AL Interview: Eversheds Sutherland On Its New Real Estate Tech Team Goals + REfocus Platform

In a first for the firm, Eversheds Sutherland has decided to employ legal technologists specifically to help boost its services for real estate clients.

The move comes three months after its REfocus platform helped Eversheds Sutherland scoop the Product Team of the Year award at the Real IT Awards (RITA), about which Geraint Pullin Thomas, a partner at the firm, expressed ‘delight,’ adding that it was ‘true recognition’ of its commitment to leveraging its talents for the benefit of clients.

The REfocus platform is a case management information system that helps clients and lawyers to interact, review and manage deals through a cloud-based portal.

Eversheds Sutherland has now hired in tech and legal data experts Mark Collins and Kate Perevoshchikova to work specifically on its real estate practice, with REfocus as part of their remit.

L to R: Mark Collins and Kate Perevoshchikova.

Collins, comes in from Herbert Smith Freehills, where he was Global Head of Knowledge Management, and Perevoshchikova arrives from UK legal AI company, Luminance, where she was responsible for a number of machine-learning projects. Both are also lawyers.

Artificial Lawyer caught up with Collins, who discussed some of his and Perevoshchikova’s priorities.

‘The firm is currently using machine learning in its document review across the firm, but certainly in real estate on large transactions to go through volumes of contracts and documentation,’ he explained.

The role is about delivery, not just blue sky thinking”

‘One of my and Kate’s goals is to increase that usage and to make it much more prevalent. I think data is increasingly important – both structured data and unstructured data. There’s a combination of data that is hidden away in documents and data that is hidden in databases. That combination is powerful. And that I think is certainly something that I would like to do more work on.’

He added: ‘The key things are about using and improving what we currently have, and also innovating. [There are] measurable, tangible, deliverable things and some of that will be [about] usage, some of that is about improving on what we currently have, and also enhancing REfocus, building on it, and getting more out of [other solutions we have]. It’s doing things with data analysis and possibly blockchain.’

The pair will bring in the ‘real nuts and bolts knowledge of having done similar related projects,’ according to Thomas, who believes that their cross-sector experience makes them ideal for the job.

Thomas said a good legal technologist is ‘someone who understands and has experience in tech and in legal practice, speaks the language of both and is able to act as a conduit and ambassador.’

‘The role is about delivery, not just blue sky thinking and importantly, it’s about delivery for clients,’ he added.

REfocus – Showing Real Value

Collins is not the only one who is keen about REfocus. The project also seems to bring a twinkle to the eye of Thomas, who gave Artificial Lawyer a passionate update on the project’s progress, saying clients are ‘really enthused’ by the accessibility of the data, as well as by the way it is presented to them.

‘The data is capable of being manipulated any way the client wants it, so we can show them the number of cases, the stages of a matter spent both in terms of the capex that’s governed by the contracts and the legal spend, any time, live. It can be presented in graphical form, in any format that they want. It really leaps off the page.

“You can show them this is what we can do, and it’s instant … it’s an absolute slam dunk!”

‘And the clients can get that sort of dashboard view that really empowers them and allows them to manage their business, their lawyers, and to really derive greater value.

‘It’s really powerful when you go into a pitch meeting and the prospective client wants to know what your approach is to this. You can show them this is what we can do, and it’s instant … it’s an absolute slam dunk!’

Highly Configurable 

Thomas also expanded on the benefits of the REfocus initiative.

‘When you see that screen, as a client you will be just thinking: why doesn’t everyone do this? And the reason is, whilst the end result is very simple, getting there has taken a huge amount of design, a huge amount of thinking. But it’s a real differentiator for the firm and, absolutely rightly, a differentiator for its clients.

One thing that has been mooted by one client is whether or not they can instruct us via the system.”

The wonderful thing about the system is that it is readily configurable, it can be tweaked and flexed because there is no point giving a client something it doesn’t want. You always have to listen to what the client wants and deliver what it wants. If you think that there are additional things that it needs, then you can’t just present that for them, it’s about the conversations, it’s about really drilling into what the client actually needs, and delivering that.

One thing that has been mooted by one client is whether or not they can instruct us via the system. When we designed it, it wasn’t an instruction collaboration platform, it was more of an internal management system that provided external metrics and reporting.

‘But they have asked if that can be done and it is something which we are now developing as well. If you are intelligent and you do your homework, you can often deliver what you think people want, but actually listening to clients … you are in with a chance of actually delivering what they actually want. It’s about delivery of tangible benefits to the clients, giving them the tools that they need.’

Overall, a significant and client-orientated step for the international firm, Eversheds Sutherland, and further proof of how legal tech tools are being leveraged as a key differentiator in the market in terms of legal services delivery. It also shows that while some practice areas such as corporate and finance often tend to get the attention when it comes to leveraging legal tech, there is much more going on.

The firm’s hiring in of experts specifically to boost the tech capabilities of its real estate team is a case in point in how things are changing.

(By Irene Madongo)

Legal innovators Conference: Tickets Now on Sale