Focus On

Knomos Knowledge Management Inc. wins Blakes innovation contest

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 2:00 PM | By Carolyn Gruske

Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP wanted a tool that would track changes to government regulations and legislation and monitor their effects over time, but the firm couldn’t find one that met its needs. So it decided to have a contest to build one.

That was the genesis of the Blakes Global Legal Innovation Challenge. Run in partnership with Law Made, a Toronto-based company that invests in and promotes legal technology startups, the contest attracted competitors from around the world, but it was Knomos Knowledge Management Inc. in Vancouver that claimed victory.

Its solution, a functional prototype of a data visualization tool known (for now) as the Knomos VisuaLaws app, is based on an application the company has made available to the public. That tool allows anybody to search federal or B.C.-based case law and returns the results as a “heat map” — a visual representation of the most relevant and frequently cited cases. And it’s exactly this type of visual response that Blakes thinks will be useful.

Carla Swansburg

Carla Swansburg, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP

“We wanted [a tech solution] that would respond to a client problem and an inefficiency we saw in our practice,” said Carla Swansburg, director of practice innovation, pricing and knowledge.

“We wanted to design our own custom solution with a developer that would be something that clients would really benefit from. When we are dealing with innovation and service delivery and new technology, we almost always look to the client-facing solution: what is it going to do for clients in terms of practice efficiency and making their lives easier.”

Swansburg said visualization tools are becoming more and more important and accepted in the legal technology world, and she expects that trend to continue, especially as firms focus more on delivering service to clients in ways that are more useful to them.

“I think generally, one of the things we are trying to do is say ‘what do our end users — which is our clients — want?’ So even if we have lawyers that prefer things a certain way, we’re really trying to get things along the lines of what’s the most useful to our clients? How do they want to receive the information? And that’s what we’re trying to focus on rather than what the lawyers like and how they like to deliver their service.”

Still, she knows there are lawyers and staff members who are more comfortable dealing with text rather than graphics, so she suspects Blakes will be working with Knomos to develop an interface that cuts back on the visual output and returns more text-based results.

Adam La France

Knomos CEO Adam La France

Working with the lawyers at Blakes is one of the most important rewards of winning the challenge, said Knomos CEO Adam La France. Earning the right to work in the Blakes office and getting feedback from practising lawyers is “what we find most exciting,” said La France.

“The best thing about this dynamic and having direct access to their lawyers as end users number one and equally their clients as the beneficiary of the information and the output, it really enables us to build in a much better way. That type of client insight and feedback is going to help ensure the end result, when it is ultimately a finished product and goes to market, is exactly what everybody needs it to be.”

As for getting the product to the market, that plan is still up in the air. Blakes could just invest in the product, work with Knomos in a joint venture, or co-license the product and put it up for sale to the wider legal community.

La France knows that getting the market to adopt a data visualization tool may pose some challenges, especially as the interface will be unfamiliar to many, but that’s something which can be overcome.

“We are in uncharted territory in the aspect of applying data visualization to legal information. I think that said, it’s not a completely blank slate. There are aspects of data visualization being applied in the legal space and increasingly so,” he said adding that the tool can be seen as a something helpful, not something that’s just challenging.

“We’re not privileging visualization of the information over the textual representation. It’s in parallel. The last thing we would ever want to do is choose between ‘I can only see the information visually’ or textually. In that sense, it’s not a replacement for, it’s an addition to. It’s complementary to the existing text. By having that parallel presentation of the existing information, you could actually get more out of it than just the text alone.”

According to Swansburg, it’s vital for legal firms, especially large ones, to embrace new technology.

“Legal innovation is becoming an imperative. Any law firms that ignore it or keep their heads in the sand do so at their peril,” she said, adding that while many big firms have the reputation of not being on top of the technology game, that’s not really an accurate view of the situation.

“We just do it but we don’t necessarily talk a lot about doing it. We’re walking the walk and may not be talking the talk as much.”

As for Blakes, she said while this is the first time the firm has run a competition like this, “it won’t be the last. We are already starting to think about the next one.”