‘Lawyers, Be Truly Curious About Legal Tech’ – Kerry Westland, Addleshaw Goddard

Are You Curious Enough?

By Kerry Westland, Head of Innovation + Legal Technology, at international law firm, Addleshaw Goddard.

Having just come out the other side of conference and awards season, it’s very clear that the innovation and legal technology community is very much growing and that teams focusing on this can no longer be seen as a fad.

After attending these conferences for the last four or five years, it’s astounding to see all the new faces attending and you get a real sense that much is going on in the legal industry.

But – is it? There are so many papers and articles now about reality vs hype. There are reports that clients aren’t seeing innovation and that also associates sitting in their teams aren’t seeing it day-to-day either, and that legal technology is the Emperor’s new clothes.

Kerry Westland, Head of Innovation + Legal Technology, Addleshaw Goddard

There is also the perception that all firms are thinking about is the rush to press release or how to answer client proposals and pitch documents. Yet how can 2,000 people attend Legal’s own Glastonbury and how can we all be getting excited about our placing on innovation rankings, when lawyers aren’t seeing technology being applied to their business as usual work?

I think there are a couple of points here and I’m using this post as a call to action – for lawyers in fee-earning teams who want to use technology and for those in innovation or legal technology teams.

How Is Technology Being Used In Your Practice Area?

For lawyers in fee earning teams: do you know how technology is being used in your practice area? Can you speak compellingly to clients about the use of legal technology to their matters?

For those in innovation or legal technology teams: are you being told that you need to produce more communications, or one pagers or use cases? Do you talk at team meetings and away days and internal events, but still get the feeling that your message isn’t being heard?

Having seen the discussions around the application of legal technology increase steadily over the last four to five years, I can see that many lawyers see it as an important component of the future of legal services, but I can also see that for someone who is dealing with client matters, it can sometimes be tricky to quickly understand exactly how it can be applied to a particular use case.

I can see how a real estate use case can be dismissed by a corporate lawyer as not relevant to the work that they do. I can see why lawyers automatically complete tasks manually when they could be great candidates for the application of technology, because they don’t have the bandwidth to take time to think about doing something differently. And I can really see why associates may sit there and think that the press releases from their firms do not match up to their day to day experiences.

The Power of Legal Technology

I have seen, first hand, how powerful it is when a lawyer can explain to a client how a particular matter can be done more consistently, more efficiently and with more value, through the use of legal technology.

And as much as it may be easier to wait for the perfect legal technology solution to be deployed to your desktop, when you weren’t looking for or expecting it – this is actually quite an ask – the most valuable solutions come from those that have been developed with the practising lawyers included in the conversation.

As someone responsible with leading change in a law firm, I therefore challenge those of you who do not know how technology is being used in your firm to actively seek out and try and understand how technology could be applied to the work that you do.

I know this is difficult when you have deadlines to meet, but having a real understanding of what is happening will help you.

Read the internal news stories or external press releases about how your firm is applying technology, talk to those charged with driving change. Be truly curious about what can be done. I think you’ll be surprised by what is happening.

Be truly curious about what can be done

The Message 

But, I will say that it is also up to those of us ‘selling’ the application of technology to get the message right.

It’s very hard when you are involved in the detail of the application of technology to get the message across simply.

I’ve always been quite open about the fact that how technology can be applied to legal services is wide ranging and varied. And whilst that means that so much can be done, that can be an overwhelming message.

Very recently we looked at simplifying the message. The result is that more people can quickly see how this can now apply more specifically to their practice area. They have become more curious.

And I’d love for even more people to show that curiosity.

[ This article is republished here with the kind permission of the author. ]


  1. Kerry – I agree. Curiosity. Challenge. My experience with U.S. transactional lawyers is that we intently listen, collect the CLE credit (most certainly if ethics credit is available), and promptly return to our billable hour and (net) cash collection report. The challenge for US lawyers, of course, is to carry curiosity and our content expertise into meaningful use cases (or “the stuff that our clients care about”). So, yes (!), Kerry’s challenge is spot on. In my legal tech presentations, I offer US lawyers this 3-point perspective: in 1776, we (the Yanks) won. In the War of 1812, we probably fought to a draw (the Brits kept Canada). Today, the Brits might win (probably will win) legal tech due to powerful drivers within the British legal market that are missing in the US legal market: minority ownership of (a few) British law firms, which brings both tech investment capital and a drive for efficiency, and which then impacts the broader British the law firm business model AND (importantly) law firm culture. Granted, I do NOT have data to substantiate this, but except for a few notable US law firms, aren’t the Brits leading us (U.S.) in meaningful implantation of legal tech? Kudos to Kerry and the Brits.

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