27 Sep 2021

Bakers names co-founders for data science and machine learning venture

Global firm secures senior executive from Elevate to lead partnership with New York AI platform SparkBeyond

Brian Kuhn and Danielle Benecke

Baker McKenzie has secured AI specialist and former Elevate digital strategy head Brian Kuhn to lead its new data science and machine learning team alongside innovation officer and IP specialist Danielle Benecke.

The appointment of the pair – who are being described as the venture's 'co-founders' – comes five months after the firm unveiled plans to extend its exclusive partnership with New York-headquartered AI platform SparkBeyond through its wider innovation programme, Reinvent. That followed a successful pilot of the technology earlier this year. 

Kuhn and Benecke, who are based in Washington DC and San Francisco respectively, will steer the 11-strong AI team under the leadership of London-based Bakers chief innovation officer and tech lawyer Ben Allgrove. 

“We received over 750 applications for the co-founder roles, validating our belief that we were offering something different here in setting up this new team,” Allgrove said. “In Brian and Danielle we have found two outstanding co-founders with a strong track record of successfully leading teams, collaborating across multiple jurisdictions and driving legal innovation within the organisations in which they have worked, including our own firm.”

Kuhn was vice president of digital strategy and solutions at Elevate, where he spent two years. Before that, he co-founded and steered IBM’s legal consultancy practice, IBM Watson Legal, where he invented Outside Counsel Insights, one of the first-ever AI solutions for outside counsel invoice data cleanup and spend-anomaly detection. 

Benecke, meanwhile, has been with Bakers since 2017 when she joined as a senior associate and innovation officer within the firm’s Reinvent arm. Dual-qualified in California and Australia, Benecke’s practice covers US and global IP and tech matters, including product counseling, global expansions, disputes and IP strategy. 

The data science and machine learning team will leverage SparkBeyond’s AI-powered advanced analytics and augmented research platforms to explore new applications of machine learning in the legal industry and address ‘societal problems’ that would benefit from combining human judgement and machine learning capability, the firm said in a statement. 

One of the team’s first projects will be the launch of Project Liberty, an AI-driven study on the unintended negative consequences of child detention generated by SparkBeyond’s AI engine. 

“We’re very excited to work with Danielle and Brian on continuing to build our AI transformation and social impact initiatives,” added SparkBeyond CEO Sagie Davidovich. “Our work on Project Liberty is a first and major step in this direction, and we look forward to the next giant leap in leveraging AI for the greater good.”

In July, Los-Angeles based Elevate, which provides consulting, legaltech and services like ediscovery and document review to law firms and legal departments, told The Lawyer that its turnover had reached $90m, ahead of a planned IPO next year. 

In June 2020 it hired Hogan Lovells’ head of innovation, Stephen Allen, with the unusual job title of 'vice president, enterprise solutions and get sh*t done’.

In other legal AI news, last week digital healthcare company Healthily teamed up with experts from Simmons & Simmons and Fountain Court Chambers to launch what is claimed to be the world’s first artificial intelligence explainability statement that details how Healthily’s AI reaches its decisions for customers, regulators and the public. 

And in July, South Africa became the first country to award a patent that names an artificial intelligence as its inventor and the AI’s owner as the patent's owner.

Top