Slaughter and May is one of the world’s leading law firms. They also have a strong interest in legal tech. Artificial Lawyer caught up with the firm to hear how it is currently approaching areas such as when and how the firm decides to apply a legal tech solution, how it manages the innovation process internally, and what feeds into its overall tech strategy.
The responses below were provided by: Emma Walton-Moore, (pictured above); Jan Smit; and Billie Moore. All three are Knowledge & Innovation Managers at the firm.
Slaughter and May has been a pioneer in legal tech, e.g. helping to launch Luminance, where is the firm today in terms of its overall strategy for the use of tech, especially in relation to how it can positively change its own work processes?
Whilst Luminance is often considered our flagship legal tech product, due to our early involvement and support of the platform, over the past five years we have armed our lawyers with an array of helpful legal tech tools, including automated drafting and proof reading tools and workflow, collaboration and project management tools. Our legal tech strategy currently has various limbs, including optimising for hybrid working, and taking advantage of consolidation in the legal tech landscape, among others.
Educating and training our people as to when and how legal tech can be used is also key. Notably, we don’t focus on any one population (such as trainees or associates) but seek to involve a cross-section of people from across the firm in all of our legal tech and innovation activities.
We continually monitor the legal tech market and run PoCs and pilots of new tools that might support all elements of our practice; both on the fee-earning and business services sides. Our legal tech programme, Collaborate, has also given us a great opportunity to engage with our clients on legal tech and innovation initiatives, as well as to review the market and in some instances pilot several legal tech products concurrently.
We’re also constantly monitoring the regulatory landscape in this space, as you would expect, and we take an active role in working groups set up by industry bodies to consider this – the SRA has commissioned some research into legal tech and innovation under its 2020-23 corporate strategy, and as part of that is considering whether use of legal tech gives rise to ethical or regulatory considerations. This is an interesting, important and evolving area for lawyers and firms involved in legal tech work.
How does the firm decide when / where to implement a new change project related to legal tech?
At a strategic level, we have set ourselves particular areas of focus and some ambitious measures of success, which help inform and prioritise the various workstreams in our legal tech work.
At an operational level, our fee-earners are regularly consulted on all things innovation and legal tech, and get involved in a number of ways to steer the direction our work takes. Since 2018 we have formally consulted with our fee-earners through our Legal Process Design project, aimed at analysing our matter processes, with a view to identifying opportunities for improvement and efficiency gains. These workshops are immensely helpful and have generated over 100 different ideas for improvements – some of which inevitably relate to the implementation of legal tech, and have led to the addition of new tools to our internal toolkit.
The workshops have been so useful internally, that we’ve also started to offer the same service to clients, to help them deconstruct processes (either transactional or within their legal operations) and find efficiencies and better ways of doing this. We really enjoy working with clients in this way and we get a lot out of it in terms of understanding pain points in our client organisations (and feedback suggests our clients appreciate it too!)
We also receive requests from legal groups regarding pain points they are facing, looking to explore how our current technology stack might be deployed to reduce friction in work processes, or looking to the market to ascertain if there is a specific legal tech tool that might be suitable. With all of our legal tech pilots, our fee-earners are key to the process and are consulted throughout, with their feedback being key in our decision as to whether to move to production with any tool.
In relation to resourcing, we operate a virtual legal tech team that comprises our central Knowledge and Innovation Team, as well as certain members of our wider Technology Team. Our legal tech team is responsible for maintaining and embedding our current legal tech tools, as well as keeping abreast of market developments and new products of potential interest to our practice. However, it is fair to say that a large part of the teams’ work (and prioritisation) is driven by the practice and our clients’ and fee-earners’ needs.
When it comes to legal technology that is already used by the firm, e.g. NLP doc review, or using document automation tools, how does the firm decide when it’s a good time to use that approach?
Our approach is to use legal tech on as many (appropriate) matters as possible. Usually our lawyers decide if a tool should be used on any given matter. For some tools, such as Luminance, we aim to use this by default on all matters with an appropriate due diligence element. We contact all matter associates for relevant matters to check they’re considering using Luminance, and if it’s not going to be used, we record why not (e.g. encrypted documents or non-English language documents) to help us understand our usage of the tool and ensure we’re leveraging it to the fullest extent.
To make sure that everyone in the firm is thinking about deploying legal tech at every opportunity, we ensure that everyone is trained and aware of the various tools in our toolkit. To help with this, all new joiners to the firm (trainees and lateral hires) receive an overview of our legal tech toolkit and further training (where possible embedded within legal technical training – such as use of Luminance in due diligence training). We put a lot of effort into engaging with our lawyers on legal tech, and as well as training sessions we maintain a series of internal comms to ensure that the practice is up to date in this fast moving area.
How does the firm work with clients to implement new ways of working (such as using legal tech) on matters?
A core focus for the Knowledge & Innovation team is the client experience. Whilst we do a lot of work on improving internal processes and up-skilling our lawyers, we also work closely with our clients to ensure that the legal services they receive from the firms are delivered in the best possible and most cutting edge way.
We are often actively involved in the pitching process, helping to shape the ways in which we plan to work with the client on a matter or as part of their panel. Our legal services delivery toolkit contains a range of options that the client can pick and choose from under the headings of people, process and tech. This might include giving clients access to our cloud instance of Luminance or a HighQ site, embedding a legal project manager on their matter, using flexible resources such as contract lawyers or running legal process design workshops to review the life of a matter, or an internal client process, and collectively agree areas for improvement.
Of course, these options aren’t just available for new clients or new matters and they can be deployed at any time, as and when appropriate.
We are also seeing the rise of Legal Operations teams at our client organisations and often share knowledge and experiences with these teams. Increasingly we are running our Legal Process Design methodology for clients so that they can review their own internal processes. We then act as consultants, guiding them through their options and helping them to implement recommendations (tech, resourcing, knowledge management or process related) that come out of the workshops.
Our Collaborate programme is also a fantastic opportunity to work closely with clients and we really enjoy coming together with our clients and lawyers to select and work with new technology suppliers for our collective benefit.
Have you found that driving up efficiency with tech allows the junior lawyers to do more higher value work?
It definitely allows lawyers to focus on work where they can really add value, but importantly, it also allows for a better employee experience and sometimes a slicker end result for clients. If you take a tool such as StructureFlow, for example, it saves time and creates a much better looking structure chart or data visualisation than you would ever achieve in Word or Powerpoint.
Thanks to the Slaughter and May team for the responses, and also Jane Stewart, Head of Knowledge and Innovation.