Welcome to another Legal Tech Leaders Profile that focuses on people pioneering with legal automation, legal AI and data analytics in law firms and inhouse legal teams. Today our Legal Tech Leader is Sam Moore, Innovation Manager at top Scottish law firm, Burness Paull, which is also a member of the global legal network, LexMundi.
Legal Tech Leaders: Sam Moore, Innovation Manager at Burness Paull
What is your role inside the firm and how much of this role connects to areas such as using AI tools and automation?
I am Burness Paull’s Innovation Manager, and in this role I’m principally responsible for implementing the firm’s innovation and legal tech agenda.
Before switching to a career in legal technology about two years ago, I was a solicitor in the firm’s Construction & Projects team, and I still maintain a Practicing Certificate under the firm’s Technology & Commercial division for the odd occasion when it’s needed! Earlier in my career I’ve been a project manager, a commercial manager and a computer scientist (my first passion, and what drew me to legal technology).
Use of AI and Automation are two of the main areas of focus for my role. I tend to spend most of my time in the first half of the project lifecycle – identifying a business need in the firm, gathering market intelligence of what’s available to address the need, and running pilot projects to find the best fit.
What are the main legal automation and AI systems that your law firm is currently using?
We have been developing a strong relationship with Clarilis for a number of years now, as our preferred solution for document automation. We undertook a significant review of that arrangement earlier this year, where we focused on some of the smaller opportunities in the queue automation candidates.
These were less complex documents, with fewer ‘moving parts’, but nonetheless strong cases for automation by virtue of how many the business produces per year. Following that review, we’ve since re-committed to and expanded on our Clarilis strategy, and it’s been working very well for us.
We also use Nalytics for complex search and discovery tasks, BundleDocs for automating the production of bibles and Court bundles, and HighQ for client collaboration projects. We don’t currently have a dedicated AI doc review tool – we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the options over the last 18-24 months, but none of the solutions we’ve tested has felt quite right for us. We’re patient though. The right use case and the right tool is out there, of that I have no doubt.
Does your firm have a dedicated ‘Innovation Team’ and/or a group focused on new legal technology/new types of service delivery? Can you please tell us about these groups and how they work together?
We have a two-tier approach to embedding innovation within the business. At the top ‘strategic end’ is a steering group we call ‘Lawgility’. This team consists of myself, our Managing Partner, our General Counsel, our head of IT and our Head of Technology & Commercial.
The five of us meet quarterly, to discuss priorities for my role and any emerging market trends. I leave each meeting with a fresh agenda for the coming quarter, and the steering group leaves with the most up-to-date information possible on how our innovation and technology journey is going. On the ‘pointy end’ as it were, we have a network of Tech Champions.
These are individuals (and not necessarily fee earners) drawn from all corners of the business, across any level of seniority. All it requires to be a Tech Champion is a genuine interest in how technology can make their own and their colleagues’ working life that little bit easier.
The Tech Champions are a two-way resource for me – they both disseminate important information into their respective teams, and they collate important feedback and questions back towards me. They are also my first port of call, along with our trainees, when I need volunteers for an innovation pilot.
Finally, we also have an annual ‘crowd sourcing’ event we call App Café, which involves visiting each of our three offices and leading a workshop to generate ideas and challenges from every part of the business. We’ve run the App Café for three years now, and it never fails to produce some really interesting ideas.
When it comes to the impact of using automated systems, how much of a benefit have they been so far? For example, in saving time and increased productivity, or in other ways?
We’ve been finding that automated systems have the potential to save upwards of 50% on repetitive tasks. The trick is picking the right tool for the job, and recognising that sometimes a simple solution is preferable to a sophisticated one.
For example, we consider the work we’ve done with Clarilis to be highly successful in automating the production of many types of complex documents. Some of the most intricate documents, such as Share Purchase Agreements, can see their first drafts produced in half the time it would ordinarily take.
At the end other of the spectrum, we’ve been experimenting with more simplistic automation tools for populating standard format Companies House forms, where Burness Paull acts as Company Secretary for a given corporate entity. Some of those processes can be sped up by 70% or even more, by making use of macros and plug-ins to design mail merge functions unique to our workflows.
We have also been experimenting in-house with Sharepoint to create automated workflows which connect to our iManage system, and give users a ‘start for ten’ on commonly produced documents. None of these examples utilises AI as such, just good old fashioned decision trees and scripting.
Where AI has made a big difference in where we use Nalytics to search through enormous volumes of data and pluck out important details which would be difficult to spot with the naked eye. For example, we recently needed to examine 30,000 near-identical forms and extract just one key piece of information from all of them (or record if it wasn’t found). If you assume it would take a human on average 1 minute to open each form, find the information, and write it down before moving on to the next form, then you’d need something like 500 man hours to do that task manually.
Using an automated tool like Nalytics allowed us to do it in one afternoon, with a high degree of confidence in the resulting data. That for me highlights a less spoken about benefit of automation and AI – it doesn’t just speed up existing processes, sometimes it allows you to carry out tasks that you otherwise couldn’t do at all.
Do you feel that clients are asking for the use of AI and automation technology, or is this something the firm is leveraging on its own initiative?
Absolutely, however in many cases clients might not realise this is what they’re asking for. It’s not very common in my experience for a client to say: ‘We’d like to see you utilise this AI tool we’ve seen in the news.’
More often, they are asking us open-ended questions, the answer to which is often some use (or improved use) of AI and/or automation. The main exception I’m seeing is in formal bids and tender exercises – over the last 24 months I’ve noticed a distinct trend away from high level ‘tell us about your approach to innovation’ questions towards much more specific queries. I tend to view this as a positive thing however – any excuse to talk about the details of our innovation agenda is welcome in my book!
What tech solution that you don’t have already, and may not exist yet, would really help to solve a key problem your firm and/or your clients have?
One of the biggest (largely untapped) resources any sizeable law firm has is its vast stores of documents. There is so much potential in there for data aggregating and predictive analysis that sometimes it feels quite overwhelming!
What I believe the industry could really use, and doesn’t have yet, is some sort of layer to sit over the top of commonly used document management systems like iManage and NetDocuments, which gives the user an intuitive, easy to use dashboard for data analysis. I want to be able to type in the name of a business who I know is about to undergo a significant change of ownership, and have the software flag every agreement in my DMS where that entity is a party, and there is a change of control clause present.
Ideally, I could then export those results to a spreadsheet, do a smart look-up against our Practice Management System to identify our client care partner for each client involved, and then give those colleagues a list of clients they may wish to check in with. Such a system might even run automatically, scraping external news sources such as news sites, business blogs and Companies House, and intelligently flagging possible issues on the horizon.
Proactive client service will always be driven by the commercial awareness and experience of the human adviser, but I want to see a tool come to market that can leverage AI and NLP to sniff out a potential contract issue before it happens. Such a capability would be truly game changing in my view.
Thanks Sam for your answers. You’re a legal tech leader!