Dentons, IBM Eye Legal Tech Market

Aug. 6, 2015, 6:41 PM

NextLaw Labs, the Silicon Valley-based legal tech incubator wholly owned by Dentons, this week announced its first investment will be in ROSS Intelligence Inc., a legal research tool powered by IBM’s Watson technology.

At the same time, IBM has agreed to grant one year of free use of Bluemix , a cloud platform with more than 100 tools for building apps and products, to the start ups that NextLaw invests in.

Dentons kept both announcements general, declining to disclose the size of its investment in ROSS, the financial arrangement of its the partnership with IBM, and even how any start ups could use Bluemix. NextLaw CEO Dan Jansen said ROSS had moved some personnel into its Palo Alto headquarters, but said all other details will be kept private until the accelerator made future announcements, in the coming weeks.

ROSS Intelligence , developed by a group of students at the University of Toronto, aims to use IBM Watson’s technology so that lawyers can ask it a legal question and receive a specific answer. This compares to other programs that may return of a list of relevant documents, but not a specific legal response. Dentons lawyers will help train ROSS, so that it gives better, more relevant answers, said Jansen.

[caption id="attachment_3751" align="alignleft” width="183"][Image “Joe Andrew " (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Andrew-Joe-00000002-e1438879217719.jpg)]Joe Andrew[/caption]

Said Joe Andrew, global chairman of Dentons, “I think the key way to look at this is Dentons is known for momentum … we’ve grown faster than anyone ever in the history of the profession.”

Andrew said Dentons is investing money in NextLaw, which plans to invest in start ups to accelerate the development of legal tech, because it believes the legal profession is “ripe for disruption” and poised to experience “a tidal wave” of change.

He added, “Its not that we ourselves are creating this momentum … we’re merely surfing on the waves, that’s why it’s hard to say what’s going to happen in the next year.”

John Fernandez, chief innovation officer at Dentons, said the investment in ROSS is about developing a tool that will eventually be effective; gaining access to Bluemix, however allows the firm to start working to develop tools that can be immediately effective. “Not every solution requires the Porsche,” said Fernandez.

Andrew said NextLaw is also helping the firm advance its discussion with clients: By creating an accelerator to develop legal technology, the firm is in essence investing in products that will make it more efficient — but won’t help it increase profits by accruing more billable hours. Still, he noted a client called to say that he had forwarded NextLaw’s latest announcement to his chief financial officer.

“It really changes the conversation that a law firm and client can have,” said Andrew.

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