Blakes, LegalX to launch digital innovation contest

As corporations increasingly demand efficiency and tech savvy from their law firms, one such firm has teamed up with a legal technology incubator to launch an innovation contest for developers in the space.

The Global Legal Innovation Challenge — the brainchild of Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP and LegalX — will call on a broad range of tech companies to solve a specific problem facing Big Law in Canada.

Blakes announced the initiative yesterday as part of its sponsorship of LegalX, which oversees a cluster of startups working out of the MaRS Discovery District.

Carla Swansburg, director of knowledge and pricing services at Blakes, says her team had been looking for collaborative opportunities with tech incubators just as LegalX began soliciting for law firm sponsorships.

The key selling point — and what ultimately nudged Blakes toward a one-year sponsorship — was the incubator’s focus on near-term commercialization. “They’re not looking for two guys and an idea,” she says. “They’re looking for better-developed, more mature ideas that are really right for commercialization, or that will really lend themselves to the near view. So they don’t just take any startup. They really do a vetting process.”

Already, LegalX has helped develop such legal tech standouts as Beagle (which helps to automate contract analysis) and Closing Folders (which helps M&A lawyers close deals).

More than just a credential to serve up to clients, however, Swansburg says the partnership will give Blakes a chance to hone its systems and really “walk the talk” when it comes to providing a sophisticated approach to client services.

“We’re going to have co-branded presentations and training sessions. We’re going to get the guys from LegalX and maybe from MaRS to do some training and to meet with some of our partners and staff, and make sure that we know what's going on in the space, know what's happening with the practice of law, and understand at an early stage what direction those technologies are going in.”

Blakes isn’t the only firm to sponsor LegalX — one other notable includes McCarthy Tétrault LLP — but it does lay sole claim to the Global Innovation Challenge. “We’re essentially making it up from scratch with LegalX,” she says.

The prize is yet to be determined, but LegalX and Blakes have already begun brainstorming sessions, and they hope to have defined the challenge within two months.

“It could be anything — from the way we update and deliver legislative changes to the way that we streamline our relationship with management to the way that we organize dashboards internally for people to manage their matters. It’s kind of open season and we’ll have to pick one, but these are the kinds of ideas that people tossed out in our very early initial discussions.”

And what’s to become of any valuable breakthroughs that emerge from the contest?

“The world is our oyster,” says Swansburg. “It could be that we acquire and develop. It could be that we license. It could be that we beta-test it and are just one of many potential customers. These are all works in process and options for us to look at it.”

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