Max Cole, co-founder of legal tech company, Autto, has picked up some important lessons about innovation on his journey.
An English barrister, Cole formed the process automation company with SaaS specialist Ian Gosling and full-stack developer Krisztián Kerék, who serve as the company’s CEO and CTO respectively.
The company specialises in the automation of legal processes, and also wants to make this type of technology more accessible to small and medium size businesses.
The product evolved out of another piece of software they had worked on called affio, an easy to use online Wills platform, where they spotted the potential for something new.
‘The principles that [applied] to that other piece of software could be extrapolated and made generally available,’ Cole tells Artificial Lawyer.
‘The realisation that we could put automation tools into the hands of lawyers, rather than coders, was a very exciting moment that has spurred us forward.’
For Cole, innovation means finding a new way to deliver better services to clients.
‘I think of innovation as not necessarily requiring technology, and that it’s about doing things in a different and better way. Technology can be a means to doing that, but it isn’t always the case.’
And does he go along with the traditional trinity of ‘People, Process and Technology’ when it comes to driving innovation and change?
‘You don’t jump to the technological solution, you have to involve people. You have to understand the process and then you decide what technology you can use to help solve the problem,’ he replies.
‘I would say that in order of importance it’s: people, then process, then technology. If you do it the other way round, you end up with white elephants.’
Knocking on Lawyers’ Doors
Speaking of problems that need to be solved, he says one of the main challenges is that ‘lawyers … don’t always naturally understand or accept that there is an automation opportunity within their work.’
He believes that most lawyers are trained to think of themselves as artisans and believe they are always providing unique or bespoke solutions to unique circumstances, ‘and that is not compatible with the notion that parts of what they do can be looked at as a process and automated’, he explains.
In addition, the business model of law firms, which is still generally to charge on the basis of a fee per hour, for the number of hours, ‘has been fantastically successful and remunerative [and] is not always compatible with finding innovative ways of doing things,’ he adds.
So, how do you get over, or through, this deeply embedded cultural barrier? How has Cole approached what is in effect a request to think and act differently? How do you win a client’s confidence so you can actually change something about the way they work?
‘The thing that we learnt very quickly was that you have to listen very carefully to your customer, and you have to be solving, or able to solve, real world problems for them,’ he says.
‘It’s not good enough to simply say ‘look at my great technology, now you need to think about how you might deploy it.’’’
Cole states you have to be a partner in an ongoing conversation with clients, listening ‘really carefully’ to what they are trying to do.
Ultimately it seems that running a legal tech company is all about winning ‘hearts and minds’.
The Road Ahead
Looking to the future, could there be a major change in how lawyers work as more innovation, such as automation of legal processes, beds down into firms? Cole believes, that inevitably, yes, it will happen.
‘I think that over time technology is going to become more and more embedded in the core legal work that they are doing, rather than something that is just on the outside supporting it.
‘The trend is definitely in that direction, because there are tools available which can make legal work easier, that’s the bottom line.
‘But, I don’t think it’s necessarily a straight road, I think that lawyers are going to have to really be careful about identifying the problem they are trying [to] solve and then finding the right technology to solve that problem,’ he concludes.
And, no doubt Cole hopes that one of the solutions they settle on is Autto. Of course, as he says, much will depend on winning their trust by listening very carefully to their needs and understanding the problems that they want to solve.
By Irene Madongo
Max Cole, co-founder of Autto, will be speaking at the Legal Innovators conference on 11 October, along with many other great speakers from law firms, inhouse legal teams, and tech companies. For more info see the link below.