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Wakeling: Harvey is a game-changer

Global law firm Allen & Overy (A&O) has become the first law firm to adopt an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant similar to ChatGPT to help speed up the work of more than 3,500 lawyers, which could save the firm millions of pounds.

The tool, Harvey, was created by a US team that included former lawyers. It uses natural language processing, machine learning and data analytics to automate and enhance different aspects of legal work. It can operate in multiple languages.

A&O said Harvey could help generate insights, recommendations and predictions based on large volumes of data, “enabling lawyers to deliver faster, smarter and more cost-effective solutions to their clients”.

David Wakeling, head of A&O’s markets innovation group, described Harvey as a “game-changer that can unleash the power of generative AI to transform the legal industry”. He said he had never seen anything like it in the legal world before.

The firm’s trial of the system since last November had shown “amazing results”, he said. Some 3,500 lawyers asked Harvey about 40,000 questions for their day-to-day client work.

An A&O spokesman stressed that the software did not aim to replace lawyers and that Harvey’s results needed to be carefully assessed for accuracy. It was an initial research and drafting tool which, when used properly, could save lawyers a few hours a week each.

But he pointed out that, in such a large firm, small savings of time amounted to a significant cost saving overall. As time went on, Harvey would speed up, making the financial benefit greater.

Last November, Harvey received $5m in funding from OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT. Like that tool, Harvey can answer questions asked in natural language.

In an email interview with US website Techcrunch following that news, Harvey co-founder Gabriel Pereya said: “Our product provides lawyers with a natural language interface for their existing legal workflows.

“Instead of manually editing legal documents or performing legal research, Harvey enables lawyers to describe the task they wish to accomplish in simple instructions and receive the generated result.

“To enable this, Harvey leverages large language models to both understand users’ intent and to generate the correct output.”

For example, a lawyer could ask: “Tell me if this clause in a lease is in violation of California law, and if so, rewrite it so it is no longer in violation”.

Mr Pereyra said the aim was not to replace lawyers, but for Harvey to serve as an intermediary between tech and lawyer, or a “natural language interface to the law”.

“Harvey will make lawyers more efficient, allowing them to produce higher-quality work and spend more time on the high-value parts of their job,” he said.

Wim Dejonghe, A&O’s senior partner, said: “This announcement marks a new era for A&O and the legal industry. Harvey AI is not just another platform, but a game-changer that will enable us to deliver unprecedented value, efficiency and innovation to our clients.

“We are proud to be the first law firm to partner with Harvey AI. We share their vision of using technology to enhance and transform legal services.”

Brad Lightcap, who runs the OpenAI Startup Fund backing Harvey, said: “We invested in Harvey because we believe AI can have a profound impact on the legal process and their proprietary platform will fundamentally change the way lawyers spend their time.”

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