Legal Innovators: Stuart Whittle, Weightmans

In our latest Legal Innovators profile, we talk to Stuart Whittle, Business Services and Innovation Director, at Weightmans.

One fine day, UK-based law firm Weightmans received an interesting job from a client – it had a large number of documents that needed to be reviewed in less than a week. 

The question was could it be done well? Naturally, the innovation chief was roped in to help tackle the task. 

The firm chose to use a multidisciplinary team approach, along with an AI software package, recalls Whittle.

I think where we are starting to win as an organisation is where we are capable of putting together multidisciplinary teams to solve problems for clients, only part of which involves legal advice. 

‘We had our innovation team using Kira Systems, and teaching Kira to identify the bits of the documents that we needed to extract; we had our business change team project managing it from start to finish; and a group of lawyers across all of our offices.’

‘When we presented the results to the client, and I don’t know how they measured this, but they said that given the short amount of time that we had and the number of bits of information that we had to supply to them, their view [was that] the work that we did was 98% accurate, which in terms of what we did I think was pretty impressive … and we did it within the timescale,’ Whittle says.

What’s Cooking?

This is a snapshot into the working life of an innovation director at one of the UK’s top 45 law firms. When he’s not helping solve problems for clients, he may likely be found working on the next best big thing for the firm in terms of IT. And as far as this goes, it seems there’s a lot to keep him busy. 

Asked what is new at Weightmans in terms of innovation, he explained that: ‘One of the things we are investing in this year is LTC4 (the legal technology core competencies certification). It’s all very well [having software], but if nobody knows how to use it or, indeed, if it’s even there, then you are wasting your time.

‘So we are trying to properly train up our people, so they understand how to use some of this stuff. That is a big investment of time and money for us.’

The firm is also doing a lot with predictive analytics and trying to help insurance company case handlers come up with better estimates of the impact of certain claims, both for the time it is going to take to run a matter and also for things like how much the matter is going to cost, he explains.

Pearls of Wisdom

So there you go, quite a busy department in Weightmans. Talking of which, what would he say are the three main things he’d tell someone who wants to work in legal tech? 

‘Don’t be seduced by the hype; you’ve got to be determined and resilient; and it clearly helps if you have empathy with your end user, whether that is a client or internal,’ he says.

Of-course, Artificial Lawyer has to ask the big question: Is the use of legal technology reducing the cost of delivering legal services?

‘The short answer is no, because what people don’t see is there is quite a lot of upfront investment.

‘In order to get all this stuff to work, you’ve got to put in a lot of upfront investment. And so when you price that into the model, it’s not necessarily reducing the cost of legal services. It might be making it faster, more accurate, whatever, but I don’t necessarily think it’s reducing the costs,’ is his reply.

What is Innovation?

And finally, we also have to ask: what does innovation mean for him? 

‘We look at it in two ways. Innovation with a big ‘I’ and innovation with a little ‘i’.

‘[The latter] is the sort of stuff that everyone really ought to be doing, which is, for want of a better phrase, continuous improvement: looking at what you do and the way you do it and the services that you deliver to clients.

‘The other way we look at it is innovation with a big ‘I’, and this is not my phrase – I heard it from someone else – and that is ‘shoot yourself in the foot before someone shoots you in the head‘. The idea is to take what we already do and cannibalise it to an extent before somebody else does.

‘So, part of our heritage as a law firm is we have a lot of experience acting for corporates and public sector bodies on employment liability claims. What we trying to do with some of our clients is take the experience we have of acting at the very end of that kind of process and understanding what the issues are and where liability lies, and cannibalising that information and taking it to clients to stop them having those actions in the first place.

‘So the idea is about taking our skills and experience on advising on these sorts of matters, but actually front-loading it and saying to clients: let’s look at your policies and procedures and let’s make sure that they are watertight.

‘The idea ultimately is, if we get this right, then the litigation side of our business isn’t going to get the work. But we are taking the experience of our lawyers and actually providing the advice upfront.’

A radical approach indeed. With this and everything else he is doing to make legal innovation a reality at the firm, Whittle clearly has plenty to keep him and his team busy at Weightmans.

By Irene Madongo.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for an interesting article. Both little-i and big-I innovation, as described above, are part of quality improvement. Do you have any staff with quality certifications on your team? If not, you may want to consider training from a Chartered Quality Institute approved provider. We see innovation as something other than implementing a preventative solution to an identified root cause.

  2. If Mr. Whittle succeeds in the firm’s “cannibalism” venture, this will be a great thing for clients and ultimately the firm. Undertaking the kind of close review of the issues and liabilities will by itself elevate the level of expertise of those lawyers participating in the project. In the end, this is bound to make the firm much better at what it already does. I think few firms have this vision, so I will follow Weightman’s adventures from afar with great interest. I will hope to see what tools they use, suspecting that good old “expert systems” may carry much of the load.

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