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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Innovation Insights

Open Law: It's time to open the door

The term 'open banking' has been with us in the UK for three years now. Since the directive first came into force in the UK, there has been a concerted push to educate consumers of its benefits and opportunities. The sharing of data and information across the entire UK banking sector can create a much better client experience. It can also deliver extra insights to providers to help enhance delivery. So, could the legal sector learn similar lessons in a comparable 'open law' context?

It is suggested that, as a sector, law lags behind others in its use of data. Yet, at the same time, we believe ours is a sector that is rich in valuable data and insights. With this, there are numerous potential benefits for our clients and ourselves in delivering our legal services. At Clifford Chance, we believe that now could be an opportune time to explore how we can best unlock that potential. For example, can we move towards a shared data model that makes a real difference to our sector?

What does 'openness' mean to us?

At this point, 'open law' does not mean the same thing as 'open banking' or similar initiatives in other sectors. Instead, it's about opening up new paths to improving and innovating legal service delivery. This can be realised in the products and services that we can create and better support clients, service providers and the supply chain. But the principles are broadly the same. It needs an industry-wide data sharing agreement in which everyone participates and collaborates.

In banking, for example, this lets customers see their financial details in one place. At the same time, approved banks, apps or services can access that data (when a consumer allows it) to offer more tailored offers. A shared data model exists in car manufacturing with the Open Automotive Alliance too with the aim to make car tech safer and more seamless.

For the legal sector, how could 'open law' present itself? In one example, it could help clients benchmark the services they receive from their panel firms. It can also assist legaltech start-ups who are looking to develop new products. But equally, there are some good examples of progress being made already. Take litigation technologies, for example, where we can already see healthy ecosystems built around common practices, platforms and data sharing agreements.

The result is a scenario where innovation allows the user to extract, exploit and visualise data. It is being seen in the US legal system too, where public court data can be analysed in real-time to enhance litigation intelligence. For clients and lawyers alike, such insight can be hugely valuable.

How can we make this happen?

As a concept, open law sounds appealing and there are several attempts ongoing at the moment to address some of the key aspects. It will hopefully become easier to create a set of shared legal standards or a framework that unites the legal sector by tackling these.

Some of the work that is currently taking place includes the adoption of operational guidelines to better support the implementation of technology. Our work in this space includes overcoming the challenges of adopting e-signature solutions with Adobe Sign and DocuSign. Elsewhere, efforts to tackle aspects of open law and shared data models include:   

  • Exploring how best to progress quicker towards a proof of concept, which includes our investment in Reynan Court to make it easier and more efficient for law firms to implement heavy computing applications and more easily share data across software solutions that may be required on a single project. Another similar recent initiative is Lupl to provide a practice management platform.
  • The formulation of a legal data exchange and common data models with specifications. Key industry initiatives in this space include Oasis LegalXML, LegalMetrics, and Engine B,
  • Designing and building solutions that pursue a creative approach to resolving key legal problems. To do this, we can use platforms such as HighQ and Microsoft Office 365, as well as less "obvious" providers including R3's Instant Property Network.
  • In addition, the SALI Alliance is helping bring about a set of open and practical legal standards that will shape a collaborative data model, working with in-house legal teams, law firms and software vendors. The SALI Alliance has made encouraging progress with its legal matter standard specification in the US – and this common language that is being used to define legal matters is now coming to Europe too. What this is achieving is the ability to specify legal work so that it is viewer neutral (to both lawyers and clients), as well as having the ability to scale and adapt to certain needs.

We want to be part of a cross-sector change; making it simpler to share and exchange data within the firm, with our clients, and with suppliers and start-ups.

There are no guarantees. But the ambition is to reach a point whereby we can reduce the need to "re-process" data with each individual application and provide greater clarity to start-ups.  

The risks and rewards of open access law

There's an acknowledgement that sector-wide data sharing agreements present certain risks or challenges that must first be addressed. Some of the questions and concerns will relate to trust, for example, or the availability of data. But there are existing and tangible benefits to showcase what is already possible – and what could be yet to come.

In its State of Legal Services 2020 report, the Legal Services Board of the Law Society uses the idea of a shared data sharing policy as one way our sector can use technology to lower the cost of legal services. As such, the report calls for decision-makers to embrace "the data revolution" – creating a trust to develop a data sharing agreement that allows those who wish to innovate in our sector to be able to access data more freely.

With such advances, there are sometimes going to be new hurdles too. We have seen in France, for example, how open data publication for use in analytics had to be rolled back. Now, however, ethical guidelines are in place and – with GDPR considered – a new way forward can be charted. By learning such lessons and by taking guidance from other sectors, it is possible to ensure that a common data sharing code of practice delivers for our firms, our clients, and our sector.

Our commitment to Open Law

At Clifford Chance, we are enthusiastic about the emergence of open law and the advantages it can unlock. But it's not something that we can – nor wish to – do alone. Success lies in working together with others, collaborating with like-minded organisations and engaging with the sector as a whole to achieve ongoing success in what we've discussed above.

From common legal standards to cross-industry data sharing agreements, the advance of 'open law' is one way in which our Create team aims to ensure that Clifford Chance is at the forefront of legal service delivery. To accelerate digital transformation, we must be willing to share our own challenges and experiences – as well as learn from other industries – to get it right. Contact our Create team today to start a conversation that will continue to drive our sector forward.

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