In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, a marksman in a helicopter hits a wild elephant with a pink-tipped tranquilizer-loaded dart during an elephant-collaring operation near Kajiado, in southern Kenya. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) fitted elephants with GPS-tracking collars enabling the monitoring of migration routes and to help prevent poaching. In an agreement reached at the African Elephant Summit in Gaborone, Botswana, over the past few days, key states where the illegal ivory trade flourishes, have pledged to take urgent measures to try to halt the illicit trade and secure elephant populations across Africa. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Friendly fire: rangers in Kenya tranquillise an elephant to fit a tracking collar © AP

When Prince Harry posted a photograph of himself and his future wife Meghan Markle in Botswana, placing a satellite collar on an elephant to track it and protect it from poachers, the royal was demonstrating new ways of combating the illegal wildlife trade.

The couple’s post sought to highlight that more than 100 African elephants a day are killed for their ivory. Now, the war against poaching has another potential weapon: artificial intelligence.

AI is capable of analysing different kinds of data sets and spotting significant patterns. The results can be used for the wider public good, such as improving planning in healthcare and public transport — or fighting wildlife poachers.

“Audio data can be used to train algorithms to distinguish gunshots [of] those poaching wild animals [from] the gunshots [of] hunters,” says Chris Martin, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons. Using big data, real-time alerts could be pinged to rangers to tell them which areas to focus on.

Data trusts — which are separate legal entities designed to help organisations extract value from anonymised data without falling foul of privacy regulations — are being mooted as a way to allay concerns about how sensitive data is held by third parties.

A pilot study on whether data trusts should be set up to share information to tackle the illegal wildlife trade was one of three initiatives by the Open Data Institute earlier this year (the ODI is a UK non-profit body that works with companies and governments “to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem”).

The study looked at whether data trusts could hold photographs from camera traps and acoustic information from a range of sources, which could be used by algorithms to create real-time alerts on poachers in protected areas.

There are, however, legal questions about how to share anonymised data from governments and companies in a safe, ethical way against a backdrop of public mistrust. In the biggest scandal to date, consultancy Cambridge Analytica illicitly harvested personal data from Facebook to influence elections. In July, the US Federal Trade Commission approved a $5bn fine for the social media platform for privacy violations.

In Los Angeles, residents have expressed concerns about the use of personal data collected from electric scooters, which is intended to help urban planning.

Companies and governments tread a fine line between extracting information from data and ensuring they do not break laws such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which forces any company holding personal data of an EU citizen to seek consent and delete the data on request. Individuals should not be identifiable from the data sets.

These legal problems on privacy and governance were what law firm Pinsent Masons with BPE Solicitors had to contend with when advising the ODI on data trusts.

The project to combat poaching looked at whether a data trust could improve the sharing of information and invoice data from researchers and governments, by monitoring documents given to border staff about species being transported across borders that can be falsified by smugglers. The data could be used to train algorithms to help border staff identify illegally traded animals.

Mr Martin says setting up such a data trust could enable border officials to take photographs of a live animal and use software to check whether it is a species on which there are export restrictions.

One advantage of a data trust is that it enables individuals to become trustees and have a say in how their anonymised data is used. It would allow citizens to be represented if the data trust held traffic information collected about their locality, for example.

Data trusts might also encourage companies to put in data to enable them to work on projects where they have a common goal. “The big supermarkets could decide to set up a data trust to share data on, for example, tackling food waste or climate change,” Mr Martin says.

Chris Reed, professor of electronic commerce at Queen Mary University of London, says data trusts are useful when multiple organisations put in data. “The sharing of data might have been subject to agreements between parties, but when you might have 100 companies putting in data you cannot have agreements covering them all. Having a data trust is a fair and safe way of doing this,” he says.

Only a handful of data trusts exist. Credit card company Mastercard and IBM has formed an independent Dublin-based data trust called Truata. Connor Manning, a partner at law firm Arthur Cox, handled the corporate and trust structure documentation. He says that part of the legal complexity was designing the structure so that Mastercard was a beneficiary of the trust but the structure was not a standard company. “It is a corporate structure with a trust structure on top,” he explains.

