Shruti Ajitsaria is Counsel and Head of Fuse at Allen & Overy LLP. The firm is a major leading international law firm. It also has managed to successfully embrace legal technology and legal innovation. Shruti heads up Fuse, which is the firm’s legal technology and legal innovation. I spoke with her to learn more about her work, Fuse, and how legal technology has impacted the practice of law at the firm.
What was the impetus behind Fuse? What is Fuse?
Fuse is a tech innovation space in our London office where tech companies, our lawyers, and clients can come together to develop and test tech-enabled solutions to business challenges. It is an idea that came from our senior partner Wim Dejonghe and myself, with Jonathan Brayne and Richard Susskind, and it moved from concept stage and became a physical space incorporating tech companies and our legal technology team in just nine months.
The three strategic areas of innovation on which Fuse focuses, are:
legaltech: technology supporting legal advice, law firms and in-house legal functions;
regtech: technology supporting regulatory compliance; and
dealtech: technology that transforms how companies and financial institutions transact and negotiate deals with each other.
How has legal tech impacted Allen and Overy’s law practice?
The rise of legal tech and the launch of Fuse specifically has impacted our practice in a very positive way; we’re really focused on using technology – and not just legal tech – to improve efficiency and to help our clients.
One example I’d point to relates to our global Banking practice, which has embraced a new technology from Legatics following a successful trial period in Fuse. Banking lawyers across A&O now have access to the tech platform’s automated conditions precedent (CP), bible creation and issue tracking processes, saving time and cost, and enabling them to spend their time on higher value, strategic legal work. The technology was used on five A&O matters in the first two weeks after we announced its global roll-out.
More generally, I think the general rise of legal tech is the most significant development in the legal industry from the last few years. There is no doubt that the practice of law is changing and changing fast. We have seen numerous incubators and accelerators pop up in law firms and a real focus from lawyers on identifying the smartest, tech-enabled solutions to clients challenges. I think it is an exciting time to be a lawyer.
What has most surprised you about Fuse?
I have genuinely been bowled over by the level of engagement from clients and A&O lawyers alike. It has been amazing to see people taking responsibility for identifying ways that we can work smarter using tech, going into Fuse with ideas for solutions and reaching out to the tech companies there to see what is possible. Since opening, Fuse has had over 3,000 visitors – from A&O, clients and beyond – and seen 10 product pilots launched, those are really significant results and have exceeded my own personal expectations.
In your view, how does legal process design fit in the delivery of law practice?
Our clients are more and more interested in efficiency and in receiving legal services using whatever resourcing and technology will lead to a correct result which is cost-effective and easy to use. Without taking apart and analysing the various different tasks involved in a given matter, it is impossible to ensure that you are delivering each of the component parts in the best way, in order to ensure that the end-result is truly the best it can be. Applying new technologies to old processes does not guarantee success, in fact, it usually leads to new and potentially different problems. We have to be prepared to work in new ways to gain maximum benefit. I think there has been a focus on different types of resourcing for a while now, and that this focus is now moving towards tech solutions, which is why it is such an interesting time to have launched Fuse.
To other lawyers re-thinking their delivery of legal services, what would you say?
I would say that the time to act is now.