In a double bill of legal tech news from Oxford University, a team from the University has been awarded £213,000 to study the LawTech “ecosystem” – including the career path of legal innovation heads  – as separately, it also launches an interdisciplinary Law and Computer Science course from this year, we can reveal.

The new study, funded by the UK Government’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will complement an existing University of Oxford research project – also funded by the ESRC – which is seeking to “unlock the potential for AI for English law”.

This latest project will seek to identify the mobility and social networks of individuals and key stakeholders in the ecosystem. In a move that will be of interest to the fairly small network of existing legal innovation heads, the study will look at the career trajectories and typical skillsets of legal practice innovation leaders at law firms and LawTech providers, with a view to establishing how this talent pool might be expanded.

It will also look at lawtech startup funders – including their prior legal sector exposure – in order to provide valuable market intelligence for LawTech startups currently seeking finance. The project will examine links between key industry stakeholders to discover the extent to which LawTech startups depend on the professional networks of their senior management teams to secure funding and clients.

The LawTech ecosystem research project is headed by Mari Sako, Professor of Management Studies at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Other team members include Professor John Armour from the University’s Faculty of Law, Dr Matthias Qian from the Department of Economics and Dr Richard Parnham, also from the Saïd Business School.

During the 18-month study – due to complete in March 2021 – the University of Oxford team will work alongside several legal sector partners, to ensure the project’s findings have real-world value. Partner organisations, who have offered their support to the research project, include the UK’s Legal IT Innovators Group (better known to many as Litig); She Breaks the Law – a global innovation network; and Thomson Reuters.

Commenting on the ESRC award, Professor Mari Sako says: “Our ongoing research is starting to generate valuable insights into how LawTech is impacting on legal practice, training, and careers. This additional funding will help us develop a parallel understanding of the LawTech sector, in particular how lawyers, solutions vendors and funders interact with each other. We hope the LawTech sector will be able to draw directly on our research, to help it prosper.”

Elsewhere, the new option in law and computer science is the university’s first truly interdisciplinary option and will be jointly offered by the Law Faculty and the Department of Computer Science.

The course will be led by Professor Rebecca Williams of the Law Faculty and Professor Tom Melham from the Computer Science Department. Professor Williams is a co-Investigator on the AI for English Law project and on RAInS (Realising Accountable Intelligent Systems).

Professor Williams said: “As they increasingly work together, lawyers and computer scientists need to develop an understanding what tools each profession uses to solve problems. Developing a common understanding of each other’s methodologies should make the development of law-based technology solutions more straightforward.

“Our course aims to provide the next generation of lawyers and computer scientists with these skills. The course is fully interdisciplinary and alongside its academic content a key element of the course is the group-based practical exercise, involving both law and computer science students working together on a joint smart contract project.”

The course will take 12 students from each discipline and was over-subscribed this year, demonstrating the demand for knowledge in this area.