Luminance CEO Emily Foges is in a buoyant mood. In her three years at the helm of the London-based lawtech startup, Luminance has raised $23 million, reached a valuation of $100 million, attracted almost 150 customers and won a hoard of gleaming awards, including a handful of techies.

“I was talking to one of our clients in New York last night about how we managed to come this far and remembered one of our seed investors back in spring 2017 saying to me that if you guys have got 10 customers by the end of the year, I'll be really happy,” Foges tells Techworld. “And here we are at 150.”

© Luminance
© Luminance

Luminance has achieved such explosive growth by providing a transformative solution to a legal process that craved automation: document review.

The manual review of contracts and legal documents is an essential but repetitive task that takes up thousands of staff hours at law firms and legal departments around the world. Luminance claims it can cut that time in half within the first two weeks of deployment.

It does this by using machine learning techniques developed at the University of Cambridge to sift through stacks of documents and contractual data and find patterns, anomalies and potential issues, before surfacing its key findings in real time to lawyers, who can then act on the insights.

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Initially, the system was used to support due diligence in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), by assessing information about finances, contracts, customers, and other data pertinent to a deal. It was a legal issue that Foges had experienced first hand in her previous career working in M&A with of the fastest growing businesses in the UK.

"I spent 20-odd years working on M&A integration, and being that person who's left holding the baby when everyone walks away and the deal's done, and the company realises that it's not what they thought it was, that they've spent all this money on due diligence and they've actually had no idea what they're dealing with," she recalls. "It was my role to port that out. So for me, this has always been about the technology actually helping with that it. It can mean that you do a better deal.”

Changing the profession

Once the benefits of that use case were proven, Luminance began to widen the focus of its technology to regulatory compliance, property lease abstraction, contract negotiation and e-discovery; the process of analysing electronic information used in lawsuits.

The focus of the business strategy is also changing. Legal procedures and practices have been established over centuries, which can make adopting a new technology a challenge. Luminance is trying to expedite the process by shifting its focus from attracting new customers to helping existing client use the product.

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“It is hard to get law firms to change the way they work, so we have to work really hard to remove any unnecessary barriers to that,” says Foges. “Our deployments will be done in an hour. You don't need to train the system and you don't need to configure the system, so you can get started straight away.

“We take away every possible barrier, but you're still left with the cultural change in the law firm, which is obviously something that is not insignificant. So a lot of our focus goes into helping law firms overcome those cultural changes.”

Automating tedium

Concerns over AI replacing human jobs are common in the legal sector, where Deloitte predicts 39 percent of jobs are ripe for automation. Foges is confident that Luminance will free up people from tedious tasks to focus on more complex and interesting work.

"Lawyers need to get back in control of that work," she says. "They've been forced to compromise in the last 20 years in the name of efficiency, either by outsourcing or by sampling and assuming that the sample that you review is everything, which of course it's not, or more recently, by using things like automatic clause extraction.

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"All of those things mean relinquishing control over your review and your understanding of the documentation in the name of efficiency, and it's no longer necessary. What we're doing with Luminance is giving the lawyers back control over that process so that their clients can get their advice from their trusted advisor with the best possible information at their fingertips.

"That probably does mean that the warehouse full of paralegals and assistant lawyers won't exist much longer, but it doesn't mean that the partner at [US law firm] Cravath won't exist. They actually become more important than before."

Luminance won the AI Innovator of the Year award and the Best Use of AI award at the techies 2019.