A data trust may not be the answer to every situation. Other types of institutions already exist, such as more informal data clubs, which allow data to be exchanged between organisations for a common benefit.

Yet public concerns are likely to remain, even if data is held in a trust. It is uncertain, for example, how such a trust could be regulated and whether a data trust might be able to conceal profits generated by data or evade responsibilities under data protection rules. There is also a risk of hackers trying to obtain data from a trust, which could reduce the incentives for governments or companies to share information in the first place.

Many still see data trusts as the best approach. Sidewalk, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, recently proposed a civic data trust to assuage public concerns about privacy in a development project on the eastern waterfront of Toronto. The trust means data would be held securely by an independent third party. The value from data goes to the people and communities from which it was collected.

But the question of who controls that data, what legal structure it should be held in and what can be done with it — whether it be to track poachers or to monitor consumers — is likely to become a battleground in public policy.

The tables below rank law firms and in-house legal teams for the FT Innovative Lawyers Europe awards.

Rank Law firm Description Originality Leadership Impact Total
STANDOUT Kemp Little Developed and launched 4Corners, a contract analysis tool that combines natural language processing of unstructured data with the firm’s own taxonomy system for legal opinions. The technology provides detailed and client-specific legal opinions on linked agreements and documents. It flags conflicts between documents without input from a lawyer and can answer complex questions that could otherwise take weeks to resolve. 9 9 8 26
STANDOUT Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Built in-house and in collaboration with clients, the firm’s proprietary matter management platform Mattrs helps to reduce risk, allows for better data analytics and manages transactions more efficiently. The platform can be used by any practice area in any jurisdiction and makes the way lawyers work with their clients more transparent, collaborative and faster. 7 8 9 24
STANDOUT Pinsent Masons In collaboration with KLDiscovery, the firm adapted its ediscovery review software to conduct subject access requests quickly, accurately and at low cost. The software was trained to identify personal information in documents and substantially reduce the number of documents requiring human review. Using the technology, the firm has been able to reduce the cost of complying with a subject access request by up to 90 per cent. 8 8 8 24
HIGHLY COMMENDED Macfarlanes Developed Velocity, a combination of technologies in one platform that automates and manages the drafting, negotiation and execution of commercial contracts. An online portal is accessible to lawyers and clients, where each party can update status in real time, access documents and initiate new processes. 8 8 7 23
HIGHLY COMMENDED Addleshaw Goddard The firm created the Real Estate Value Engineering (Revel) project, which combines automation, knowledge management, reporting and data capture tools with new pricing models. The project has helped cut the time and cost of transacting work for big real estate clients. 7 8 7 22
HIGHLY COMMENDED Pusch Wahlig Workplace Law Created a workload allocation tool that enables lawyers to ask for help from colleagues when needed. A traffic light system tracks how busy lawyers are and a “panic button” allows urgent requests. The firm has licensed the app to other law firms, professional services firms and in-house legal teams. 6 8 8 22
COMMENDED Dentons Lawyers helped create a risk calculator to evaluate the risk of intellectual property rights being infringed and to estimate potential financial liabilities for MTS, Russia’s largest mobile operator. The tool is being offered to other clients around the world. 7 7 7 21
COMMENDED First Law International In partnership with LegalZoom, a legal tech company, the international law firm network developed Assistant GC, an app that allows clients to search, select and manage engagements with more than 17,000 legal professionals globally. Currently in beta phase with leading multinational clients, the app has cut the time needed to conduct due diligence, vet and negotiate with potential law firms from weeks to hours. 8 8 5 21
COMMENDED NautaDutilh Launched an artificial intelligence-based virtual assistant called Andy. The software guides lawyers and staff through accepting new matters, onboarding and performing due diligence on clients, and ensuring compliance with EU anti-money laundering regulations. 8 7 6 21
COMMENDED Synch Developed Privacy Policy Check, a free web-based tool to help businesses check that their GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) privacy policies are compliant. The tool scans through documents to produce a compliance score and suggestions for improvement. 8 7 6 21
