Osborne Clarke has teamed up with the University of Bristol to debut a new vacation scheme around legal technology, as a number of firms seek the help of external providers to broaden their educational offerings.

The scheme, dubbed ‘legal and emerging tech vacation scheme’, was conceived to give students working in the university’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics faculties the chance to work on innovation in a real law firm, which is the concept that Osborne Clarke pitched to the university.

It involves a two-week placement hosted in the firm’s Bristol HQ, with the possibility of taking up to six students a time. While the firm’s traditional vacation scheme takes place early during the summer, the new offering will regularly start at the other end of the season.

The scheme has been undertaken by six students, half of them studying law and the other half pursuing scientific studies. The six students were paired up and challenged to develop a solution among three technology fields: collaboration tools for project management around legal matters; blockchain-based smart contracts used to automate provisions in legal documents;  and dispute modelling tools to help predict the outcome of litigation cases.

During the scheme, the students were overseen by London-based real estate partner Nick Simpson, outsourcing and IT partner Mark Taylor and construction-based partner Rob Horne. During the experience, they were also supported by IT professionals from the firm, as well as through workshops around the impact of technology on law firms’ ways of working. The group also collaborated with Osborne Clarke Solutions, a 10-strong client-facing unit focused on best delivery strategies, aimed at increasing efficiency through the development of bespoke legal project management tools.

The scheme ended with a presentation of the ideas developed during the two weeks to a panel of sponsors and experts at the firm, who will also provide lectures to the university.

As part of the programme, some of the six students will be given part-time positions to continue developing their ideas, with the entire group having access to mentoring throughout the academic year.

“The future of law is entwined with the future of technology, so we sat down with lawyers at the firm and thought about how we could work with the university to drive mutual benefits,” Nathan Hayes, IT director at Osborne Clarke and leader of the initiative, told The Lawyer. “We came up with this idea because it combines legal professionals and students as they address the challenge of what will the future of law look like.”

It is not the first time law firms and university collaborate on partnership to boost digital and technology literacy in the legal profession, as both academia and private practice have been arguably slow in introducing tech to their training. In July 2018, Clifford Chance launched a technology-focused internship for some of its future trainees, partnering with a lawtech start-up Lexoo, an online legal marketplace. The two-month internship, which began in June, has an initial cohort of two future trainees who have just finished their first year at university. Both were selected from the 2017 Springboard programme, Clifford Chance’s scheme to snap up first-year talent.

One month earlier, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer teamed up with the University of Manchester’s law school and AI company Neota Logic to offer a course on legal technology. The new course, which started in January 2019, is called “legal tech and access to justice” and will be offered as an optional module to undergraduate students in their final year. It focuses on the delivery of legal services, through learning how to build tech-based applications that will help non-profit organisations gain access to justice.

Using technology as an extension of its offerings has been a core part of Osborne Clarke’s strategy over the past few years. Only last May, for instance, the firm entered the incubator scene by putting together a new startup programme aimed at getting early-stage companies ready for their first major round of financing. The initiative, dubbed Osborne Clarke Ventures, saw the firm’s fee-earners feeding legal advice to technology-focused startups as they grow towards investment opportunities.