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Oxford Brookes builds contract-reading app to lighten lawyers’ load

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Oxford Brookes University is developing an app that can read a contract.


By U2B Staff 

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Trusting the reading of a legal contract to a computer may not seem like a wise move, but, like so many industries, artificial intelligence is making its mark in Law.

There are a number of apps for consumers, like Shake by LegalShield, that help people just starting out in business to cut down on legal costs and generate their own legal documents. It gives customers the tools to create, sign and send legally binding documents with no legal experience – all done right there on their smartphone.

Oxford Brookes University is looking to expand on the legal app market and is currently developing an app for legal professionals that can read a contract and identify the areas that require a closer look from the legal team.

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The university announced it has teamed up with corporate law firm Moorcrofts on the two-year project aimed at easing the workload of lawyers in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“There is a lot of work done by lawyers that is not legal work. This app will offload some of the non-legal stuff and check things that often get missed,” Chris McCormick, technology and IP paralegal at Moorcrofts told the Law Gazette.

The statistical technique of topic modelling will be used by the app to identify what a contract is about and then highlight sections that require more attention.

“Topic modelling is well-suited to this area as legal vocabulary is typically smaller and better defined,” said lead on the project and head of computing and communication technologies at Oxford Brookes, Professor Nigel Crook.

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The app will also be able to help lawyers draft new contracts with a built-in editor that is able to verify figures and key information.

The project is still in its early stages but a prototype app is expected to be ready for beta testing by October when a consortium of 30 firms will trial and provide feedback.

Understandably the use of AI in the legal profession has raised questions of ethics and liability. While we’re not quite there yet, partner and head of technology at Moorcrofts, Andrew Katz warned that automatic negotiation agents could pose difficulties.

“If technology reaches the stage where it can negotiate between parties, what happens if it learns how one side negotiates to the advantage of the other side?”