Fuse: The Benefits of A&O’s Legal Tech Incubator to Lawyers + Start-Ups

Last year, global law firm, Allen & Overy, launched its own legal tech incubator, Fuse, in London. The initiative has brought a range of start-ups into the firm’s offices with their own dedicated space to work in, where they can collaborate with A&O lawyers and staff.

The project has been overseen by Jonathan Brayne and Shruti Ajitsaria (pictured above), Chairman and Head of Fuse respectively.

This first cohort of eight start-ups has now reached the end of their time inside the incubator and Artificial Lawyer caught up with the firm and the tech companies to hear what everyone thought of the exercise, what had been gained and what had been learned, by lawyers and entrepreneurs alike, from this innovative venture.

First, Shruti Ajitsaria, Head of Fuse, Allen & Overy: 

What has been the key value of Fuse to A&O?

We have enjoyed different benefits at different stages. The selection process gave us a unique insight into the legal tech landscape. It has also helped us better understand how fintech is changing some of our key markets.

Since launching, it has been amazing to see A&O lawyers being inspired by members of our cohort, coming up with new ideas about how the job of being a lawyer and providing legal services to clients can be made more efficient, with a strong emphasis on improving the client experience.

Finally, the client response has been incredible and Fuse has enabled us to show our clients, in a very tangible way, what we are engaging with. It feels like we are embarking on an exciting journey with them.

What do think the first cohort has gained?

Our inaugural cohort has gained a real insight into the workings of a law firm – from the type of tasks we do and how we do them, to how to get through our procurement processes. We have been able to use some of their technologies on deals and we have provided direct user feedback.

They have also enjoyed an incredible amount of publicity (both internally and externally), met a wide range of A&O clients and along the way, they’ve enjoyed working alongside other members of the cohort, all of whom have valuable experiences, advice and contacts which they are always willing to share.

The Fuse workspace inside Allen & Overy.

What are the challenges for lawyers in A&O of getting the most out of a programme such as Fuse, e.g. time constraints?

We are trying create a culture where every lawyer within A&O feels that it is his or her responsibility to identify ways in which we can work better. The key challenge is creating the space, time and resource for lawyers to take their ideas forward, and that is partly what we are trying to achieve with Fuse – we are very fortunate to have a dedicated physical space in the A&O building itself, which means that from a practical perspective, it is as easy as it can be for our lawyers to engage with the programme and cohort.

What are your best memories of this first phase?

I personally feel that opening a tech innovation space is a brave decision for a law firm to make, so from a personal perspective, I really enjoyed our launch party. It felt like an incredible milestone and the beginning of an important journey for us at A&O.

There have been other significant events, such as Nivaura completing the world’s first fully automated cryptocurrency-denominated bond from Fuse; but my favourite memories are the ‘jaw drop’ moments from clients and lawyers, when they realise what kind of tech solutions are available to us, often followed shortly by the ‘lightbulb’ moment when they have a specific idea.

Thank you, Shruti, for this great overview and insight into running an incubator inside a law firm. Now, onto three of the seven legal tech start-ups, who each were asked the same questions about their experience and how they benefited.

David Howorth, Co-founder, Avvoka

Why did you do this, what did you hope to get out of Fuse?

We wanted to take our product, which has traditionally been used by in-house legal teams, and test it within a global law firm. The legal profession is, by nature, quite risk averse so it presented a very unique opportunity to collaborate with tech-focused lawyers.

What has the experience been like?

It’s been fantastic for us. We regularly get lawyers – from partners to trainees – coming to see us and to discuss potential use-cases in their practice areas. We’ve been very impressed by the level of engagement we’ve had from across the firm. A particularly interesting dynamic, has been the way in which A&O and its clients have come together to work with us on solutions.

What have been the best moments?

We recently did a live mock-transaction on Avvoka at the A&O global banking partner conference. We were expecting a lot of tough questions but one of the partners simply said: “We’ve just seen the future”. It was great to hear.

What advice would you give to other start-ups thinking of joining Fuse, or other incubators, following your experience?

