Navigating Build vs Build: Why Some Firms Choose to Build

March 7, 2024

The Build vs. Buy Conversation

AI is increasingly garnering attention from the legal industry – and as more and more firms adopt generative artificial intelligence into their everyday work, it’s proven that this new technology is here to last. When it comes to deciding how to best adapt genAI technology, major players in the legal industry are landing on different sides of the line on whether to build in-house development capabilities or procure third-party technology. As more and more major players develop their AI strategy, those who want to stay at pace with innovation in the legal industry are at a pivotal decision-making point: to build or buy. 

The decision-making process is one with high stakes; it means staying ahead of the technology boom, and – whether a firm chooses to build or buy – requires allocating significant resources. Firms must consider the best way to leverage their knowledge, strengths, and resources not just for immediate success, but for the long term. 

So, how are law firms navigating the complex terrain between developing GenAI solutions in-house, or procuring them externally? 

Firms that Are Building GenAI Technology

While third-party AI tools have been implemented by many firms, others have taken it upon themselves to create their own tools – many of these taking the form of genAI chatbots. Here are 7 law firms that created their own genAI tools: 


The world’s largest law firm has expanded its services to include genAI tech. Dentons launched their chatbot “fleetAI” in August 2023. It’s based on OpenAI’s GPT-4 Large Language Model and is intended to help their lawyers “apply generative artificial intelligence on active client matters,” according to their press release. FleetAI allows lawyers to conduct research, generate content, and identify relevant legal arguments. The other bot that makes up fleetAI lets lawyers upload multiple legal documents for data like clauses and obligations to be “extracted, analyzed, and queried against.” 

Gunderson Dettmer

This international law firm, known for being a leader in venture capital and growth equity fund formations and equity financings, launched “ChatGD”, a genAI chat app, in August 2023. The app is the firm’s first proprietary internal tool that incorporates the newest AI technology. It lets attorneys query and manipulate documents while using secure, enterprise instances of OpenAI models through Microsoft Azure. Using retrieval-augmented generation (RAG), ChatGD also allows attorneys to supply legal agreements or other source material as context for queries. The firm has created AI guardrails to coincide with this tech to ensure the protection of clients’ information and the accuracy and quality of their work.

Troutman Pepper

Troutman Pepper’s genAI chatbot, “Athena”, helps attorneys better manage their workflows and assist in other areas of administrative work. It uses OpenAI’s large language model GPT 3.5-turbo via Microsoft Azure. It’s a closed system, in which client data isn’t shared externally to OpenAI to avoid data and privacy issues. Some of its features include: creating first drafts for blog posts, writing meeting summaries based on client notes, and assigning stakeholders to certain projects.

Davis Wright

Davis Wright is another firm that has launched its own genAI chatbot. It’s the firm’s own version of ChatGPT. It allows attorneys to collaborate within their firm with those who may be more experienced or have more expertise in a specific field. Its uses have included assistance with information sourcing for industry-specific presentations and writing pitches for lawyers based on their biography information and accolades.

Mischcon de Reya

This UK firm may not have created its own AI tech, but it’s currently focused on investing in and supporting innovative legal tech. Its venture arm, MDR Lab, is the first dedicated incubator for LegalTech in the UK, according to their site. They target early-stage companies by leveraging the firm to assist them in building better products. So far they have been involved with 27 companies, have 8 customer relationships, and made 4 investments.


Similar to Mishcon, Orrick’s venture arm, Orrick Labs, was launched to aid in the development of “customized technology solutions.” They have in-house technologists working on creating solutions that enhance the “quality, security, and efficiency” of the tech they work with, which includes AI-based features and cloud-based tech. The team at Orrick Labs partners with other lawyers to develop solutions based on their clients’ needs. For example, their cloud-based tool, “BrightFlag Workspace”, was originally developed by Orrick Labs but became its own company, establishing as BrightFlag. 

When Building is the Right Fit for Firms: 

Under the right circumstances, choosing to build can have lasting benefits. Here are three signs that building may be the right fit for your firm: 

Your needs are highly custom 

  • With the right resources and a niche problem to solve, opting to build may save time and money when compared to the process of evaluating and purchasing of third-party technology that is ultimately the wrong fit. For firms with a highly specific use case in mind, building directly to solve their problem may be the best fit. 

You have an expert technology team available 

  • For large firms that have the technological resources available to invest in building and maintaining genAI technology, building may be the right choice. Medium and small firms, or firms that do not have access to a team able to work with LLM's, should consider the significant cost of developing a team with these capabilities.

You have sufficient resources to ensure secure usage 

  • Even in instances where firms have opted for custom-built technology, there is a significant administrative lift when it comes to ensuring proper and ethical use of the genAI technology. Troutman Pepper, with their use of Athena, had to “mandate ethics courses for its attorneys and draft a new AI policy incorporating guidance from their insurance provider”.

While many of these firms decided to build their own version of genAI chatbots, the benefits to building do not necessarily outweigh those of buying. Chatbots may offer a wide breadth of capabilities and are valuable for familiarizing lawyers with how to interact with genAI. However, they may lack the targeted problem-solving approach of technology providers. Additionally, firms must consider what future resources will be required to maintain and keep pace with the advancing genAI field. In many instances, the benefits that come with the expertise and focus of partnering with a technology provider, result in a more sustainable solution. 

The Reality: It’s Not a One-Size Fits All Solution

Developing a large language model requires extensive resources and deep subject knowledge, and the majority of the Am Law 100 firms are opting for a combination of building and buying. 

The process of building vs buying is a complicated and ongoing conversation. And ultimately, whether your firm chooses to build or buy comes down to understanding your firm's needs and the resources available. 

We’re Here to Help

The DraftWise team is here to help navigate the complex terrain of generative AI technology. Schedule a time with our team to learn about how partnering with us can help your firm stay ahead of the innovation curve.

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