How A&O Shearman is reshaping law with trailblazing AI tool

Global, newly merged law firm A&O Shearman is one of the first law firms in the world to build a tool on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to transform its way of working.

Lawyers across the firm are now using ContractMatrix, built in close collaboration with Microsoft and OpenAI-backed AI start-up Harvey, to speed up the drafting, reviewing and negotiating of contracts. It is also available as a product for clients to license.

AI is disrupting the legal sector fast. A&O Shearman wanted to make the most of this innovative technology – while managing the risks associated with it – to streamline the contract management discipline, which forms a huge part of its business.


While still traditional in many areas, the legal profession is nevertheless a hot market for Generative AI. The reliance on standardised documents and set precedents makes it a perfect training ground for Large Language Models (LLMs).

David Wakeling, a Partner at A&O Shearman and Head of its Markets Innovation Group (MIG), believes the firm was first out the gates.

“ContractMatrix is the kind of Generative AI tool designed for a specific function that will revolutionise the sector,” he says. “It’s very exciting, but we know we have to continue to innovate to stay competitive.”

Major efficiencies

1,900 A&O Shearman lawyers are currently using the tool, which is working well in multiple languages across the globe. It is already saving around seven hours from the average contract review, an efficiency gain of about 30%. The broader benefits to the profession, and to society at large, are also potentially massive.

“Law is access to justice,” says David. “If it becomes cheaper and more scalable, that will be game-changing.”

Strong partnership

A&O Shearman chose to build the tool on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.

“It’s been essential having Azure as an environment,” explains David. “Without it, a tool of this flexibility and scale would have been unthinkable. Azure is designed perfectly for the robust scaling of a system like ContractMatrix, and the secure hosting of data.”

The ambitious nature of the ContractMatrix project also required close-knit, seamless cooperation between the law firm and Microsoft. This was made easier thanks to the mutual values of the two organisations.

“We share various common philosophies,” says David. “We both see AI as augmenting, not displacing, the human. We’re also both obsessed with data security, as well as about maintaining fairness and avoiding bias in AI.”

Exciting move to market

The firm quickly realised that this new technology could be hugely useful to many other organisations. ContractMatrix is now live on Microsoft Azure Marketplace and Microsoft AppSource, while A&O Shearman is selling it across its client base and beyond.

David is in discussion with hundreds of potential ContractMatrix customers across the world at companies operating in a range of sectors. On recent visits to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, he found that the tool had already created a buzz. The potential for growth is huge, but only in partnership with Microsoft, he believes.

“We couldn’t do this without Azure,” he says. “As this has gone further, so has Azure’s processing capability, which has moved with the scale of the product.”

Moreover, many of A&O Shearman’s customers already use Microsoft products.

“This means that there’s an ease of deployment and a familiarity with the environment,” he says.

Responsible AI

AI could be the defining technology of our age, so using it ethically is paramount, Microsoft believes. The company is encouraging businesses across all sectors to develop and deploy it responsibly. In law, it is particularly important for confidentiality, fairness, and accuracy to be watertight.

A&O Shearman has therefore adopted some major governance principles around ContractMatrix, with risk management integrated into the tool’s design from the beginning. There’s always an expert in the loop, and the buck stops with them.

“You’re always going to have a lawyer who’s being augmented, not displaced,” says David. “Our system is grounded in leveraging high quality data sets in the form of benches [libraries of templates and precedents]. There’s always a cross verification against what the AI is suggesting.”

There are also operational restrictions baked into the system when it comes to highly sensitive fields, such as vulnerable groups, while A&O Shearman has developed governance around intellectual property infringement and data privacy.

Sky’s the limit

ContractMatrix has so far proved brilliant at mastering contracts, David believes.

“In the future there will be more and more tools developed,” he says, “to cover different aspects of the profession.”

The relationship with Microsoft will be vital as this moves forward, he says.

“I can see a very long-term partnership. We share a common ambition – to deploy AI responsibly to augment the human.”