S+M’s Collaborate Pays Off for Della as Hengeler Signs Up

Hengeler Mueller, arguably the leading law firm in Germany, has become a customer of legal AI company Della, following the startup’s involvement in Slaughter and May’s (S+M) Collaborate incubator.

Hengeler is one of S+M’s ‘best friends’, a group of leading law firms that it has a close working relationship with, which allows them to avoid ever having to merge while still being able to handle large-scale international deals in a joined up way. Other members include: Bonelli Erede (Italy), Bredin Prat (France), De Brauw (Holland), and Uría Menéndez (Spain).

Pierre Zickert (pictured), Head of Hengeler Mueller’s Legal Tech Centre, which oversees digitisation projects, was involved in Collaborate given the firm’s relationship to S+M and got to see Della, which was part of a recent cohort. He then introduced them to the firm’s lawyers and things rapidly went from there.

One major use case they are using Della for is providing a ‘first run-through’ of documents in M&A due diligence, which highlights key aspects in the doc stack and what issues they are going to have to focus on. That then allows them to improve how they approach human review and to target the areas where Della has already highlighted red flags.

Zickert told Artificial Lawyer that the firm was especially impressed by the way that they didn’t need to train Della at all to get useful results; that it worked very well on German documents – and other languages; that it would respond to specific questions rather than just give them a load of extracted information to wade through; and that it could also isolate data in the documents based on numerical values, e.g. show clauses with certain date ranges or value limitations.

He noted that for the lawyers it had ‘worked out of the box’ and by being able to ask questions and get meaningful answers back, without training, the NLP system worked the way a lawyer would. As Zickert added: ‘Lawyers are not data scientists.’ (Well, most of them are not.)

He also said that they want the use of Della to become standard for all transactional work, which is significant given Hengeler’s position as a leading M&A firm.

Artificial Lawyer asked if the firm was also using any other ‘AI’ systems for review, to which Zickert explained that about three years ago they had trialled several other products, but had not been impressed and decided to avoid using NLP for doc review at that point. It was not until they got their hands on Della that their view of this type of product changed.

Recently Della also announced that Mishcon de Reya had become a customer, with the firm’s real estate team using the software to provide insights into long and complex property documents, rather than for large-scale transactional due diligence projects. So, firms are using it both for single contracts and use cases where there may be thousands of documents.

Zickert added that using Della also provided ‘an incentive for the human reviewers’ who would then examine the documents after the software had completed a first run-through.

This site then asked Christophe Frèrebeau, founder and CEO of Della, how the company could provide ‘out of the box’ responses to questions in German documents without Hengeler lawyers having to do any training?

He explained that since Della started the system has been learning from what has been put through it, which has included German documents, as well as ones in French, English and other languages. He noted that Della is able to learn from every use of the software while still maintaining absolute data privacy for the customers. Interestingly – and this is one for all the Noam Chomsky fans out there who are interested in the idea of a universal meta-structure for human language or as it’s called ‘an innate grammar’ – Della has found that analysing documents in one language eventually helps the system to improve its responses to documents in other languages as well.

Last word – the news that a top German law firm is embracing an NLP legal tech tool is good news in multiple ways. Germany is the largest economy in Europe, is famed for its technical excellence (and home to many leading tech companies), and has a strong legal market, yet legal tech has not really developed there as it has in the UK. In fact, one homegrown German NLP company, RFRNZ, even went bust due to a lack of interest.

So, hopefully, this is a sign of things to come and adds to other positive stories, such as the work that Oppenhoff is doing, which Artificial Lawyer covered in March.