28 October 2019

Research emphasises human side of legaltech

University of Oxford multi-faceted legal tech research looks into legaltech ecosystem, drawing in quartet of law firms in data consortium.

By Dr David Cowan


The proposed research will explore the potential and limitations of using artificial intelligence (AI) in support of legal services, and to tackle innovation, economic and governance issues.

Human innovation

Researchers note AI's capabilities have made enormous recent leaps and many expect it to transform how the economy operates. In particular, activities relying on human knowledge to create value, insulated until now from mechanisation, are facing dramatic change, researcher say. Researchers will also analyse the career trajectories and typical skillsets of start-up founders and law firm innovation leaders. The study will also assess the role of funders and buyers in the market, with such information crucial to start-ups chasing scale. Rather than undertaking research into the barriers to adoption, the university is looking at the prospects and networks of the entrepreneurs themselves. Technology giant Thomson Reuters is among the partners supporting the 18-month study, which is also backed by the Legal IT Innovators Group and global innovation network She Breaks the Law. Upon concluding in March 2021, the project hopes to provide new market entrants with salient information to further expand the legal tech ecosystem.

Law firm quartet

Included in the research plans, a quartet of major law firms have joined forces with the University of Oxford, following an award of £213,000 to fund a study into the legal tech ecosystem. The four firms have formed a financial data consortium aimed at solving inefficiencies in financial market transactions. Magic circle firms Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and Linklaters have joined forces with US firm Latham & Watkins to develop general-purpose legal mark-up language (GLML) technology. GLML is an open-source language which can be read by humans and machines, according to the consortium. While typical capital markets execution currently relies on multiple intermediaries conveying information between one another, the consortium claims GLML allows for faster and more efficient data analysis.

Project Structure

The project consists of 6 interlocking work packages (WPs). WP1, WP4 and WP5 look at complementarities that support implementation of AI, respectively at the firm level (strategy and governance), the sector level (skill investment and technology transfer), the country level (comparisons of national skills and innovation policies) and the individual level (technology-driven education, skills and training). WP2 seeks to map the constraints of legitimacy and current technology for digital dispute resolution, and WP3 is work on semantic systems at the technological frontier of AI in legal reasoning. In addition to research, WP5 involves a significant component of knowledge exchange through co-development of educational packages with our partner organisations. Results from the other WPs will feed into the content of these packages. The project is funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund's (ISCF) Next Generation Services Research Programme and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), is run by researchers in the Oxford departments and faculties of Law, Economics, Computer Science, Education and the Said Business School, in 2019 and 2020.

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