“The only thing to fear is doing nothing” – BLP becomes first law firm to sign up to RAVN’s artificial intelligence solution

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has become the first law firm to sign up to RAVN’s Applied Cognitive Engine (ACE) artificial intelligence solution.

The top 20 firm has initially begun using ACE to search Land Registry documents to pick out company names and charges on titles, inserting them into a spreadsheet in order to issue light obstruction notices. ACE – which has been nicknamed Lonald by the BLP real estate team – also crosschecks for duplication and sends queries direct to Companies House when discrepancies are discovered.

While ACE is currently being used by BLP for a relatively narrow task, it is anticipated that it will be rolled out more widely within the firm’s flagship real estate department and to other practice areas.

The real estate team was introduced to ACE by Matthew Whalley, BLP’s head of legal risk consultancy, who joined BLP from HSBC in 2011 to assist the 706-lawyer firm with furthering its knowledge management and legal technology capability.

Whalley, who has a background as a computer programmer and at HSBC was responsible for taking steps to integrate the bank’s global legal function, has been helping BLP’s clients to work more efficiently, including looking at ACE to help clients manage their own contract analysis.

When it came to Whalley’s attention earlier this year how much time it was taking BLP to search Land Registry contracts, he advised the team that an exercise that was taking many weeks and denting morale could be cut dramatically by using ACE.

Whalley told Legal IT Insider: “Fee-earner morale is sky high. We can offer clients the BLP quality service but in a fraction of the time.”

While fears still run high across the legal sector that AI will have an impact on jobs – and ACE will do a huge amount of work for BLP currently undertaken by paralegals and associates – according to Whalley it will not cost anyone at BLP a job. He added: “The young lawyers were so excited when we showed ACE to them. Technology is being used in more areas of work they don’t want to do. Gen Y are far more excited about technology and less about preserving the status quo. It will make us far more attractive to other young lawyers.”

With regard to becoming the first law firm to sign up to RAVN’s AI solution, Whalley said there were no reservations: “We’re pretty used to innovation. We were the first to set up a managed legal service division, we launched [contract lawyer business] Lawyers on Demand first and we’re kind of used to being out there,” he said.

RAVN is currently in advanced talks with around a dozen other firms – typically very large firms or boutiques – focussing on a wide range of legal needs such as due diligence and across practice areas such as structured finance and employment law.

RAVN has also signed up a number corporate clients and is currently speaking to the likes of real estate giant Jones Lang Lasalle, also known as JLL.

Corporates with huge numbers of contracts or leases can use ACE to search for key terms and expiration dates, ordinarily a lengthy and tedious manual task.

Speaking to Legal IT Insider, RAVN co-founder and managing director Peter Wallqvist said: “These have previously been impossible things to track but we are doing it robotically and very close to 0% in missing things. You can ask for all the leases expiring between two and three months from now and can start clearing contracts ahead of time.”

In trials with law firms and corporates, RAVN has typically undertaken a piece of work that has already been done manually as a test case. Wallqvist said: “We knew we would be faster but what has made us confident is that in every case we have had a higher accuracy rate.”

In one case RAVN undertook a piece of work that had been done by a legal process outsourcer but to such a poor standard that it had to be redone by the internal legal team again. Wallqvist said: “When we did it again we were more accurate than both.

“Many law firms have clients in the financial sector that want everything done yesterday, including due diligence. If there are two law firms on the panel and one can say it will take three weeks rather than nine weeks, that’s a big selling point.”

While traditional law firms are often nervous about competing with new technology-led law firms such as Riverview Law, Wallqvist says that their longevity and experience can give them the edge if they embrace technology.

“My advice to law firms who think technology will eat their lunch is that the only thing they have to fear is doing nothing. If they exploit their knowledge and experience they will cement their position as the experts,” he said.