Advancing to New Heights: Ashurst rises to the challenge of digitalisation with its NewLaw branch Ashurst Digital Ventures

November 6, 2019

3 min read

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What's going on here?

In May 2019, global law firm Ashurst expanded its Ashurst Advance scheme, the firm’s “NewLaw” operations division, as it launched Ashurst Digital Ventures (ADV).

What does this mean?

NewLaw has many definitions but can essentially be summarised as innovative approaches to providing legal services. Ashurst Advance is one such NewLaw approach adopted by Ashurst (to learn more about it, check out our article here). The launch divided Ashurst Advance into two divisions: the new ADV, and the legacy Ashurst Advance “Delivery”. 

The two new divisions further seek to provide a NewLaw approach to problems. Ashurst Advance “Delivery” offers clients effective legal expertise with efficient delivery for process, resourcing and technology solutions such as: legal project management, legal process improvement, legal analysts, and legal technologists. 

ADV is the in-house development and investment branch of Ashurst Advance. The unit will provide innovative technology-led solutions by partnering with clients to design and build digital products to best serve their needs. ADV have emphasised that the unit, unlike other firms, focuses on how their clients are digitally transforming themselves and have little to do with lawyers’ traditional work. The exception being that the products are based on the knowledge and experience of their lawyers.

The development process will closely involve industry specialists, technology providers, and partners and associates. There are currently 70 ideas in the pipeline and potential products have been rumoured to be regulatory-focused, such as compliance and proptech (real estate technology) blockchain-based solutions for real-estate clients dealing with asset purchase. The unit is also reportedly open to the possibility of partnerships, collaborations, and investment with third-party companies. Likewise, the firm is willing to consider a range of pricing models such as subscription, one-off, and premium.

What's the big picture effect?

The launch of the very progressive unit clearly embraces the continuous involvement of technology by providing digital solutions to digital problems. The move also recognises the increasing client demand for lawyers to be business advisors and for work to be delivered more cost-effectively. This is currently being achieved through innovation or AI, notably by the Big Four accountancy firms (KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and PwC). 

Many other law firms are engaged in the development of NewLaw projects as well. DLA Piper is currently developing a new training scheme for its lawyers which will support clients on more than just legal matters. Reed Smith, on the other hand, is reportedly pursuing an alternative business structure (ABS). This will attract external investments and provide the possibility of providing services around consulting and accountancy. These moves ensure that law firms are adapting and willing to face the increasing competition from accountancy firms head on. 

Another firm that has recently developed a strategy to compete with the Big Four directly is Eversheds Sutherland. It launched its own version of an alternative legal services provider named Konexo earlier this year (check out our article on that here). The firm, like Reed Smith, is also pursuing an ABS license.

Therefore, it seems that leading law firms are finding innovative and exciting ways to stay competitive when it comes to digital business. It remains to be seen who will ultimately come out on top in this new industry.

Report written by Heerim Hwang

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