Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has opened its debut Freshfields Lab. The new initiative, launched out of Berlin’s start-up campus known as The Factory (with plans afoot to open a second Lab in London), is focused on developing technology-based solutions for clients as they face increasingly complex challenges around mass claims, global transactions, investigations and cyber risks.
“We have been pushing our innovation initiatives hard over the past two to three years and as we have gained traction in the market, clients have increasingly come to us, asking us to help them to build solutions to solve their business problems,” Freshfields chief legal innovation officer Isabel Parker (pictured) told Legal IT Insider. Parker will run the Lab alongside Freshfields counsel Gerrit Beckhaus and fellow counsel Felix Netzer.
“It got to the point where we were almost overwhelmed with the number of requests,” Parker added. “We realised that in order to service those demands in the right way, we needed an alternative working environment. This is different to our traditional legal service delivery. It is about productising what we do and customising solutions. The traditional corporate space didn’t seem quite right for those conversations.”
The activities in the Lab will be run by multidisciplinary teams, including Freshfield lawyers, client representatives in legal and IT roles, as well as external digital experts, software providers and academics. A number of lawyers will split their time between working on Lab projects and traditional client work, in order to embed the Lab approach across the firm.
Parker is keen to emphasise that the Lab is not an incubator. “This is a client experience space,” she said. “Although we might make use of the start-up community, we are not there to incubate start-ups and help them come to market. As far as I know, we are the only law firm with a dedicated space focused on client experience rather than a broader incubation project.”
Work in the Lab is already underway, including a solution to analyse data and communications within a client organisation to support compliance, for example, as well as a project to support mass claim actions.
“There are a growing number of claims being brought by large numbers of consumers across several jurisdictions, and in particular in Germany,” Netzer told us. “We are working on a case where there are tens of thousands of parallel proceedings with hundreds of lawyers involved. It is a vast data exercise and it simply can’t be done in the old way, by circulating excel spreadsheets. You need digital solutions; business intelligence software; document automation; AI. We have been able, alongside the client, to combine these tools in an effective way that is bespoke for that case.”
The launch of the Lab is the third pillar in Freshfields’ innovation strategy. The firm already has Freshfields Digital, which is concerned with client facing advisory work around the legal and regulatory implications of digital transformation. It also has the Freshfields Hub in Manchester, formerly known as the Legal Services Centre, which is focused on process orientated legal work that is tech-enabled.
“The Hub is all about applying tried and tested technology to live matters at scale,” explained Parker. “It could be that solutions we work on in the Lab end up in the Hub, if they are scalable and applicable to lots of different clients, or Lab solutions may just involve an individual client. But the Lab is more of an R&D function. It’s the forward-looking piece. Each pillar of the strategy reinforces the others.”
Berlin has been chosen as the first location for a Lab because it is at the epicentre of the European start-up scene, according to Netzer. “From here the firm will start to build the Freshfields Lab as a truly global initiative.” There are plans to open a Lab in London in “relatively short order”, said Parker. Further locations are likely to follow depending on client demand.
By Amy Carroll