COMMENDED Wiersholm Adapted and combined different third-party software products to build Transaction Control, a system to manage transaction documents and processes. It includes a digital shareholder register, contract management, e-signing processes and tools to prepare companies for sale. 7 7 7 21
COMMENDED Allen & Overy In collaboration with legal-software company Wizdocs, the firm’s lawyers and legal technology team helped create and configure ReportRoom, a due diligence reporting tool. It saves time and the reporting data can be more easily interrogated to monitor the stages of the transaction. 6 7 7 20
COMMENDED Cuatrecasas Created a fixed-value blockchain-based token that can be redeemed for 15 minutes of legal advice. A digital wallet holding the tokens is awarded to the winner of Cuatrecasas’s annual start-up hackathon. The exercise helped the firm experiment with and test blockchain technology. 8 7 5 20
COMMENDED Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Developed a new system to automate the process of “wall-crossing”, the practice of telling institutional investors in advance about an equity fundraising. The new system ensures the process of consenting to wall-crossing can be conducted much more quickly and without risking error. 8 7 5 20
COMMENDED Gómez-Acebo & Pombo Created a blockchain token for the Fernando Pombo Foundation, the firm’s charitable foundation, which supports vulnerable people with pro bono legal advice. The token enables donors to specify and allocate their donations to particular projects. 8 7 5 20
COMMENDED RCD Created litigation case management software that relies on a machine-learning algorithm to identify and tag court summons received by the firm that relate to its clients. The platform also streamlines litigation workflows and allows the firm to provide fast and accurate updates to clients. 6 7 7 20
COMMENDED Baker McKenzie A new website and app to notify clients about changes to VAT and goods and services tax rates and thresholds in different countries, with guidance tailored to the client’s business. 6 7 6 19
COMMENDED DWF Partnered with start-up Dealscope to develop pricing tool DWF Scope. The development team focused on customer experience to create a user-friendly app, which has led to high levels of use and engagement across the firm. 6 7 6 19
COMMENDED Juscutum Created StaffBot, a tool for producers and casting managers to automate employment contracts on film productions. The tool links to a central database of actors and can create a new contract that covers relevant intellectual property rights within minutes. 6 6 7 19
Technology (In-house)
Rank Law firm Description Originality Leadership Impact Total
STANDOUT Aviva The legal team led the development of the MyAviva app to make the insurer’s employee share plan more accessible. The app is part of wider efforts to promote greater employee share ownership, in order to improve employee engagement, retention and morale. 8 9 7 24
STANDOUT International Swaps and Derivatives Association Launched ISDA Create, a platform that enables investment firms to negotiate and execute derivatives contracts online. Developed with Linklaters’ Nakhoda, an artificial intelligence tooI, ISDA Create reduces the time it takes to negotiate documents and allows firms to digitally capture and store data in the documents. 8 8 7 23
HIGHLY COMMENDED Banco Santander The legal team have connected technology systems to improve litigation analytics, document automation and contract analysis. By connecting document automation technology with procurement services, it can now collect and use data for regulatory purposes, and use machine learning to mine contract data to determine compliance with bank standards. 7 8 7 22
HIGHLY COMMENDED Sonae Working with internal technologists, the employment law team built a platform to manage actions for disciplinary procedures for the Portuguese shopping centre company’s 40,000 employees, including almost 1,000 human resources professionals. The workflow and notification system has reduced the time taken to resolve disciplinary procedures. 7 7 7 21
COMMENDED Google Built Navigo, a supplier compliance and risk-assessment tool. With a user-friendly interface and no legal jargon, the tool allows business colleagues to assess contracts to decide which need legal review and which they can create themselves. 6 7 7 20

Explore the Innovative Lawyers Europe rankings 2019


  • Most Innovative Law Firms in Europe
  • Most Innovative In-house Legal Teams in Europe
  • Rule of law and Access to Justice
  • Collaboration

Business of Law

  • Data, Knowledge and Intelligence
  • Managing and Developing Talent / Diversity and Inclusion
  • New Business and Service Delivery Models
  • New Products and Services
  • Strategy and Changing Behaviours
  • Talent, Strategy and Changing Behaviours
  • Technology

Legal Expertise

  • Accessing New Markets and Capital
  • Creating a New Standard
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Enabling Business Growth and Transformation
  • Managing Complexity and Scale
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