A&O opens fourth Fuse cohort as it launches high yield bond pilot with Define

Allen & Overy’s tech innovation space Fuse is now open to companies wishing to apply for a space in its fourth cohort, as it launches a pilot with current Fuse member Define within the high yield bond team.

Applications for Fuse can be submitted for a fairly short window of time: from 13 January 2020 until the end of the month with a pitch day to follow in February. Applicants will be asked to describe their team and the problems they are aiming to solve.

Both early-stage and more mature companies can apply to work in the specially designed area within A&O’s London offices and successful companies will be invited to work in Fuse from April 2020. Some existing cohort members have in the past been allowed to continue into the next, but nothing has yet been decided, according to Fuse head Shruti Ajitsaria.

For the first time Fuse will include a fintech stream as part of a new initiative to promote increased collaboration with A&O’s clients in this area. The magic circle firm will work with a select group of financial sector clients to identify fintech companies to join Fuse.

The latest cohort launch comes as A&O launches a pilot with contract drafting and review tool Define, which was founded by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer lawyers Feargus MacDaeid and Nnamdi Emelifeonwu and helps lawyers to quickly review defined terms. Ajitsaria told Legal IT Insider: “We’re piloting Define in our high yield bond team and seeing what impact it has on the review of those contracts because high yield bond contracts are notoriously long and difficult to manage. If it can manage those it can manage other contracts.”

Among the testimonials on Define’s website are Tara Waters, a partner from Ashurst and Sara Barin, a senior associate at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

Opened in September 2017, Fuse was created to give A&O lawyers and clients opportunities to better understand the use of technology that could benefit them.

Companies joining the Fuse cohort have access to resources and contacts to develop their products successfully and on an accelerated track, supported by A&O lawyers.

Where the legal tech companies are concerned, previous experience suggests that A&O is likely to run a pilot with them. The firm works closely with Avokka and has licenses for its software, is doing a project with Apiax, and appears likely to run a pilot with Scissero out of its Belfast office. It also worked with Nivaura on the first cryptocurrency denominated blockchain bond for Luxdeco.

However, speaking to Legal IT Insider, Ajitsaria said that the firm isn’t just looking for companies it can work with. “We’ve always been a bit broader minded. Sometimes we’re looking for a company we can work with and sometimes we look for one that needs some product development to get it to a place where we can work with them. Or else we just want to educate ourselves.

“We didn’t ‘need’ Nivaura and it’s not a legal tech company, but we wanted to learn from them and understand how the bond market could be disrupted and what that mean from a legal perspective. Sometimes we bring in a company that doesn’t have a legal focus such as Signal AI or Bloomsbury AI which are not from a legal background but what they had was so interesting and should give our lawyers an opportunity to learn and be inspired by the technology.”

The notably firm makes no claims over the IP of product development and Ajitsaria says: “I’ve always run Fuse with generosity and openness: people come in with their ideas and businesses and the IP remains with them. I want to do this with integrity – if we run a good program, we will get good applicants but the minute we start behaving badly that will stop.”

According to Ajitsaria there is no ‘theme’ for cohorts including this latest one, and she says: “We try to include as much as breadth as possible – I want to make sure we have companies that are of interest to everyone and have to cater for the trainee in RE to the global head of banking. That’s why we look for mature companies as well as startups, I want everyone to be engaged.”

Engaged they are: at the time Legal IT Insider spoke to Ajitsaria around 60 people had come over to visit Fuse with the managing partner of Madrid and she said: “It’s amazing! How nice that our Madrid managing partner wants to bring people over.”

She adds: “There is genuine interest and ownership and I’ve tried to make it really clear that this is for everybody.”