dusk-in-melbourne-1465234-640x480Joint ventures between law firms and startups are still far from common (in fact, we’d go as far as to say still rare) but in Australia, Corrs Chambers Westgarth has become the latest local firm to invest in a startup, in an alliance with Canadian AI contract review specialists Beagle.

The innovative Australian law firm, which in August was awarded a place on Janders Dean and LexisNexis 2016 Legal Innovation Index, has taken a 50% stake in the Asia Pacific business of Beagle, which uses technology assisted narrative review (TANR) technology for contract analysis.

Beagle’s TANR digests and identifies important elements within text at about one page per second, and then learns the culture-specific way that an entity manages those elements. Its USP is that its software not only speeds up contract review, but increases the uniformity of decision making within the context of an organisation’s policies and procedures.

The Ontario-headquartered startup, which in August won the Canadian Bar Association’s Lawtech startup contest The Pitch, has quickly made a name for itself since its launch in 2014, with its most cited client being German automaker Volkswagen (VW AG), which uses Beagle’s technology to assist in all car part procurement decisions for its entire family of companies and brands.  Beagle was one of 14 recipients of Microsoft Ventures’ 2015 Seattle-based Accelerator Program and a Canadian Innovation Exchange top 20 most innovative companies of 2015.

“Instead of adopting the common reactive approach of other software platforms in the market which look at what a company has agreed to previously, this platform is focused on quickly learning what is needed by a company based on its own policies and culture, and then helping decision-makers stay within those boundaries,” said Beagle’s founder Cian O’Sullivan yesterday (25 October), as the JV with Corrs was announced.

The Corrs-Beagle JV is being introduced to the market as a pilot program for a select number of Corrs’ clients, though the platform will ultimately be available to all of Corrs clients and non-clients throughout Australia and New Zealand.

It is both Beagle and Corrs’ first joint venture, in a market where law firm investments in startups is fast becoming the norm.

It follows fellow Australian law firm Gilbert + Tobin’s extension in August of its investment in Lawtech startup LegalVision, a fixed fee online legal advice business, and Norton Rose Fulbright Australia’s alliance with LawPath, which helps companies with all the documents they need to set up, run and expand a business, including applying for patents and trademarks.

Corrs partnership with Beagle addresses what it sees as a gap in the market. “Up until this point, many companies have had to rule out using AI for contract analysis because they haven’t had the scale or the budget. Beagle’s software addresses this market gap and, rather than being confined to use within legal departments, it can create benefits right across the enterprise structure, from legal, to procurement, contract administration and management, risk, insurance, IT and IP,” said Corrs partner James Whittaker.

However, much as with other law firm startup investments, it is also a way of leveraging tech to expand and diversify the way it generates revenue. Corrs CEO John Denton adds: “The key to ensuring we thrive in the shifting delivery of legal services is to ensure our innovations deliver value to the market. At times, this extends beyond our immediate client base, and our joint venture with Beagle is a great example of this.”