Lawyers aren’t known for their passion for change. However, driven by the awareness of the accelerating pace of technological change facing the legal market, Allen & Overy (A&O) launched Fuse in September 2017 to provide a venue for tech companies, A&O lawyers, technologists and clients to collaborate, develop and test legal, regulatory and deal-related solutions.
Fuse is the brainchild of Wim Dejonghe, our Senior Partner, and myself. Together with the help of Jonathan Brayne and Professor Richard Susskind, we moved from the concept stage to a physical space housing eight tech companies and our legal technology team in just nine months.
Focusing on strategic areas of innovation
Fuse focuses on three strategic areas of innovation:
- Legaltech. Technology supporting legal advice, law firms and in-house legal functions.
- Regtech. Technology supporting regulatory compliance.
- Dealtech. Technology that transforms how companies and financial institutions transact and negotiate deals with each other.
For A&O, Fuse is a:
- “Tech radar” that helps us educate ourselves about the tech-enabled solutions that exist which could help us solve our own and our clients’ business challenges.
- Vehicle for fostering engagement with technology among our lawyers and clients. It is designed to help crystallise ideas that may already exist and prompt responses to the opportunities that technology presents.
- Means to bolster our brand and profile in the legal and technology spaces, and to ensure that A&O maintains a competitive advantage setting it apart from other firms.
Promising results from our first cohort
We received 85 applications for the first cohort and selected eight companies to move into the Fuse space. These companies tackled a range of challenges, from improving efficiencies in traditional legal processes to assisting asylum seekers in gaining access to pro bono legal representation and advice.
The results for the first group of tech companies were impressive. During their time in the space, Fuse welcomed over 5,500 visitors (from A&O, clients and beyond) and saw ten product pilots launched. It provided the catalyst for A&O to take an equity stake in fintech company and Fuse member, Nivaura.
This collaboration enabled Fuse to host Nivaura’s launch of the world’s first fully automated cryptocurrency-denominated bond and its first structured product, both of which are on a public blockchain infrastructure. These transactions formed part of the Financial Conduct Authority’s regulatory sandbox, which allows businesses to test innovative products, services, business models and delivery mechanisms in the real market, with real consumers.
Following a successful trial period, our global banking practice has also embraced a new technology from Fuse member, Legatics. Banking lawyers across A&O now have access to the tech platform’s automated conditions precedent, bible creation and issue tracking processes, which saves time and cost, and enables lawyers to spend their time on higher value, strategic legal work. The technology was used on five A&O matters globally in the first two weeks after adoption.
Meeting our objectives
Although still in its infancy, Fuse has already achieved all the objectives it was set:
- Improving our understanding of the legal tech market. Through the application process alone, we have gained a deeper understanding of what legal tech exists and been able to incorporate some of this technology into our daily practice.
- Inspiring our lawyers and clients. For example:
- individuals from 60 different client organisations visited the first cohort;
- successful product pilots have led to investment in technology; and
- we have seen numerous successful pitches where Fuse has positively affected the outcome.
- Increasing our profile. Our profile has been significantly boosted and it has been extremely rewarding to see the initiative being referenced in graduate recruitment applications and by prospective experienced hires.
Fuse was described by Forbes as:
“An example of a law firm thinking creatively, strategically, and boldly to solve client problems. Fuse has created an environment and culture where, by aligning the focus and interest of all stakeholders, everyone wins.”
We recently welcomed five new companies into the space, to join the three that are staying on. The programme for this group is very similar to that of the first, but I think one key difference is that we’re going to see engagement from the lawyers happen much more quickly. They have seen the results and now really believe that the right technology can improve their working practices and, ultimately, the experience they give to clients.
Moving technology higher up the A&O agenda, and being mandated to drive engagement with that technology among our community of lawyers, has been one of the most significant and exciting challenges of my career so far.