When law meets tech: Ulster University launches UK's first 'legal innovation centre'
Students and technology. Image via Facebook/Ulster University.

In a move to brace the legal practice for the information age, the University of Ulster has opened the United Kingdom’s first ever “legal innovation centre” with the support of top multinational law firms, Allen & Overy and Baker McKenzie.

The centre will be undertaking “much-needed research” into new technological innovations and prepare themselves for the “challenges of legal service provision in the information age”. Legal professionals, law students and others will be able to study how technology has changed legal practice, as well as its implications.

Law students will also get to practise with the latest legal technology, including Clio, a cloud-based law practice management software and Caselines, an online system that helps produce legal bundles and electronic courtroom presentation.

Three Ulster University academics will be leading the law tech hub, which was financially supported by Invest Northern Ireland (an economic development agency) and the two international law firms.

The university’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paddy Nixon, said at its launch earlier this week that the idea for the centre was born out of the “growing recognition of the crucial and ever-expanding role of technology in law”.

The importance of the legal sector and recent investments by global law firms in Northern Ireland have created “a hub of legal expertise with a focus on innovation”, according to Nixon.

“This new centre will underpin the strength of our legal sector and further enhance Ulster University’s global reputation for law and computer science research excellence,” he added.

International students make up 63% of Ulster University’s undergraduate cohort. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Allen & Overy and Baker McKenzie are among the most prestigious law firms in the world. Allen & Overy are one the five ‘magic circle’ firms, i.e. an informal term for what are generally considered the five leading law firms headquartered in the U.K. Baker McKenzie, on the other hand, is one of the top three biggest law firms in the world by revenue, just behind DLA Piper and Latham & Watkins.

Both firms have established its bases in the country recently – Allen & Overy opened its Belfast legal services centre in 2011, and Baker McKenzie later in 2014.

Pointing to the “terrific” education at all levels, Baker Mackenzie’s Northern Ireland executive director, Jason Marty said that was a deciding factor in choosing to locate in Belfast.

Jane Townsend, who heads Allen & Overy’s Belfast office, underscored the importance of technology in their practice, saying “knowledge-led business and technology is pivotal to everything we do”.

The new centre allows the firm to work towards these goals while strengthening their bond with the university.

“We’ve been greatly impressed by the high calibre of the Legal Innovation Centre and its strategy for accelerating innovation and technology in the legal sector,” she added.

The law tech hub will also provide tangible impacts on how Baker Mackenzie builds its teams, technologies and business, according to Marty.

“We also look forward to contributing to the good work of the centre on issues with direct benefit to the people and legal system of Northern Ireland and beyond,” he said.

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