry, were chosen for Legal Tech Week to spur New York-based clients’ interest in what Fuse is doing, while others were chosen to help the office’s attorneys think about new ways of working internally.
In addition to New York, the firm will also bring these four startups to its Washington D.C. offices on Monday, January 14, for a one day event. Allen & Overy also held a similar Legal Tech Week recently in Singapore in mid-November 2018, which was attended by local government representatives.
Given that Fuse only works with its startups for a limited time, which is officially set at six months but usually extended beyond that depending on the engagement, the technologies Allen & Overy attorneys come into contact with can constantly evolve.
Yet since the firm doesn’t invest in its most of its startups, there is always a risk a Fuse startup will forgo developing technology specifically for the legal market. In July 2018, for instance, one of Fuse’s previous startups, Bloomsbury AI, a natural language processing company, was acquired by Facebook to help in its efforts to combat “fake news” on the social media platform.
Ajitsaria, however, noted that Bloomsbury AI wasn’t solely focused on legal tech, adding that Fuse’s aim is include tech companies from outside the traditional legal market. “I think Bloomsbury AI was a good lesson for us because it is about pushing the boundaries, and it wasn’t about using the same legal tech vendors that everyone is looking at and licensing form.”
Still, she noted that many of the startups currently in Fuse were founded by former lawyers and are primarily focused on the legal market.
Ajitsaria, who is an angel investor herself, also explained Fuse’s decision not to take equity in most of its startups, by noting that other law firms may be hesitant to use technology that is partially owned by a competitor.
She believes that law firm investment in AI contract review platform Luminance, for example, “really hampered them. I haven’t seen them get the same traction as RAVN and Kira. Other law firms don’t want to use technology that is in part held by another law firm.”