Emily Foges is a busy woman. The CEO of legal tech startup Luminance has grown the company's client list to 81 firms since she was hired in May 2016.

"The most recent one signed up last night, in Indonesia," she tells Techworld during an interview in Luminance's London office on the Strand.

Emily Foges, Luminance CEO © Financial Times Live
Emily Foges, Luminance CEO © Financial Times Live

Luminance counts 10 of the global top 100 law firms among its customers, plus three of the 'big four' consultancies.

Arguably the company's rapid success should come as no surprise. Luminance's pitch is easy to comprehend. Its technology reads and understands contracts and legal documents, picking out significant information or anomalies. It doesn't require any instruction and is able to sift through documents in any language.

By getting AI, rather than a trainee, to rifle through reams of documents, law firms can identify information within the first hour of using it that would otherwise takes them months to find, Foges claims. One firm recently saved 85 percent of the time they would have otherwise spent on a GDPR exercise, she adds.

Inevitably, these sorts of time savings raise fears over lawyers being replaced by technology, and specifically AI.

"This technology isn't replacing lawyers. It's augmenting them and reducing the need to do time-consuming, manual, less valuable work. It means they can easily pull out information they wouldn't be able to find otherwise," she says.

In fact, a bigger concern "particularly among the more conservative American firms" is over the fact Luminance could reduce billable hours. However the industry is increasingly moving to fixed-price work, Foges adds.

"One of our Australian customers was asked to pitch a fixed price for a piece of work. If they hadn't had Luminance they wouldn't have won the work, because it would have taken them too long to get through it," she says.

Luminance was formed in 2015, backed by the law firm Slaughter and May, and Invoke Capital, a tech investment fund founded by Mike Lynch. Invoke is deeply intertwined with Luminance – they share an office and a number of staff, for starters.

The company's CTO James Loxam, who holds a PhD in computer vision and mathematics, developed its proprietary AI using a blend of computer vision, probability statistics and machine learning. "Those three things coming together really made Luminance possible," Foges says.

The company did some beta testing and pilots before launching its product in September 2016 at a conference in Washington DC. While there, Foges was invited to do a demo by a law firm, in a conference room in their hotel.

"They had invited about 10 friends from other law firms. The room was really, really lavish but there was no screen. I had this teeny laptop and 10 managing partners from some of the biggest law firms standing behind me and looking over my shoulder. But three of them are now our customers off the back of that," she laughs.

Luminance now has 50 employees but it is expanding rapidly. In fact, along with many of the UK's tech startups, hiring is one of its biggest challenges, according to Foges.

Another issue has been the slow pace of decision making within law firms, which form by far their biggest client base (followed by legal departments within other sectors).

"The biggest challenge is law itself. The structure of a law firm does not lend itself to fast decision making, let's face it. Or to change particularly," she says.

"It's about getting lawyers comfortable with the idea that this doesn't change what they're doing fundamentally it's just giving them tools to do it in a more productive way. That's definitely been the biggest challenge," Foges adds.

Luminance is primarily used for due diligence, but its range of uses is set to change this year, according to Foges.

"Last year it was definitely about getting new customers on board. For this year it's about penetration. It's about giving them more ways of using the product so that, customers use Luminance as the platform for everything, because the more you do that, the more useful it's going to get. It's going to learn more and more from you and get better and better," she says. 

Luminance won 'Enterprise Startup of the Year', 'Best Data/Analytics Technology of the Year' and the 'Grand Prix' awards at the techies 2018, hosted by Techworld.