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Winner: Darren Meale

Partner, Simmons & Simmons

Mr Meale is not only a leading intellectual property partner and solicitor-advocate but also became one of youngest judges in the UK when he was appointed a deputy district judge in 2013, aged 31. A City solicitor acting as a district judge was considered unorthodox because of the commitment involved in each role. However, he has maintained both. He is a deputy district judge in the IP Enterprise Court and in the County Court.

Working with an external developer, he created from scratch Simmons & Simmons Translator, which streamlines and improves the process for assessment of EU trademark portfolios. The tool automates the review of trademarks, and drafts the paperwork to be filed in a matter of seconds, potentially saving weeks of lawyers’ time for each client. Mr Meale is recognised for his work to create Translator in the Technology ranking in this report.

Tom Connor

Data investigations technical specialist, McCann FitzGerald

Irish law firm McCann Fitzgerald is one of the first globally to set up a dedicated research and development unit to develop client-facing legaltech services. Part of its data investigations group, the unit comprises three people, including Mr Connor, who gained his law degree in 2013.

Mr Connor has eschewed the traditional law firm career track of trainee to associate to partner. Instead, he is focusing on the digitalisation of legal services as a legal technical specialist. It is a new role in mainstream law firms.

While a large part of his job is to make sure the firm is using existing e-discovery and project-management technologies to their full potential, his more exciting role is client-facing. He is introducing machine-learning technologies into the firm’s leading projects for clients to extract data from legal documents and enhance work-product quality.

Mr Connor works with all the firm’s practice groups to codify their expertise, from capturing the variety of clauses in Irish real estate documents to creating artificial intelligence apps to deliver “regtech” (regulation technology) advice.

Ingrid York

Partner, White & Case

Ms York has been involved in several first-of-a-kind transactions over the past year, such as Crédit Agricole CIB’s $3bn synthetic securitisation, which created financing for a range of socially responsible projects, with a specific focus on renewable energy. Her work on the Republic of Cameroon’s debut $750m eurobond, guaranteed by the African Development Bank, is recognised in the New Markets and Capital category in the report.

Ms York is legally qualified in three jurisdictions — New York, New South Wales (Australia), and England and Wales. Along with her private practice experience, she also worked in-house for close to five years at Deutsche Bank, followed by a year at Crédit Agricole in Germany. She joined White & Case in 2006 and now heads the firm’s derivatives and structured finance practice in London.

Lucy Shurwood

Partner, Pinsent Masons

Ms Shurwood recognises that embracing technologies that rely on trial and error is an uncomfortable experience. But it is also intrinsic to her job as an innovation and technology specialist and banking and finance partner at Pinsent Masons.

One of the original proponents of document automation at the firm, she has worked on the automation of some of its most complex templates. Recently, Ms Shurwood led the development of TermFrame Era, a tool that uses techniques such as artificial intelligence to improve the extraction and analysis of information in legal documents.

In the 10 months since its launch, the tool has been used in the review of more than 25,000 documents for UK clearing banks, helping clients to meet obligations under the Banking Reform Act 2013. TermFrame Era’s ability to review foreign language documents is also helping to accelerate the firm’s international expansion.

Jimmy Vestbirk

Founder, Legal Geek

After setting up more than 20 niche online dating websites and a music festival catering business, Mr Vestbirk turned his attention to the legal profession. Even though he has been in the legal sector for less than three years, Mr Vestbirk has set up F-lex, a temporary workforce business for paralegals, and Legal Geek, a networking and conference business for legal tech start-ups. The latter now has 5,000 members. Mr Vestbirk’s inaugural Legal Geek conference in London attracted 600 attendees, and the 2017 event has sold over 1,000 tickets. His aim is to make London the place for legal start-ups to set up and take advantage of the UK’s more open regulatory environment, which allows non-lawyers to take investments in law firms.

Mr Vestbirk is helping to change the profession’s approach to technology by organising hackathons for charities, universities and the government.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
About this series

In this edition: — the rule of law, legal equality and political freedom —the top 50 law firms and legal service providers; in-house legal teams ranked for innovation alongside firms; top 10 individual innovators; the rule of law and access to justice; and collaboration as a business model