Clifford Chance Applied Solutions CEO, Jeroen Plink, Leaves – In-depth Interview

Jeroen Plink, the CEO of Clifford Chance Applied Solutions (CCAS), the tech group of the global law firm, has left to explore new projects. In this in-depth interview, Plink talks to Artificial Lawyer about what he achieved there, why he’s chosen to leave, and what may be next, (see below).

He joined CCAS soon after its launch in 2018 and has been instrumental in its growth and the multiple tools it has developed. Before joining Clifford Chance he held a senior role at Practical Law Company (PLC), (which is part of Thomson Reuters), and co-founded due diligence business Legistics, which was later sold to PLC. He has also been an active investor in start-ups. He is also a Board member of legal research company, Casetext. And, from 2015 to 2017 was a Board member for Kira Systems.

In the short-term, partner Bas Boris Visser, who is heavily involved in innovation projects, will take on the CCAS management role. Visser commented: ‘Under Jeroen’s leadership CCAS has grown quickly and successfully in a way we could never have achieved within our core business. Going from a standing start to five products in just two years and establishing whole new ways of working and delivering our expertise to clients, we have laid strong foundations for delivering our expertise digitally and at scale. 

‘I would like to personally thank him for everything he has brought to the business, and wish him every success with his next one.’

CCAS has developed a series of firm-made products for its global client base. Several of these are ‘expert system’-type solutions and they have also built a document creation system:

  • CC Dr@ft – offers an automated document assembly system, with solution design, implementation and maintenance services.
  • Cross-Border Publisher: Banking Confidentiality – A digital solution for in-house legal, compliance and data protection teams.
  • SMCR Manager – An interactive tool to assist with the implementation of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime.

Artificial Lawyer Interview with Jeroen Plink:

First, what will you be doing next?

I have not yet made up my mind as to the next concrete step. The first thing I will do is spend a month making the right choices for my portfolio of activities: I am most likely going to restart my consulting activities, such as consult to private equity and VC firms on legal tech, law firms and in-house departments on innovation and various companies on go to market strategies.

Secondly, I have an interest in academia. Many law schools around the world have started innovation or legal tech programmes, while others are still early on their innovation path. Having spoken to quite a few universities over the last few years, I know I have a role to play to help educate the next generation of lawyers and business professionals.

On a more permanent basis, I am interested in working on the access to justice gap, (according to Professor Gillian Hadfield there are 600 million unsolved legal problems in the US whilst at the same time there are many lawyers who are barely making ends meet. I am convinced there is a way to make demand and supply meet better), or on the gap between providers of solutions in the legal space and the buyers, (buyers of solutions find it hard to understand what solutions are out there and vendors find it hard to get the right eyeballs). 

Finally, I’d love to continue to fill my calendar with more speaking engagements and fulfil my long standing promise to my publisher to finish my book on innovation. There are a lot of exciting opportunities.

– Why move now?

CCAS is established as a successful entity with a terrific team. The stage of a company I enjoy most as an operator is the inception phase, (building the core team, products and processes up to the point where it is stable and ready for the next phase).

We have successfully gone through that first stage with CCAS. For later stage companies the role I enjoy most is more of an advisory/board role. I realise that I have now come to a phase in my career where I want to be the fire-starter and once the fire is going, focus more on coaching it from a distance rather than actively keep it going.

What has been your greatest achievement at CCAS?

In line with the management philosophy of Chris Millerchip, one of the founders of Practical Law Company, it has been all about: People, Product and Process.

People: No venture will have a chance at success if not for the people. We have built an amazing team in Clifford Chance Applied Solutions whilst at the same time creating or (in my case reviving) relationships with the wonderful people at Clifford Chance. The team is in place to support further growth.

Process: you can have the best team and product but if you have poor processes to do your goto market it is doomed to fail. Based on the team’s collective experience, we have introduced innovative ways of working and new ways of marketing and selling legal products.

Products: under the leadership of Jo Andersen, my former colleague at Practical Law Company, we built a suite of great products and it is continuing to expand.

Overall do you feel law firms are changing how they see the use of legal tech?

I think it is hard to give a generic answer to that, so I’ll give a lawyer’s ‘it depends’ answer. On the adoption of legal tech, there are vast differences between firms: some law firms like Clifford Chance have been leaders in adoption, where others are still very far behind.

For example, if you look at Clifford Chance, in addition to the investment in and adoption of legal tech applications, the firm is very active in the field of legal tech as evidenced by the establishment of CCAS as a separate legal tech venture, the firm’s investment in Reynen Court, a large and experienced team of professionals focused on legal tech under the guidance of Anthony Vigneron, the best delivery teams under the lead of Tom Slate, a data science lab and the Create team under the lead of April Brousseau.

Some practices have a great need for legal technology (more routine work that can be automated better than bespoke complex transactions) and in some areas legal technology is more mature than others, (compare for example automated document review by systems such as Kira which is mature, versus review and automation of negotiation of third party documents, which does a decent job of the review function, but it is very early days on the automated negotiation, leaving a large portion of the problem unsolved).

On the adoption of tech (versus legal tech), there is also a difference between firms. In my opinion, many firms have traditionally underinvested in basic infrastructure, which is limiting true digital transformation. The last year has pushed many firms ahead in adoption of remote working technology which was probably the only good side-effect of Covid. Firms that had their act together well could respond quickly and moved remote over a weekend. Others were forced to jump ahead.

However, the investment in remote working systems still left untouched many underinvested legacy systems, the inefficiency of which has a demonstrable negative effect on firms’ profitability and ability to truly innovate. This is an industry-wide problem and until partners at law firms get more of an appreciation of the need to better support the technology that is the foundation of their business, this chronic underinvestment will continue to hamper growth and true digital transformation.

My recommendation for firms across the spectrum is to increase spend on technology and innovation in line with other industries.

Thanks, Jeroen! And good luck in whatever you do next.