Legal Innovators Review: Hot Panels, Top Insights and Great Networking
By Irene Madongo
What a day! Artificial Lawyer’s inaugural conference Legal Innovators turned out to be an action packed, so-glad-I-came event, best summarised by the organisation’s founder and editor Richard Tromans, who said: ‘So many people arrived this morning we couldn’t fit any more people into the room!’
Keynote addresses came from Kerry Westland, Head of Innovation & Legal Technology, Addleshaw Goddard, who explored how we can develop a culture of innovation in our organisations and how cultivating a team of people to make change happen is vital. While James Quinn, CEO and Co-Founder of document automation company, Clarilis, spoke about ‘The future is already here’ and referenced a range of examples of how ideas about future technology had turned out to be true.
There were loads of hot panels, sharp speakers and a lively audience set to keep panellists ‘sitting upright’ with their questions.
The first panel discussed the subject of building an innovation team. The upbeat session was hosted by Linklaters LLP’s Head of Innovation, Shilpa Bhandarkar, who fired off several questions and her panellists did not disappoint!
A key point was the diverse background innovation recruits are coming from. One panellist pointed to an instance where there was a person with a background in midwifery that came through their doors.
The mood among the panel seemed to be that getting non-techies on board can be a good thing, as Duncan Morley, Senior Account Executive at Relativity said: ‘We do a lot of academic outreach. I think people that come [from outside] of legal tech can drive innovation.’
There were also some key issues of making it work for the team, take the point raised by Julius Reeves, Consultant at Totum Partners: ‘What is really important is mentoring and leadership. Some of [the staff] have come from outside. How to navigate the situation is really key.’
Panellists also found common ground on other interesting questions such as ‘how do you measure success?’ There seemed to be some agreement that it’s not always about how much money is being raked in.
Bhandarkar said: ‘Most things can be measured – process mapping, [using transactions], there’s probably a financial number you can put to it … [yes], you can have metrics, but they are not always financial.’
Jane Stewart, Head of Innovation at Slaughter and May, seemed to agree: ‘There’s a huge imperative for us to make the lives of our lawyers as painless as [we] possibly can. You have to attract and maintain the best people. And that is a huge drive as well.’
She added that one of the challenges is to ‘get past sitting and talking and [actually get down to] the do-ables to get there. We really need to deliver on conversations we have had with clients.’
‘Risk is a huge topic for clients, [and] being conscious of risk doesn’t always go hand in hand with creativity,’ she concluded.
The audience also got to hear some of the ups and downs industry players experience in the world of innovation, including some rather weird moments.
Rosemary Martin, Group General Counsel & Company Secretary, Vodafone, speaking on the panel titled ‘Legal ops – What Do Clients Really Want That Legal Tech Can Solve?’ recalled when, some years ago, the company had engaged someone abroad to work on a major tech project for them – but after about 18 months, and constant reports that all was going well, he just disappeared! So there was no product after all.
‘I’ve got scars,’ she noted.
Martin also mentioned – and this was backed up by Sean Thomas, Group General Counsel, AlphaSights – that law firms should not assume that tech-based solutions had to come from the advisor side, and they were also perfectly happy to ‘go direct’ to a tech provider for a solution to a particular innovation challenge they may have in their in-house function.
One other of the many great comments on the What Do Clients Really Want? panel was from Samuel Moore, Innovation Manager at Burness Paull, who explained that sometimes younger lawyers can find it easier to bring their innovative ideas to someone in his role, rather than a partner. This is especially when they see how inefficient a particular process is, but perhaps don’t want to tell a senior supervisor this observation. The idea of Innovation Manager as a kind of firm-wide counsellor came to mind, and perhaps that is a key aspect of leading change?
Outstanding Standalones …and Robot-Busting!
But it was not all about panels. There were some very thought-provoking standalone presentations such as by Juro CEO, Richard Mabey, who spoke on ‘Legal data: where to start,’ exploring the different stages of data collection and analysis to gain value, as well as the need to master the basics first before zooming off into the tech horizon. He gave the example of simply making use of Excel spreadsheets to ensure better collection of legal data and to gain insights into your work and business. Only then should you aim for the fancier legal tech solutions on offer.
Meanwhile Johannes Stiehler, CTO at ayfie, with his presentation ‘AI – Know Thy Limits’, did the industry a great service by highlighting what today’s AI systems can actually do, especially in the legal field.
‘AI has no context,’ he stressed, and gave the example of how the word ‘oil’ provides a nebulous language problem that humans can quickly understand by looking at the context, e.g. is this about food, or engineering? Whereas an NLP system faces challenges to join the dots.
He explained the point by showing how oil could refer to olive oil, or engine oil – two radically different things – but an NLP system doesn’t necessarily know which unless it’s been specifically trained. In short: don’t overestimate what AI can do. And don’t assume there is a human-like intelligence there.
This was a very useful talk, as if we are truly going to embrace what AI can do, we also must understand what it cannot do.
In his informative (and entertaining!) talk, Stiehler also assured the audience that ‘stupid robots’ need not take away their jobs – that is if people can work as people.
‘Don’t act like a robot and it won’t take away your job.’
And, humour aside, this is a key point. Many lawyers are engaged in repetitive, low value tasks that can be improved in part by automation. So, let’s aim high and leverage our human talents to their full!
This is what Artificial Lawyer is all about – using technology to free us all up to be more human. It’s about taking away the ‘robotic’ work so we can really leverage all of our human potential.
Artificial Lawyer also spoke to Stiehler during one of the breaks and asked him to elaborate. He said:
‘AI will never in the foreseeable future act like an actual human being because there are so many things that human beings are very good at [like] creativity, creatively connecting context, prior knowledge they have about the world … and AI just [misses] that context, that bigger picture.
‘However, I think the chance is really to make AI your support worker, to accelerate your work flows, to help you get rid of some of the menial stuff, and generally make your work life more interesting.’
There were many other great standalones and panels, and thanks especially to the last panel, on Scaling Up Real Change, led by Shaz Aziz, Director, Client Solutions & Engagement, Neota Logic, which featured: Isabel Parker, Chief Legal Innovation Officer, Freshfields; Bas Boris Visser, Global Head of Innovation and Business Change, Clifford Chance; Laura Bygrave, Innovation Lead, Deloitte Legal; Ellen Catherall, Associate (Innovation and Legal Technology), Addleshaw Goddard and Nick West, Chief Strategy Officer, Mishcon de Reya.
They rounded off the event with a series of excellent observations about driving real change in their organisations and spoke to the stalwarts who had stayed put right into Friday evening.
And finally, in a ‘surprise’ move, Jeremy Coleman, Head of Innovation, Norton Rose Fulbright, came up to the stage and summed up the conference for us, picking out the key themes of a day filled with ideas and great conversations on the theme of legal innovation.
… And That’s All Folks! (Or Is It…?)
With all of that for the brain to digest – not to mention the friendly networking during the many breaks, yummy lunch and awesome cakes at teatime – the fun had to come to a close.
And so at the end of the day, Tromans congratulated the attendees, speakers and sponsors, for making the event the great success it was and with that we all headed out of the main hall for drinks and to continue the many conversations that had started during the day.
Legal Innovators will be back in multiple and expanded formats in 2020, both in the UK and beyond…!
If you’d like to know more, or get involved in future events, whether Legal Innovators, or smaller, targeted events created by Artificial Lawyer, please drop us a line: Richard@ArtificialLawyer.com
And of course, special thanks go to George and Timo – and team – at the amazing events and research company, Cosmonauts, who did such a fantastic job organising this conference and making it all run so well!