New tech: Baker’s global R&D partner talks Avvoka and why the firm’s startup programme beats an incubator

Baker McKenzie’s global R&D partner Ben Allgrove talks to us about how the global law firm selected Avvoka, and why he believes the legal technology startup engagement programme is better than an incubator.
How did your engagement with Avvoka come about?
We started a project through our legal technology startup engagement programme where we bring in start-ups on a slimmed down model. We’ve been working with Avvoka on a proof of concept for four to five months to see what technology they have and what we think we could use it for. Avvoka has not yet been deployed on client work: they have effectively graduated from a proof of concept to now pilot phase on client work.
We have two use cases from the proof of concept where we think Avvoka might offer value and we will start with that. But we’ve agreed a deal where the technology is available to everyone, so hopefully at the end of the pilot there will be other use cases.
What are the two use cases?
Avvoka market themselves as a document automation and deal negotiation platform but our initial uses cases are not in that space. Being able to play around with the technology shows the benefit of the start-up program: if you’re dealing with larger players you get what comes out of the tin but working with start-ups we have the ability to figure out the value proposition.
The two use cases are:
– A large-scale multi-jurisdiction advisory project. We already use SharePoint but think that Avvoka offers benefits here and we will try to validate that. We are working on a 100-country large scale collaboration around the world, which is quite different from a corporate deal where there are maybe two firms and 20 people. Avvoka is in pilot.
– Automation of trademark recordals. Say you’re a big brand company and you buy a brand that has a trademark in a bunch of countries and you need to notify a recordal of change in ownership in all of those counties. That process is surprisingly laborious and not every country does it in the same way; we think Avvoka will help us to automate the process. They are required to do some development for us to achieve that and have agreed that they will do that.
We decided that at this stage the market isn’t ready to negotiate big deals on a platform.
Does Avvoka make automation easier?
You need a few things for automation to work. One, the right types of document: if a document is really complex automation doesn’t help, you’re almost quicker to go to a template. The second challenge is agreeing a standard form of wording. And the third area, which is where Avvoka is strong, is that you ordinarily need a combination of legal domain skill and technical skill to use the product and that’s a rare resource: law firms don’t have a surfeit of PSL resource. Avvoka is a bit more consumerised and does some of the coding for you.
Tell us a bit more about the startup programme
We decided not to have an incubator: the model we wanted was pretty light touch and gives the early stage technology companies access to potential buyers who can help demonstrate the problems that need to be solved.
Lots of technology is trying to find a problem, which is why we didn’t go for an incubator, where you have 10 companies that tie you in to finding a problem for them. In our model there is no limit to how many can startups can come in as we are not giving them physical space. Instead we bring in a small team from say Avvoka or LitiGate and put the software in the hands of the people at the coal face. They will either say ‘cool but to be frank it doesn’t move the dial’ or they will knock on the door and say ‘this is really interesting’.
We have a bunch of ambassadors and we pick people who will find the software relevant. Anyone in the business can say ‘I have a mate with a legal tech startup’ and they can apply to bring them into the programme. We will make a decision within 72 hours.
We started the programme 12 months ago and there are nine startups in it including Avvoka, LitiGate and Bryter.
And the global R&D programme?
The global R&D programme launched in early 2017. We have a group of innovation ambassadors – 700 self selecting people. My team helps to marshal that community and look for ideas.
Ben Allgrove is a technology lawyer based in London