How do you define innovation?
Changing stuff to make it better. Within a law firm that can be anything: introducing resources; upskilling lawyers; standardising processes; the more we can do with technology.
How do you approach doing this? What does your normal week look like?
You can divide the job into three bits.
- Understanding what lawyers need. It can be a challenge to get people to open up about vulnerabilities and space for change. Both in firms and at corporates, people find it a barrier to admitting everything isn't already the most optimum it can be. Many things help - workshopping to work through their day, ideation platforms, and not underestimating informal conversations/relationship building.
- Options. Building international knowledge of your firm and what's available in it, against what's available from external vendors.
- Marrying the two together. Trying to get lawyers to really use approaches that make their lives easier. When lawyers work 16 hours a day, they are on autopilot, so putting the tools in their hands and getting them to use them is the hardest part of the job.
What aspects of innovation are corporate counsel most interested in for their legal departments?
I am spending a lot of time at the moment at corporates helping GCs improving the way their departments work. Top of their minds at the moment are:
- What skillsets will they need in their department given the profession is changing. Is that hiring new specialists like PMs and developers, or teaching lawyers those capabilities?
- Contract management. This is across the board their riskiest and most laborious responsibility and the one where they are most aware of the technology options that can help.
How do you see innovation impacting the way that legal departments work over the next three years?
They are about to head into a battle of platforms. Law firms and clients are tying the way they work more and more into particular technologies. Different clients mean different tech. Any deal with two mature counterparties, or two big law firms, will mean a clash of which system to use, and we’ve not thought about how to resolve that.
And I think a lot of the solutions are going to become more usable. A lot of technology that has AI in it hasn’t been used to full capacity as the data hasn’t been available in its entirety. The data is now more available, so we’ll see improvements over the next few years in how accurate these systems are.
What should law firms be doing to support clients during their innovation journeys?
They can share stories about what does and doesn’t work in getting lawyers to adapt. Both law firms and legal departments have similar people in them and what engages lawyers in one will work in the other. Law firms tend to be ahead of corporates on this and owe it to their clients to share their experiences.
Speaking of law firms, how do you think innovation is settling in at law firms?
It's been an interesting journey; most firms started out with a broad innovation function. As it matured they started building out, specialist functionality LT LPM CI etc. and now there’s an awareness that we need to think about those verticals as fully integrated, and so the reintegration of those people/teams.
Have you got any advice for people looking to make the move from lawyer to innovator?
The SME background is useful but the actual skills you apply are different. Firstly, it’s good to get a taste of what the job will be like. So things like secondments, or just coffees with those doing it are really helpful. Secondly, there are some technical skillsets that are useful; learning about service design, design thinking, PMing and a bit about how software is put together will really help you. It doesn’t mean you need to learn to code or do a Masters, rather just picking up some good books and reflecting.
What are your predictions for innovation in 2020?
I think we’re going to see even more consolidation when it comes to legal tech. It’s impossible to apply half a dozen platforms on a single transaction. The tech companies see that; they’re trying to bring single platform solutions and I think that is good for everybody.
Productization is going to be more important, especially because it’s the best way to sell improvement to core services. We’re doing a lot of work at the moment on modernising our vanilla loan transactions and only by defining something clearer than generic ‘hours’ can we market it clearly - clients otherwise miss the improvements you’ve made.