June 15, 2021
Innovation isn’t easy. It involves time, effort and sometimes fundamentally challenges the status quo. It’s also unavoidable. But why would that be a problem? If done well, innovation results in progress, in evolution and takes a business forward. Clients increasingly refuse to settle for advisers that are still clinging on to old ways. And internally, tech-savvy Millennials and Generation Zedders have clear expectations around the impact technology can have on the role of the lawyer and achieving a better work-life balance. But it’s not just new talent. Tomorrow’s innovation is today’s BAU for many. As a result, law firms lagging behind the curve are finding themselves under pressure to re-engineer how they work around the needs of both clients and lawyers. Again, should this not be viewed as a good thing?
Without the right organisational mindset, the adoption of technology in law firms can be slow. Having the right culture in place helps lawyers move up and over the tech adoption curve as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
Here we talk to Rachael Ruane, a partner in the Banking and Finance team at independent UK law firm Burges Salmon, about what steps they’re taking to embrace new technology, how their culture is helping them change how they deliver legal services and why this is embraced at the firm.
Innovation doesn’t just happen. It requires lawyers to feel empowered to share ideas and pursue opportunities to use technology in new ways. And for this to happen, law firms need to create an environment in which innovation can survive and flourish.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve launched an Innovation team,” says Rachael. “This is a mixture of business service professionals and lawyers who are particularly interested in technology, process improvement and new legal solutions. Our Innovation team feeds into and reports to the firm’s Executive Committee.”
This gives innovation a dedicated functional area and digitally savvy minds a direct feed into the firm’s senior leadership. The momentum for change this hub creates is fundamental in driving forward improvements in how legal services are delivered at Burges Salmon.
“It's a mix in terms of our Innovation team having a plan and products they’re interested in – for example, things like DocuSign that are applicable firm-wide,” Rachael explains. “But then there’s also encouragement within all of the different departments to input ideas about innovation and products that they would like to look at for their own specific area. Our Innovation team then helps work out which providers are available. Over the last three or four years, this has become business as usual.”
While Burges Salmon’s Innovation team is there to support practice areas to achieve their technology ambitions, it also relies on proactive contributions from lawyers across the firm, in order to get the most from this approach.
“We knew we were about to go up to eight partners from five in the Banking and Finance team, when we started seriously considering automation,” Rachael recalls. “I had been thinking about automation for a while and how it made a lot more sense for us to be using these types of products. Our Innovation team helped us to whittle down the various options and work out what was going to work best for us and provide the best solution for our clients.”
But it takes a willingness from individual partners, like Rachael, to initiate and proactively steer innovation projects. By doing this, partners signal to their teams not only their commitment to an initiative but also their openness to change. For example, successful automations are often built when more senior lawyers accept that the drudgery of repetitive, administrative drafting no longer has to be an integral part of a junior lawyer’s learning journey.
“On the one hand, it's absolutely critical that banking lawyers know how facility documentation and security documentation are put together as early as possible in their career,” Rachael says. “They need to know if you're asked to change something how those changes are filtered through the document. The question is, can you still learn these skills if you're not actually putting through all of the amendments yourself? My opinion is there are now lots of better ways of learning to draft.”
Instead, Rachael sees automation as a way to free up her lawyer talent to focus on the more bespoke aspects of drafting that benefit from human legal flair.
“We’ve worked out that for long-form facility documents, the time-saving from Clarilis automation is approximately 80% – that’s from starting a term sheet to having a first draft of a facility ready to go to the clients for the first time,” Rachael explains. “This gives our lawyers more time to pick through an awful lot of optional drafting and provisions once they've done the automation process.”
The existence of an Innovation team at Burges Salmon is evidence of their commitment to making an ongoing investment in technology. But they’re also not trying do it all themselves.
Technology inevitably needs ongoing updates and re-configuration to make sure it functions optimally in the face of changes both within a firm's practice and in the wider market environment. So, a key consideration when purchasing a LegalTech solution, is who will do this maintenance?
“One of the big differences between the automation providers is whether you’re given the tools to automate the documents yourself, or a managed service is provided,” Rachael explains. “On the one hand, with the first option you’re master of your own destiny, but then you also have to find the time and the resource to configure the automations and keep them updated. On the other hand, if you invest in an ongoing working relationship, like we have with Clarilis, you can rely on the vendor to actually provide and manage your automations. You are still master of your own destiny, but you can relax knowing it is in trusted, experienced hands, with dedicated resource to achieving it. This frees up your own team to concentrate on other priorities.”
“The professional support lawyers we have in Corporate and in Banking and Finance are very senior lawyers,” Rachael adds as she explains her reasoning for opting for the Clarilis managed service. “What we want from our banking PSL is thought leadership. It’s the training elements – making sure that our annual training program is run and that everybody's up-to-date. We didn't necessarily want them to be distracted from doing that job and being pulled more towards the day-to-day aspects of managing and updating automations. We have a close relationship with a Clarilis professional support lawyer who helps with this side of things, so it’s not taking up a huge proportion of our PSL’s time. This comes from a position of trust, based on that PSLs extensive experience, which we can also benefit from.”
One of the most compelling insights Rachael shared was undoubtedly her comment that their approach to innovation has become ‘business as usual.’ This is achieved because their leaders promote a culture of innovation from the top down. Embedding this kind of progressive mindset into the DNA of a firm has a huge impact on the successful implementation and adoption of LegalTech and pushes the sector forward – for all the right reasons.