Ilan Sherr on DLA Piper’s Aiscension AI Tool + More

Global law firm DLA Piper has developed an AI-driven compliance tool, Aiscension, with eDiscovery experts Reveal. It can scan millions of communications in minutes using neural net technology to speed up risk monitoring for clients.

In this interview ahead of the Legal Innovators conference in London, Ilan Sherr, Executive Director at the firm’s AI project, tells us more about what it does and explores other key issues, including how the field of legal innovation is changing and the importance of legal AI.

The full interview is below. Illan is one of many great speakers appearing at the Legal Innovators conference in London on November 8 + 9. For more information and tickets please see here.

What is your role and how did you get into this field?

I’m the Executive Director of Aiscension, as well as an EU & Competition lawyer at DLA Piper. In resolving a client’s query on how to manage the risks of ‘hard to find’ cartels, we saw AI as a solution.  Immediately, we also saw the wider applicability of this technology and how it could transform the way we provided legal services. As I fell down the AI rabbit hole, I loved the way the technology could be used as a metaphorical pill to make things shrink or grow.

What started as a proof of concept several years ago has now grown into a suite of risk management services called Aiscension which harnesses AI to deliver quicker and better results for our clients. In partnership with Reveal, we first developed and trained an AI to spot risks of cartels within an organisations internal data and communications and we’ve just launched a new module that’s designed to spot potential bribery.

There’s a lot of AI tools out there looking at structured data. Where Aiscension’s different is it’s looking at unstructured data (e.g. communications, internal documents, presentations, meeting notes, etc.). It is pre-trained and monitored by our lawyers on a wealth of real-word datasets – so we simply apply the AI and it works straight away (no additional training required). I’m delighted to say the uptake and interest by the industry has been really encouraging. My role is to enable organisations to use this technology.

How much has your role changed in the last five years, and how much do you think it will change in the next five years?

Five years ago, I was a full-time EU and competition lawyer, and now I work 100% in running a business within the law firm to train and deploy AI modules that can be run and relied on by a law firm.  So it’s fair to say that my role has changed unrecognisably.

Equally, AI capabilities are developing at pace, and we can do so much more than when we started. There’s already so much interest from clients about what AI can do now, and much more trust in the effectiveness. It’s hard work, but it’s great to see industry recognition for what we’re doing with Aiscension, which won the Most Innovative use of Technology Award, The Lawyer 2021.

Over the next five years, I imagine AI will have fundamentally changed the nature and style of legal services. It will be faster than the changes created by lawyers getting computers at their desks, as it is not just about efficiency gains, but being able to create new capabilities and services that simply were not possible before.

Do you think that we have reached a ’new era’ for legal innovation, with forces such as generative AI, standardisation and rethinking legal work catalysing real change?

Absolutely, I don’t think people can afford to bury their heads in the sand any longer – and clients are quite rightly, expecting law firms to be offering cutting-edge solutions. DLA Piper through its Law& strategy is exploring new solutions that go beyond traditional legal services – and legal technology, especially AI is at the forefront of these developments. Through Law& we’re collaborating with our clients, co-creating solutions and enhancing the advice we give through tech solutions, advisory services and tailored products.

Businesses want to understand how AI can change the way they run their own in-house legal departments and also how their outsourced lawyers provide services. Those who are not using AI will not be able to compete.

From a law firm perspective, do you think that what external providers offer to clients will continue to expand, e.g. consulting services, internal ALSPs, home-made legal tech tools?

Yes, and I think there’ll always be a market for these services, but it’s an increasingly competitive (and crowded market) so external providers really need to differentiate themselves. Having said that – law firms (like us with our Law& strategy) are also developing and delivering these new services and tools themselves, often co-created with their clients. 

How much has improving KM and data analytics inside the business helped the firm to perform better?

Hugely. Law firms are sitting on masses of information that can be mined and used to help benefit clients. At the moment, most of this data is not properly categorised or accessible to be used efficiently for training and development, but the power of utilising this real life data across big-law firms provides access to innovative capabilities. DLA Piper’s also looking at technological innovation holistically, so Aiscension’s solutions are just part of a much wider legal innovation offering at the firm that’s delivering efficiency gains, tech solutions and process improvement to enhance our client offering and increase competitiveness.

What are the greatest opportunities for law firms today, given the changing landscape?

Technology adoption is fundamental. Embracing AI, cloud-based platforms, blockchain technology, and data analytics will help shape the law firm of the future. AI’s influence in all of this is just beginning to be realized and it’ll drive new solutions, services, savings, productivity and performance. And all of this will happen at pace, so firms need to adapt and adopt quickly, or face getting left behind.

And finally, if you had one message you’d like to share about how to achieve successful change management in relation to legal innovation, what would it be?

Find your cheerleaders and have a leadership committed to innovation. At DLA Piper we have a whole Law& team dedicated to Innovation.  Change is inevitable, it’s making sure you bring everyone along with you on the journey. This is important firmwide – and needs to be championed from top to bottom.

Thanks Ilan, looking forward to hearing you speak at Legal Innovators!

Legal Innovators Conference – November 8 + 9 – London

The Legal Innovators conference will be a landmark event exploring a range of key issues with high-level speakers from across the legal innovation ecosystem. The event will take place on 8 + 9 November in London. Day One: law firms and ALSPs, Day Two: inhouse and legal ops. 

For tickets, please see here.

Here is a list of our great speakers so far: please see here

And here are the wonderful group of sponsors: please see here.

While for general information: please see here.

The two-day event comes at a time of significant change for the legal market and we will be bringing you engaging panels and presentations where leading experts really dig into the issues of the day, from generative AI, to the evolution of ALSPs, to law firm innovation teams in this new era for legal tech, to how empowered legal ops groups and pioneering GCs are making a real impact. And as always, I’ll be there and chairing the event. 

See you there!

Richard Tromans, Founder of Artificial Lawyer and Conference Chair.