A new co-working space for legal tech innovators was launched today at the Legal Geek conference in London’s Shoreditch.

The sold-out event, sponsored by the Law Society, brought together ‘disruptive forces’ - the tech start-ups that are transforming legal services - and supporters, investors and early adopters. 

The artificial intelligence, blockchain and lawtech-curious were also there in force.

The conference heard that start-up communities like Legal Geek are the ‘true catalysts’ that are maintaining the momentum toward what the event heard is a ‘tipping point’ in the adoption of disruptive technology.

Jimmy Vestbirk, Legal Geek founder, reiterated Legal Geek’s vision to make London a global hub for lawtech start-ups.

He announced the establishment of the Legal Geek incubator, a working space for legal innovators with free registration for a launch in the new year. ‘It’s about giving a home to the Legal Geek family – our meetings, events and our innovators,’ he said.

The morning sessions covered legal Legal AI and the global law tech start-up community.

Nick West from Mishcon de Reya talked about some of the challenges of AI adoption. ‘A culture of experimentation is not in the law firm DNA,’ he said. ‘But this needs to change and it is changing. Because culture eats strategy for breakfast.’

Anna Ronkainen, founder of AI start-up Trademark Now and a university lecturer in legal technology, discussed the background of legal AI and gave a demonstration of how it works at Trademark Now. AI is not a end in itself, she explained; it speeds up by taking the ‘heavy cognitive lifting’ out of complex processes.

The AI practice theme continued with Leverton, Kira Systems and RAVN explaining how their sophisticated narrow AI offerings take the ‘heavy cognitive lifting’ out of transactional due diligence, making legal services better, faster and cheaper.

But AI will not replace lawyers, the event heard. In fact, Noah Waisberg of Kira Systems believes that making legal services more accessible and affordable is likely to create more legal work, for more lawyers.

The event also featured a tour of the global lawtech community.

This is a global movement for change featuring David Curle from Thomson Reuters (US), Frederic Pelouze from WeClaim (France), Aron Solomon and Jason Moyse from Law Made (Canada), Jeroen Zweers from Kennedy Van Der Laan in Amsterdam who runs the Dutch LegalTech Startup Award and Meetup, and David Busby from Lexoo & Law Hackers (Australia).

The message was clear. ‘AI is unbundling legal services,’ said Pelouze, while Solomon referred to the interplay between “the digital Davids and the enterprise Goliaths’, adding: ‘It’s not a conflict, it’s a dance!’

According to Pelouze, the biggest challenge for lawtech start-ups, in addition to the usual tech start-up issues, is ’you have to be careful because you’re dealing with lawyers!’ Solomon added an encouraging surfing analogy: ‘If you get on the wave at the right time, you can ride it for a long time.’

David Curle from Thomson Reuters highlighted the continuity between this and other lawtech start-up events. ‘2013 saw a few watershed events that set the tone – Stanford’s Codex and the Reinvent Law series of events – and now it is a global horizontal phenomenon,’ he said. Advances in cloud computing have made tech fun, lightweight and quick to implement – an ideal climate for innovation, he added.

Law Society director of innovation Pete Nussey observed that the big turnout was ‘symptomatic of the unstoppable change in the industry’, but wondered how many law firm representatives were from firms below the top 50.

‘The start-ups are driving the change, but the early adopters are dominated by the elite,’ he said. ‘None the less, it feels like we’re reaching a tipping point, and even the detractors are starting to recognise that change is unstoppable.’

The conference was preceded by a Law for Good hackathon, where computer programmers worked together over the weekend to create software prototypes aimed at improving access to justice.

Nussey added: ‘As part of our mission to support the solicitor profession, the Society has an important role to play in promoting legal innovation and helping our members access the latest developments in legal services technology.’