AI in the legal system now becoming increasingly common

Date posted: June 16, 2017

Abbey Solicitors

An established office systems vendor has just purchased the UK’s most successful legal artificial intelligence (AI), prompting observations that AI in the legal system is quickly becoming mainstream.

US-based iManage, a leading privately held supplier of document management systems, bought RAVN last month for an undisclosed sum. According to Ron Friedmann and Joshua Fireman of consultancy Fireman & Company, the purchase ‘validates both emerging and maturing trends’.

The AI boasts an advanced system that can discover, summarise and organise relevant information from vast quantities of documents and other miscellaneous data like emails. It was founded in 2010 and includes users on an international scale such as the Serious Fraud Office and Berwin Leighton Paisner.

Introducing RAVN’s technology will give the users of iManage over 3,000 fresh ways of incorporating valuable data, according to the European general manager of iManage, Geoff Hornsby. This also gives the AI the ability to expand itself quickly in a very fast-moving industry.

RAVN chief executive David Lumsden stated that ‘RAVN will give iManage users unprecedented opportunities to make their content aware’. He continued on to comment that clients who do not have any use for the system will still be able to access its database as a standalone service.

This groundbreaking sale calls in a dramatic change in the competitive AI industry as other technology giants prepare to take advantage of AI developments and how they can be made use of in other areas. Businesses already in position of such products are in positions of strength. One example of this is Canadian firm Kira Systems, which has the ability to extract information from contracts; the firm are expanding their clients rapidly and are not interested in buyers. Another example is UK company Luminance, which can classify and analyse unstructured data (such as emails), which has already received money from magic circle firm Slaughter and May and the technology fund Invoke Capital, owned by Dr Mike Lynch.

Divorce ruling set to encourage consideration of marriage length

Date posted: June 14, 2017

Abbey Solicitors

A family lawyer has warned that a potentially groundbreaking court ruling could have a major effect on divorce cases involving so-called ‘short marriages’ in the future.

The case in question is brought by Julie Sharp, an energy trader, who is challenging a judgement that gave £2.74million to her ex-husband based on the equal division of assets. The marriage lasted four years, in which time she did not have children with him.

The key question in this case is not the defendant’s gender, but the actual length of the marriage, and whether it is reason enough to challenge the long-standing rule of dividing the matrimonial pot in half, according to head of family at Mayfair firm Forsters, Jo Edwards.

‘Long-established case law demonstrates that where assets are built up during a marriage, they should be shared equally, regardless of its length. If Mrs Sharp succeeds in overturning this judgement, it could have a significant impact on “short marriage” cases going forward, eroding the long-standing principle in relation to matrimonial property,’ she said. ‘This triggers the question, how short does a marriage need to be in order to be defined as short? And from what point is one entitled to share the money earned by the other?’

She continued on to propose another way of challenging the judgement – to dispute what the court considers the matrimonial pot consists of.

‘One of the properties treated as such (and therefore subject to the sharing principle) was a property that Mrs Sharp owned prior to the marriage,’ she explained.

‘It was argued on Mr Sharp’s behalf that, as well as overseeing the renovation of the couple’s matrimonial home, he managed the second property, and therefore there was a pooling of resources. If Mrs Sharp had kept the property entirely separate and managed it herself, it may have been treated as non-matrimonial, and therefore less likely to be shared.’

‘Ultimately, the surest way to ringfence assets on divorce is to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement.’

Senior law firms ‘painfully slow’ in accepting diversity

Date posted: June 9, 2017

Abbey Solicitors

The proportion of solicitors from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds (BAME) has more than doubled over the previous decade, according to a report published by the Law Society this week. However, the proportion of BAME solicitors has risen by less than 1 per cent since 2015 on a partner level. The gender diversity gap between partners remains the same as well: 40 per cent of male solicitors became partners, whereas this was achieved by less than 20 per cent of women.

‘In recent years, there has been an increased focus on improving diversity and inclusion, and studies have repeatedly shown that improving diversity and inclusion lifts business performance. However, the pace of improvement in the senior ranks of the legal profession has been painfully slow,’ said the chair of the Black Solicitors Network and counsel at Linklaters, Paulette Mastin.

‘We believe that increasing the visibility of role models and sharing best practice are important factors in tackling this issue. The UK Diversity Legal Awards are committed to doing just that by showcasing and profiling the excellent work being done by individuals, teams, and organisations to engender greater diversity and inclusion across the legal profession,’ she continued. ‘The accomplishments of winners of these Awards truly inspire others in the profession to follow their lead in shifting the dial on diversity and inclusion.’

In 2017 the achievements of UK legal businesses in championing diversity and inclusion within the legal profession will be celebrated by the UK Diversity Legal Awards, returning again for its eighth year. The entry deadline is set for the 31st July 2017.

