Law firm DLA Piper poaches data scientists to capitalise on AI boom

Johnnie Pratt

DLA Piper, one of the world’s largest law firms by revenue, has poached 10 data scientists from a smaller rival to advise clients on the use of artificial intelligence, as regulators across the world draft policies to police the rapidly expanding technology.

A new unit at the multinational firm will be boosted by the arrival of Bennett Borden, a former CIA official who used data analytics and machine learning at the agency to predict human behaviour. He will be joined by members of his former team at Faegre Drinker, alongside current DLA staff.

“We will be able to go to our clients and not only tell them what their AI systems need to do to comply with regulations but we can test them and make sure they are in fact doing that,” said Danny Tobey, who chairs DLA’s artificial intelligence practice.

As well as helping large companies and governments develop AI systems or algorithmic models and navigate new laws, DLA said it would build AI tools that can be used by clients for their own legal tasks. The firm will also use generative AI — the technology behind ChatGPT — to help its own lawyers with mundane research and writing assignments.

The move by DLA Piper comes after magic circle firm Allen & Overy announced last month that it was introducing a generative AI chatbot — named Harvey — to help lawyers draft contracts, merger and acquisition documents and memos to clients.

The launch of ChatGPT in November has triggered an avalanche of investment into AI technologies. San-Francisco based OpenAI, which created the program, has itself attracted a further $10bn of investment from Microsoft, at a $29bn valuation.

But the proliferation of the technology has raised ethical questions about algorithmic bias, as well as concerns over copyright and licensing, particularly around AI-created images.

Politicians have scrambled to introduce laws that will govern the evolving technology, with legislation such as the EU’s AI Act expected to come into force later this year. In the US, the FTC has been increasing its efforts to regulate the industry, most recently warning companies against exaggerating the effectiveness of their software.

“There are over 700 active policy initiatives globally trying to regulate AI,” said DLA’s Tobey, adding that as a result “the ground keeps shifting under [businesses’] feet”.

DLA is already heavily involved in lobbying lawmakers in Washington over AI regulations. Tony Samp, a senior policy adviser at the firm, was the founding director of the US Senate’s Artificial Intelligence Caucus. DLA also employs Paul Hemmersbaugh, who drafted the first federal autonomous vehicle policy when working for the US government.

Such expertise, DLA’s management stressed, would not itself be replaced by AI.

“There is no technology on Earth right now that replaces human judgment or that automatically administers law,” Tobey said. “And I’m not sure there will ever be.”

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