Interview: Karl Chapman, the Brain Behind Riverview Law

Fredrik Svärd,

Swedish legal technology journalist Fredrik Svärd recently interviewed Karl Chapman, the head of the UK’s Riverview Law and creator of virtual assistant, Kim. He’s kindly shared this great interview with Artificial Lawyer.

The interview first appeared on Sweden’s leading legal tech site,, which is a great source of news and views on the sector in Swedish and also often in English. The original article can be found here.

Last year you wrote an interesting post about being an intruder or outsider in the legal vertical and about the barriers surrounding law. What’s the attitude towards change and technology among lawyers?

– Change can be difficult for everyone…  but it is particularly difficult in a market where there has been limited competition – which has resulted in some complacency and excess profits – and a largely ‘traditional’ education and training regime. It is one of the reasons why all our implementations for new customers, whether technology or managed services, focuses as much on people and behaviours as it does on the solution being delivered, says Chapman.

Can you tell our readers what it is you do at Riverview Law – what’s the elevator pitch? 

– We help in-house legal teams to stop being fire brigades. We help them to be smart, not just busy. We do this by either providing fixed price, outsourced managed services which free the in-house team to focus on the key tactical and strategic work and/or licensing our technology so that they can do it themselves. We provide them with business insight through comprehensive reporting which enables them to ensure that the right work is done by the right people in the right place at the right price.

Professor Mitch Kowalski (author of Avoiding extinction: Reimagining legal services for the 21st century) is on your team. How’d that come about?

– We’ve known Mitch since we launched Riverview Law 4,5 years ago. He’s not a formal adviser but he is a key confidant. We read his book and were struck by how he had, without knowing us, described many elements of the Riverview Law business model. So, we just rang him!

On this topic – what kind of backgrounds do your employees have? Is legal tech a viable career path for young lawyers today?

– Our team come from a wide range of professional backgrounds – accounting, technology, project management, account management analytics, legal… Our legal personnel, all of whom we employ, range from individuals who join us as apprentices all the way through to ex-General Counsel of large businesses. Many new roles will open for lawyers in the future given that the combination of tech and legal domain expertise will be one of the winning market formulae.

ROSS Intelligence, a ‘robot lawyer’ based on IBM’s Watson platform recently announced several new collaborations with law firms. Freshfields have announced a partnership with Kira Systems. Linklaters and Berwin Leighton Paisner have signed deals with AI provider RAVN Systems, and Hodge Jones & Allen has developed software for analyzing personal injury cases. It seems AI is gaining some traction.

– It depends on two things; how you define AI and how you distinguish between great PR and actual products.

– There is no doubt that there is a growing discussion and to some extent understanding as to how technology generally can impact professional services. The Big Four accounting firms have been aware of this for some time given the way in which their audit, tax and other functions have been impacted by automation. The legal market is starting to catch up, but we are still in the foothills, which is why there are such big opportunities.

What are the most common misconceptions?

– Like all technology the key is to not to be taken in and be excited by the hype, but to ask: ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’

– Having answered this question it’s possible to have a sensible conversation about the role that tech generally and AI specifically can play in the solution. We advise people to get the foundations right first – data layer, workflow and processes, reporting requirements … before trying AI solutions. There is a danger that jumping straight to AI can be like building a roof having not put the foundations, walls and joists in first. Getting the foundations right ensures that a function is AI-enabled.

Earlier this year IBM told me Go is too open and complex for computers. Just weeks later, AlphaGo famously beat Go champion Lee Sedol. It seems we constantly have to revise our expectations?

– A lot of the technology emerging appears as if it is an overnight sensation… but it’s not, it’s been in development for decades! There is no doubt that we are living through an exciting and transformational period which will impact all business models over the next 10 to 15 years.

What are the main limiting factors regarding innovation in the legal sector? Regulation? Culture? Awareness? 

– There is no one answer to this. It is so situational. Interestingly, the trend we’re seeing is that the in-house legal team is under such pressure to deliver more with less that it has the burning platform. As a result it is considering and adopting change at a much quicker pace than most of the supply chain (i.e. law firms). This will inevitably drive change throughout the profession over the next 5 years.

There’s been some controversy surrounding the American Bar Association’s ‘Future of Legal Services’ report, mainly regarding vagueness and the lack of involvement of tech people. Is collaboration between lawyers and IT professionals important?

– Collaboration across all functions is important. However, in a world of configuration – not coding – it is not necessary for lawyers to become coders. The emerging tech and AI will increasingly allow professionals with competent Microsoft Office level skills to embed their domain expertise in solutions. This is a game changer.

Some law schools have started teaching IT skills to prepare students for ‘the new normal’… 

– Understanding data, reporting and metrics will become an absolute necessity. Lawyers who cannot tell their customers the story told by the data around their legal requirements and cases will find the world moving increasingly away from them.

Sweden is a small country with a small language. How do you see the Nordic market?

– One of the great things about the world we’re in is that we can all build global businesses using tech from our bedrooms. We are only limited by our imagination, courage and stamina. What fun!

How do civil law jurisdicitions differ from common law ones, from a legal tech perspective? 

– In our experience not at all! will reveal the winners of the inaugural Swedish legal innovation awards at LegalWorks inhouse legal tech day 2016. You’re scheduled to give a keynote speech, what issues will you address?

– The key theme is that in the world emerging [now] the customers are the big winners. Whether they are consumers, small businesses or large corporations tomorrow, customers using a range of virtual assistants and tech tools will be able to do a lot of what is today delivered by the supply chain. We are at the start of disintermediation in the legal market.

The event is aimed at counsel in legal departments. How can they use virtual assistants and similar tools today?

– General Counsel and in-house leaders either use our managed service solutions to free their team to move further up the value curve – i.e. to focus on key tactical and strategic matters – and license our technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their own function. One of the key strengths of Kim, our technology subsidiary, is that it is easy to use and configure plus it delivers comprehensive management information and reporting. It allows GCs and in-house teams to make better and quicker decisions.

Many thanks to Fred and for sharing this interview. Artificial Lawyer would be very interested in sharing similar articles from other legal tech magazines and blogs from around the world. See Contact, if you’d like to get in touch. Thanks.