Tech wizards: your guide to AI and the Magic Circle

Elizabeth Huang

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? As law firms across the kingdom scramble to board the AI bandwagon, let’s take a look at how the City’s big-hitters shape up. Your f(AI)ry godmother is here to help, with a run-down of what each of these firms are doing with legaltech – the ideal starting point for further research, and a way to bag all-important commercial awareness points in interviews and applications.

Allen & Overy
They say:
We recognise the importance of technology in solving new business challenges, not just a more efficient means of delivering business as usual. We maintain relationships with a range of leading tech suppliers so we can select the right technologies to help our clients achieve their goals. We design, develop and help implement technology solutions.”1

Named by the Financial Times as the ‘Most Innovative Law Firm in Europe’ in 2017, the fifth time it has topped the list, Allen & Overy has stellar innovative credentials; the firm’s attitude to AI is no exception. The firm emphasises its problem-solving approach, dividing its legaltech applications into four areas: document storage and review, data extraction, collaboration, and automation.

Some concrete examples:

Allen & Overy’s two flagship developments are Fuse and MarginMatrixTM.

Legal Technology describes A&O’s investment in AI as moving it further into “the territory of technology developer and collaborator, at a time when law firms are having to define what they are and what they do.”4

The verdict: (A+) – A&O has clearly got its eye on the ball – its approach to AI is innovative, broad-ranging, and demonstrates that the firm is committed to staying ahead of the curve in multiple areas where AI might be applied in future.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
They say:
Our clients’ business models are constantly being challenged. We are responding by putting innovation at the heart of what we do. Innovation means working with clients to develop new models for delivering our services, using a combination of new technology, alternative resourcing, flexible pricing and process improvement.”5
Some concrete examples:

In addition to its Manchester-based Legal Services Centre, which deals with the more process-driven aspects of client work, Freshfields also works with AI partners such as Kira Systems, Leverton and Neota Logic.

Freshfields’ team recently won the ‘Law for Good’ Hackathon organised by Legal Geek. Team leader Milos Kresojevic, ‘Enterprise Architect’ in the Innovation and IT Strategy Team, said: “AI and machine learning will come into our processes in bits –…the structures of the business models will shift, which will create different opportunities for legal value creation.”6 He describes the firm as taking a “holistic, commercial approach combining multiple commercial AI products”.7

The verdict: (A-) – while Freshfields makes good use of AI, it is not as involved as some of the other Magic Circle firms in actively developing new applications. Where it really shines is in its approach to shaking up the traditional City firm workflow, by outsourcing administrative work to its LSC – trainees, breathe a sigh of relief!

Clifford Chance
They say:
Artificial intelligence (AI) is growing at a phenomenal speed (think, for example, of driverless cars, or, simply, interaction with the personal assistant on your smartphone) and is now set to transform the legal industry by mining documents, reviewing and creating contracts, raising red flags and performing due diligence. We are enthusiastic early adopters of AI and other advanced technology tools to enable us to deliver a better service to our clients.”8

Clifford Chance was one of the first firms to embrace AI, when it partnered with Kira Systems to improve its due diligence processes. At the time, their Global Head of Innovation and Business Change explained: “Our clients are under substantial pressure to reduce legal spend…Deploying Kira is an exciting next step in helping our clients address this demand for greater value, and very much fits into our strategy of embracing innovation to ensure that we deliver the best service to our clients.”9

Some concrete examples:

The firm has several tools to support their work with clients: its MiFID toolkit and Contract Companion are two examples.

The verdict: (A) – Clifford Chance was a key AI early-mover and they have not been resting on their laurels since then. The firm is clearly committed to continuing to develop new and innovative products, with a keen eye to the changing demands of clients.


