Brian Kuhn Leaves Elevate for Baker McKenzie ‘Moon Shot’ AI Project

Brian Kuhn, previously with IBM, and most recently with law company, Elevate, where he was its VP for Digital Strategy & Solutions, has joined Baker McKenzie to co-head its new ‘Moon shot’ AI project in conjunction with machine learning company, SparkBeyond.

Joining Kuhn as co-founder of the new group will be Danielle Benecke, who is already a lawyer at the global firm, and focuses on tech and IP.

Kuhn told Artificial Lawyer when asked why he had left Elevate: ‘I left to focus more directly on my passion: the practical application of AI in the legal industry, which in the case of Baker McKenzie, with its legal expertise, data, and global scale, presented a unique opportunity to shift the market’s perceptions about what law firms can accomplish with AI in service of client value.

‘I love the thought that law firms are (will become) essential to inform the highest-context, highest-trust AI, where branded legal judgment is the value. It’s a challenge whose time has come to explore at scale, and one I couldn’t resist.’

Artificial Lawyer also reached out to Elevate’s CEO, Liam Brown, to ask about the move, who said: ‘Brian was hired in 2019 to build our custom solution AI and data science consulting practice. In 2021, we decided to focus on building AI into our software (AI-powering our ELM, such as our module for contract analysis, module for invoice analysis, etc.) so we collapsed our AI engineers and data scientists into our software products business.

‘Brian’s passion is in custom solution consulting rather than building products, which is what I believe he will be doing at Bakers. Elevate continues to offer legal tech consulting, which obviously includes AI and data, but we no longer build custom software solutions.’

When Kuhn moved to Elevate it understandably was seen as a significant hire, given his leading role at IBM in terms of rolling out the giant company’s legal AI strategy and products, especially those aimed at inhouse legal teams.

However, Kuhn and Benecke will have plenty to do as heads of the new AI group. They will work under the leadership of the law firm’s Chief Innovation Officer, Ben Allgrove, and the team will leverage SparkBeyond’s AI-powered ‘advanced analytics and augmented research platforms on a series of projects, exploring new ways to apply machine learning to transform the legal industry and address key societal problems’.

The exclusive partnership, announced in May 2021, is what the firm is calling a ‘Moon shot venture’ and is part of Baker McKenzie’s wider innovation program, Reinvent.

Allgrove said: ‘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. We were truly impressed with the caliber of lawyers, technologists and others who applied. I could not have asked for a better response.

‘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. The experience they will bring, from both inside and outside our firm, will help us to continue to explore what the future of the law – and in particular machine learning enabled judgement – will look like.’

Milton Cheng, Global Chair of Baker McKenzie, added: ‘Danielle and Brian are expertly positioned to drive our specialist, multi-disciplinary new team, helping us to accelerate growth in our Reinvent strategy, whilst also embarking on the next stage of our partnership with SparkBeyond. I look forward to seeing them take the next step in embedding machine learning in our business to create new value for our clients and our communities.’

The big question is whether the project will deliver substantive outputs that really help the firm and its clients? But, in a firm the size of Baker McKenzie there will be mega-oodles of unstructured data for them to explore and find meaning from, ranging across billing data, to contracting behaviour, to tying in their own activity data to broader patterns across key sectors their clients operate in.

Good luck to them.

P.S. back in May, this site talked to the firm about the project, this is what they said earlier this year:

The project will focus on three key domains: 

  • AI-powered legal services
    Leveraging augmented analytics technologies and data science to develop and provide new services to our clients. Our aim is to deliver machine learning enabled judgement.
  • Social Impact at Scale
    Amplifying social impact initiatives with machine learning-driven research and analysis, eventually using machine learning to scale its pro bono practice in a way that cannot be achieved through human resourcing alone. 
  • Internal transformation 
    Incorporating data-driven insights and machine learning across the Firm’s legal and commercial operations as part of its continuing digital transformation. This will focus on developing and deploying new models to boost the insight, speed and accuracy of Baker McKenzie’s own machine learning enabled decision-making.