After more than five years at a leading City law firm, Daniel van Binsbergen quit his job as a solicitor to found Lexoo, a digital start-up for legal services in the fledgling “lawtech” sector. Mr Van Binsbergen says he is one of many. “The number of lawyers who have been leaving to go to start-ups has skyrocketed compared to 15 years ago,” he estimates. Many are abandoning traditional firms to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities or join in-house teams, as the once-unthinkable idea of routine corporate legal work as an automated task becomes reality. Law firms, which tend to be owned by partners, have been slow to adopt technology. Their traditional and profitable model involves many low-paid legal staff doing most of the routine work, while a handful of equity partners earn about £1m a year. But since the 2008 financial crisis, their business model has come under pressure as companies cut spending on legal services, and technology replicated the repetitive tasks that lower-level lawyers at the start of their careers had worked on in the past. “The 2020s will be the decade of disruption,” says Professor Richard Susskind, co-author of The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts. He believes there is growing demand from executives who control corporate legal budgets to cut costs by taking advantage of the savings offered by technology. Mr Van Binsbergen, 32, whose natural entrepreneurial streak meant he was “the guy in school selling candy bars”, is embracing the change. Lexoo does not automate legal work, but it does cut out the traditional law firm by using data and algorithms to match prices from experienced and self-employed lawyers with work for mid-size companies. Solicitors with appropriate skills quote a fixed price for a piece of work. For their part, law firms are gradually introducing technology. At Berwin Leighton Paisner, a UK firm, for example, staff use an AI system when they work on certain property disputes. The system was developed by Ravn, a legal technology start-up, which extracts data from official title deeds produced by the UK Land Registry. The software checks these details so they can serve legal notices on the correct property owners in real estate cases. In the past, BLP would have pulled together a small team of junior lawyers and paralegals at short notice, then put them in a room to extract that data manually from hundreds of pages — a process that could take weeks. The Ravn system reviews and extracts the same information in minutes. “We get AI to do a bunch of things cheaply, efficiently and accurately — which is most important,” says Wendy Miller, partner and co-head of real estate disputes at BLP. “It leaves lawyers to do the interesting stuff.” Ravn was set up in a London living room by four friends, none of whom had worked as lawyers. Its Shoreditch offices are full of engineers of millennial age working on laptops. Inevitably, there is a ping-pong table and a chillout zone with pub tables and a darts board. Ravn’s technology searches largely unstructured data to retrieve and summarise specific information. The legal sector was a perfect customer, says Jan Van Hoecke, its co-founder, because it was “document-intensive — and has very expensive people looking at documents”. Linklaters, the global law firm, uses LinkRFI, a technology program that sifts 16 UK and European regulatory registers to check client names for banks. It can process thousands of names in hours. A junior lawyer would take an average of 12 minutes to search each name, according to the firm.