Stuart Barr has left HighQ, the legal information and collaboration platform that was bought by Thomson Reuters in 2019, making him the last senior executive of the original team to depart. The move also opens up a whole new world of opportunities for Barr, who was instrumental in HighQ’s success and growth.
Understandably for someone who helped with HighQ’s development even before he joined back in 2009, leaving behind a business he put so much into has been something of an emotional wrench. As Barr told Artificial Lawyer: ‘HighQ was like my third child. I have been focused on it since 2009. It has been high pressure, high stress sometimes, but rewarding.’
Barr played a key role in HighQ, not just once he had joined, but even before. As he explained, he first met the founders Ajay Patel and Veenay Shah in 2004, a few years after the two had launched the company. Back then Barr was at global firm Freshfields as an Online Services Manager, and HighQ was a very small company; basically a young startup looking for growth and a client base.
That growth was generated in part through working on a key project called the BLT Portal – a legal information forum set up by a group of banks and UK law firms, of which Freshfields was one.
As Barr recounted: ‘They needed someone to help make the BLT Portal, and it was also HighQ’s big break into the legal and financial sectors. It’s also how I made a lot of connections at other law firms.’
Barr ended up playing a major role in the creation of the BLT Portal, effectively helping HighQ to build one of its first major products.
Freshfields also chose to use HighQ for an extranet system and then, as mentioned, Barr eventually joined after a short detour at Headshift, a social business consultancy.
Armed with the experience of working inside a major law firm and of using HighQ to build solutions, Barr was in a very good position to help the company move forward when he joined as a director.
Although not one of the official founders, he was the fifth person to join the London office and in many ways was a co-founder in all but name. He has since moved through a variety of job titles, his last being Chief Product & Strategy Officer. But, the titles are less important than the role he played overall.
Back then the revenue was around £500,000. When it was sold to Thomson Reuters the company was more in the range of £35m ($48m) in annual revenues, with a 30%-plus annual growth rate in income.
He noted that the last few years had been tremendously productive, with HighQ building out its capability in multiple areas, including its AI Hub to work with the output of NLP tools.
Barr is also understandably proud of the company’s client retention rate, which is at 99%. Moreover, he added that his role, although very much about the product and strategy, was also focused on marketing and getting the message out to clients. In which case, the retention rate is a badge of pride.
Barr has now formally left Thomson Reuters and has a lot of options. When he joined HighQ he was able to negotiate a stake in the company, not just a salary, so he is not under any pressure to immediately find something else to do. That said, he stressed that money has never been the motivation, and that’s clear: he does genuinely have a real passion for what he does.
So, what next? As Barr explained: ‘It would be a waste if all that I have learnt was never used again.’
Options he may look at include: mentoring; he could invest in tech companies; he could take on Board or consulting roles; and he may focus on the sustainable energy sector, which is another passion of his.
He noted that he had already been contacted by several people, but that he was in no rush to get a new job. ‘I want to find a role that’s right for me,’ he added.
Artificial Lawyer asked: would he join another major law firm, or maybe the Big Four?
‘Probably not, I’m more of a small company guy. I like to be dynamic and use my leadership skills in an environment where there is a clear decision making process with fewer people. I am less well suited to a gigantic organisation,’ he added.
As Barr said: ‘I am the last HighQ exec to leave since the acquisition and I am just as passionate about it now as before. Emotionally it’s hard to leave. I still love the product.’
It’s fair to say, HighQ is one of the most well-known legal tech brands in the market. The company’s future is now in the hands of Thomson Reuters, but Barr can be proud of what he has achieved.
Artificial Lawyer wishes him well in whatever he does next.