BLM has launched a new group called BLM Technovate, which has a ringfenced budget to identify and invest in innovative opportunities. The news comes as BLM in June announced the launch of a new data analytics offering to more accurately forecast and manage future insurance claims.

BLM Technovate, launched in February, is co-chaired by IT director Abby Ewen and London person injury partner Jonathan Edwards and includes associates from across its offices as well as operations managers and people from its go-to-market teams. Each applicant had to provide Ewen with 250 words on why they were qualified to be in the group, which does not include equity partners. The next step will be to get clients involved in the group, which according to Ewen has a “budget sufficient for us to road test a number of different initiatives.”

While many big City firms have launched innovation committees it is still rare for them to carve out dedicated R&D funds, which ultimately gives the committee far less autonomy. Ewen said: “It’s about the things we can provide to our customers to improve our customer service delivery. One thing we’re looking at is improving how we communicate with them, using unified comms solutions. What is going to help the insurers we work with is identifying how we can speed up the claims process with more efficient collaboration.”

BLM Technovate will also be looking at what is going to impact their customers in two years, including robotic process automation.

Meanwhile, the new analytics group is led by qualified solicitor Andrew Dunkley, who was previously Withers practice change architect and before that an associate at Herbert Smith Freehills. The team works alongside BLM’s IT team and is notably presenting challenges in terms of bringing some of the working practices of a startup into a law firm with clearly defined and conservative security needs.

The group, which also includes data scientist David Elliott who to date has worked in the banking industry, wants to, in the words of IT director Abby Ewen, “punch holes in the fire wall” with Ewen observing: “It’s been a real eye opener for us: they’ve behaved like a technology startup and want to punch holes in the firewall and it has been interesting reconciling that with our information security requirements.

“Our information security team needs reassurance that we’re not in breach of ISO27001 but equally we need to create a free enough environment for them to do their job.”

The team will apply machine learning to BLM’s own structured data, including in its management information and case management system, as well as extracting and analysing unstructured information from its iManage document management system, with a view to more reliably predicting the likely length, cost and result of litigation.

Perhaps most notably, the analytics team will also act as a form of consultancy to clients, crunching and analysing any additional data they wish to be included. Ewen said: “Looking at all of our data, there is a lot of meaningful stuff in our document management system, where we have over 10 million documents, and the team are scraping the information off those documents using open source technology.”

She adds: “The requirement to do this has been gathering steam. We’ve invested in BOARD technology, which is really funky tech, but have had no-one to drill down into our customers’ data and work out what it means for them. The approach we’re taking is almost a consultancy. The data scientists are acting as a consultancy on our customers’ data. It’s not just about making sense of the data we’ve already collected but them giving us their own data to analyse.”

BLM plans to grow the analytics team but has also restricted the work it does to two-week sprints for each client in order to prevent the team being caught up on just one or two clients’ work. The issues that the analytics team is presenting includes wanting to download executables, which is not permitted by the firm and Ewen said: “There are certain bits of the firewall we block and if you wanted to download loads of executables we don’t normally do that. The stuff they’re using is funky and modern and it’s a part of the evolution of employing people who aren’t lawyers. How do you facilitate that?”

Ewen has been afforded time on BLM Technovate and with the analytics team thanks to the appointment in the Spring of Darren Broughton as head of IT.

Broughton told Legal IT Insider: “It’s about taking more of the details on and taking the operational demands away from Abby.”

Ewen added: “It’s about allowing me to spend my time on the value add.”

This article first appeared in our free monthly newsletter, which brings you the biggest breaking legal IT news stories and leading commentary. Click here to sign up or download the latest newsletter: http://www.legaltechnology.com//latest-newsletter/