It’s a bit of a cliché, but with these things you really do get out what you put in. My advice would be: take the opportunity to meet as many people as possible, as you never know where that next idea or use-case is going to come from.

Now your cohort is ending, what will you do next?

One of the best things about Fuse has been the collaborative environment that has developed between the members of the cohort. This is hard to find in the legaltech community, so we’re looking to continue that by taking new office space with some of the other companies.

Alistair Wye, Head of Presales iManage/RAVN :

 What has the experience been like?

Fantastic. We’ve had unparalleled exposure to A&O’s core teams, specialists and, of course, many A&O clients relevant to our products.  The cohort are a great bunch of bright and innovative people, including many former lawyers. Personally it’s been awesome to meet likeminded former lawyers like myself who’ve taken the leap from law into legaltech and are focussed on the question of how law can and should be done differently through tech. The team at A&O have been great and, as you’d expect, organisation has been super slick!

What have been the best moments?

Getting to know lots of bright and enthusiastic lawyers at A&O who are switched on about tech. It’s inspiring to see how many future leaders are embracing tech as a way to deliver the best possible service for their clients.  As a former banking lawyer, being invited to talk at the firm’s global banking partners conference regarding A.I. and its application to review of banking documentation such as LMA loan agreements and security documentation has been a personal highlight.

What advice would you give to other start-ups thinking of joining Fuse, or other incubators, following your experience?

Two things.  First, know thyself. Our experience has involved lots of 5 – 10 minute pitches to different A&O teams and their clients. When you produce several products for different use cases it’s tricky to demonstrate value without being targeted regarding which products and use cases best fit your audience.  Second, think on your feet.

Lawyers are naturally sceptical; it’s their job to identify and manage risk so they’d be remiss if they didn’t kick the tyres on your product. Be proactive, think about what questions a lawyer would need to ask to be comfortable using your product – if you do that you’ll fare well!

Now your cohort is ending, what will you do next?

Post-Fuse we continue to focus on scaling the RAVN side of iManage, and on product, particularly our flagship A.I. document review tool, iManage Extract. We’ve got a rich roadmap for 2018 and are very excited about what’s in the pipeline.  We’ve also got several projects about to kick-off at A&O and I hope Fuse will generate many successful projects throughout 2018.

Daniel Porus, Head of Business Development, Legatics:

Why did you do this, what did you hope to get out of Fuse?

We were looking to support Allen & Overy lawyers as they increase use of our software, aiming to build relationships with the firm’s deal teams and ultimately, refine our offering based upon the feedback of their lawyers and clients.

What has the experience been like?

The experience has been phenomenal. The buy-in from A&O has been very strong at all levels, from the most junior lawyers through to the partners.  We regularly present to A&O staff and their major clients, helping them understand how our technology is improving the efficiency and client experience of transactions.

This has increased use of our software within the firm and in the broader market, and helped ensure that A&O stays at the forefront of legal technology.  On top of this, Fuse has provided us with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs and technologists, who we regularly share ideas with.

What have been the best moments?

The best moments have been the various sessions we have had with fee earners at A&O who have used the software.  Given that we are a company which focuses on user interface and lawyer experience, it’s really valuable for us to understand how our users are interacting with our software so that we can continue to iterate and expand it.

What advice would you give to other start-ups thinking of joining Fuse, or other incubators, following your experience?

Being able to work so closely with one of our customers has been invaluable. Lawyers are busy people and being given so much of their time and attention is a very valuable opportunity that we would advise making the most of.

Now your cohort is ending, what will you do next?

We will soon be further expanding our team and are on the hunt for good talent and office space that can support us through our next period of growth. We might even look to move into a co-working space alongside our fellow Fuse cohort friends at Avvoka.

Thank you to Allen & Overy and the start-ups for spending the time to explain what Fuse has meant to you. It sounds like it has been a tremendous success for all involved. Good luck to the departing cohort in whatever you do next.

And finally: ‘Fuse – The Next Generation’. The incubator is now open for new applications for the next cohort.

For further information about applying visit: here and to access the application form, please see here.