They say:

We are continually developing innovative technology solutions in order to meet our clients’ individual evolving requirements. We are at the forefront of Legal AI programmes.We recognise that the real potential of Legal AI goes beyond data organisation and extraction.”10

Linklaters was the very first firm to sign-up to AI, following its partnership with RAVN (now iManage) in 2016. Today, the firm makes use of a range of integrated programmes such as Kira, Leverton and Neota Logic. Recently, the firm made headlines with news of its in-house development of Nakhoda, a “highly customised and flexible AI platform which can considerably enhance the efficiency of many legal processes”.

Some concrete examples:

Linklaters also has its own innovation steering group, which considers broader ways in which the firm can stay ahead of the pack. Paul Lewis, capital markets partner, describes using natural language processing in legal research as the “next frontier”.11 The firm’s Ideas Pathway encourages staff members to develop their own ideas and pitch them to the business.

The verdict: (A+) – Linklaters has always been at the front of the pack when it comes to legaltech, and it remains an industry leader. In particular, it is to be commended for its hands-on approach to innovation and its well-defined vision of the role AI can play in law.

Slaughter and May

They say:

Throughout our history, Slaughter and May has both supported and practised entrepreneurialism and innovation. We have a reputation for providing an exceptional legal service. We are renowned for our commitment to excellence and for our ability to find innovative solutions to the most complex of legal problems.”12

Though Slaughter and May is known as the Magic Circle’s most traditionally-minded firm, that has not stopped it from expressing a keen interest in AI. The firm recently published a joint white paper with ASI Data Science, entitled Superhuman Resources, which considers how AI can be responsibly deployed in business. Rob Sumroy, a partner at Slaughters said: “Technology issues have moved over the last decade from the back office to the boardroom table…Successful adopters will be those who are able to reinterpret strategies around human resources and risk allocation so that they can be applied effectively to machines.

Some concrete examples:

Slaughters also recently made the news for its investment in legaltech start-up Luminance, and its Fintech Fast Forward Incubator.

Reflecting on the firm’s approach to AI, Rob Sumroy said: “We do not have a ‘Head of Innovation’ because we want to make innovation something broader across the firm and to ensure it happens.” He added that Slaughters prefers “an ‘innovation demand-led’ approach, rather than an ‘innovation supply-led’ model.”14

The verdict: (A) – Slaughter and May is shedding its dusty image and clearly has an eye on the future. It is actively engaged in making the most of AI software and is sensitive to the risks, and rewards, that AI may bring the wider business world.There we have it: five firms, five slightly different approaches to AI. What is clear however, is that all the big players are demonstrating a keen interest in AI and have invested significant amounts of time, money and people power in staying on top of new developments. Prospective applicants are well-advised to do the same…

  1. “Advanced Delivery: Legal Technology” Allen & Overy. 5 Feb 2018.
  2. ibid.
  3. Croft, Jane. “Artificial intelligence disrupting the business of law” Financial Times. 5 Feb 2018.
  4. “Allen & Overy’s tech space Fuse: “Equity isn’t the price of coming”” Legal Technology Insider. 5 Feb 2018.
  5. “Innovation” Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. 5 Feb 2018.
  6. “Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer” AI Business. 5 Feb 2018.
  7. Goodman, Joanna. “Artificial intelligence not fairy dust, legal conference hears” The Law Society Gazette. 5 Feb 2018.
  8. “AI and the law: The future for legal services” Clifford Chance. 5 Feb 2018.
  9. Visser, Bas Boris. “Clifford Chance drives innovation strategy with artificial intelligence system Kira” Clifford Chance. 5 Feb 2018.
  10. “Artificial Intelligence” Linklaters. 5 Feb 2018.
  11. Baksi, Catherine. “The digital shake up of law” Raconteur. 5 Feb 2018.
  12. “Fintech Fast Forward” Slaughter and May. 5 Feb 2018.
  13. Evans, Joseph. “Slaughter and May contributes to £10m funding round for AI startup Luminance” Legal Week. 5 Feb 2018.
  14. “Slaughter and May: AI, Innovation and the New Regulatory Landscape” Artificial Lawyer. 5 Feb 2018.