These awards are unique in the industry due to their sole focus on the promotion and recognition of diversity and inclusion within the legal profession.

Leigh Day case finally drawing to a close

Date posted: June 7, 2017

Abbey Solicitors

The longest-ever hearing of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is finally drawing to a close as the verdict of human rights firm Leigh Day is delivered later this week. The tribunal is set to decide whether any of the 20 allegations lodged against the firm, its senior partner Martyn Day, and its solicitors Sapna Malik and Anna Crowther are proven. The trio deny all of the charges. The decision will mark the seventh week of the hearing’s duration.

The final accusation submitted before the The Solicitors Regulation Authority closed its submissions stated that the respondents had ‘orchestrated’ the case and had changed their responses retroactively in response to impropriety allegations over their handling of Iraqi claims against the Ministry of Defence.

A list of accomplished lawyers willing to speak for the defendants’ characters has been cited by Patricia Robertson QC, defending, who also dismissed the notion that they had breached the rules of the SRA.

Allegations of late disclosure of a key document, the destruction of its translation, unlawful payments, recklessness over the conduct of a press conference and failure to act on suspicions that payments to Iraqis were bribes were all included in the list of charges.

The SRA are arguing that nothing was done to explore the possibility that the payments were bribes, despite the use of the term by both Malik and Crowther in company emails; Day also received an email that contained the word.

Robertson has responded to ask why such experienced solicitors would risk their livelihoods for the sake of only 10 cases.

‘You are being invited to buy into the notion that people would put a lifetime of ethical behaviour on the line – and their ability to continue to practise their profession – in order to hang on to that handful of clients. It just doesn’t make sense,’ Robertson said.

According to the prosecution, Timothy Dutton QC, the misconduct dates back to 2008 when Day partook in the hosting of a press conference that suggested inhumane killing and torture by British troops.

‘The idea that a press conference is an adjunct to litigation [and] something that will put pressure on your opponent is frankly disturbing,’ Dutton responded, and added that Day had gone too far in his endorsement of ‘sensationalised’ allegations.

Electronic bill of costs to be compulsory by October

Date posted: June 2, 2017

Abbey Solicitors

Solicitors are being warned to prepare themselves for a major upheaval in the handling of litigation costs, as a new electronic bill of costs is set to be compulsory by October.

The new bill will become mandatory for all detailed assessments in the Senior Courts Costs Office, as reportedly decided by The Civil Procedure Rule Committee; the only step left is for the bill to receive ministerial approval.

It is highly likely that costs incurred after October must be in this format, according to Francis Kendall, the ACL vice-chairman. As such, solicitors must make sure they are aware of what will be required of them.

Kendall continued: ‘Done properly, it can offer significant benefits to parties, judges and lawyers alike. It is obviously a concern that the pilot did not deliver any data, and it may be that – as Lord Justice Jackson himself said last year – making it compulsory is the only way to change practice.’

‘But it also means that, initially, everyone will be flying in the dark to some extent, and there are bound to be teething problems. It is vital in particular that sufficient time is put aside for judicial training.’

It was reported last year that the costs bill would most likely be compulsory after October 2017, based on the pilot’s results.

‘Parties will be able to file their bill in electronic format which will assist the court in assessing the bill as any adjustment made by the court, to, say, the rate or hours claimed, will automatically be carried through to all relevant parts of the bill,’ according to a note from the Ministry of Justice.

Manchester: ‘overwhelming’ nationwide pro-bono response to bombing

Date posted: May 31, 2017

Abbey Solicitors

In the last few days, Manchester Law Society has received what it has called an ‘overwhelming’ response to its plea for pro bono advice and representation for those affected or seriously injured by Monday’s attack on Manchester Arena.

Fran Eccles-Bech, chief executive of the society stated that over 100 solicitor firms, barristers, northern law firms, law students and even companies further afield have offered up their services for free in order to help with the legal issues now facing those affected by the bombing.

She continued by stating that the society is working with the local police force ‘so that victims can more easily find the help they need’.

The society put out a statement on its website the day after the attack, saying that it was organising what it called a ‘pro bono advice rota’, and called for firms willing to help with claims and inquests by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

Areas requiring the advice of volunteers include financial obligations/debt, death in service/pension, family/child custody, welfare benefits, insurance, property ownership/mortgage and the administration of estates.

‘It is appreciated that there may come a time when a particular issue, for example a complex contested probate litigation, might need to [be] handled on a non pro bono basis and as such on a conditional fee agreement. However, we do believe that in the early to medium term the approach of member firms should be totally pro bono,’ the society has said.

‘I know ours is a small contribution in the face of the enormity of the impact of the attack on so many people’s lives, but I hope we can help even a little,’ Eccles-Bach continued.