Honesty and the Unknown: Jeremy Coleman, Norton Rose Fulbright

As 2019 draws to a close, the steadily expanding innovation team at global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF) are looking back on a year marked with multiple positive developments. 

Highlights include the establishment of a legal ops consulting practice, led by Stéphanie Hamon, formerly of Barclays, which is focused on helping in-house legal teams with everything from strategy to selecting the right technology.

Another milestone is NRF’s partnership with legal engineering consultancy Syke to provide document automation services. 

And the promotion of Jeremy Coleman, to become the firm’s Head of Innovation, also has been an important step for the firm.

Coleman was appointed to the top role in October this year, but has been with NRF since 2014. He joined the firm as a trainee solicitor, then rapidly moved through a series of tech and innovation roles, and was most recently Innovation Manager for the EMEA region. Prior to joining the global law firm he held a series of business roles in Canada with a variety of companies. Now though, he seems to have found his home and true calling.

Artificial Lawyer asks him what other innovation developments at NRF he sees as significant. He mentions the firm’s graduate scheme for individuals interested in legal innovation.

The NRF scheme has a number of graduates on the programme at present, and it is going very well, Coleman explains. Under the scheme, participants explore a range of areas, including legal project management, legal ops and innovation in general.

‘The graduate scheme has been a huge highlight,’ says Coleman.

‘In terms of our future capabilities, I think we’re looking very much towards a broader consulting offering with lots of different expertise that can sit alongside our lawyers [and] provide a fuller service. That’s a huge development, it’s very exciting.’

What Coleman also finds interesting is that his firm has displayed a cultural shift by embracing technology and innovation, including investing in tech companies.

Last week it announced it had held a new iteration of its annual insurathon, which saw 20 firms pitch for a £50,000 prize. Reinsurance platform Riskbook emerged as the winner and NRF pledged to invest in the startup. 

‘What is important to me is that the firm is now in a position where they are comfortable making investments in technology start-ups that align very closely with particular objectives of the business. The insurathon is an example,’ Coleman explains.

Forming A Star Team

Artificial Lawyer can’t help but wonder what qualities are needed to work in NRF’s innovation team – a sharp mind, a love of technology, a heavy focus on process analysis? What really matters?

You have to have massive amounts of empathy, empathy is absolutely key,’ is the answer he gives. 

‘If you can have empathy for the people that you are working with, for the people that you are helping, then you can help them in a much better way. We are not the superstars, the lawyers are. And we are meant to help them in anyway that we can,’ he explains.

He also stresses the need for team members to be comfortable with the unknown.

‘What matters is that they are really excited about change and they need to be really OK with the unknown, because we have to help others get to be OK with the unknown,’ he adds.

Innovation According to NRF

Artificial Lawyer also has to put to him the obligatory question: what is innovation? 

I think it’s about change and being honest. [It’s about] helping an organisation to be honest about what is required to face the future,’ he states.

‘In that sense it’s not associated with any particular discipline other than, I suppose, being alright with and being open to the unknown. Because if we are going to change in order to address the future, being comfortable with the unknown, and honest about change, is really at the core of it.’

Reducing the Cost…?

And, the last question has to be: is the deployment of legal technology helping to reduce the cost of legal services delivery?

Coleman considers the point and explains that it’s a complex picture when it comes to reducing costs.

I think that there are [cost savings], where you have people doing a high number of repetitive tasks and charging out at the rates that they have always [charged at]. Then yes, technology could bring the costs down,’ he observes.

‘But, most clients are already wise to that and they have already kind of said to us: ‘We are not paying for that!’ So on one hand, it can in particular circumstances, but on the other hand…..that kind of additional cost that would have been paid to do some of those tasks has already been taken out,’ he adds.

But, that’s not the whole story. Coleman points out: ‘[Technology] is helping to increase transparency so more people can have visibility into what’s going  on.’

And that is a key point – and perhaps goes back to Coleman’s themes of honesty and the unknown.

With greater transparency we again come back to economics. As the saying goes: you can’t change what you don’t measure – is Artificial Lawyer’s thought on this.

Overall then a fascinating time to be the Head of Innovation at one of the world’s largest law firms. And no doubt Coleman, with a focus on empathy and facing the unknown, will have a very interesting year ahead in 2020.

By Irene Madongo

[ P.S. Artificial Lawyer is always keen to speak to legal innovators across the industry. In particular, if you are interested in innovation and work in an inhouse legal role, please drop us a line, it would be great to hear from you. You can reach the Editor at: richard@artificiallawyer.com ]