Katie DeBord Interview: Renewal + Democratic Legal Tech at BCLP

‘I almost died,’ is not how most Artificial Lawyer interviews begin, but as Katie DeBord, BCLP’s Global Chief Innovation Officer, explained, she developed a severe case of Covid-19 last year and was hospitalised.

DeBord told how she had gone into hospital in 2020 and it had got very bad. Thankfully she pulled through and in the last couple of months she has been back at work.

So, it’s not surprising that after a near death experience, that when we decide to keep going with the interview and talk about legal tech, she said: ‘It feels like there is a rebirth and renewal now across the sector.’

‘People are open to new things now. The world is so different,’ she added.

Of course, the reference here is to how the pandemic and obligatory WFH has driven up the digitisation of legal work and in turn opened the door to greater use of legal tech tools, and in general a more digital-first approach. This is something that she and the team in the innovation group at BCLP have really been aware of.

Artificial Lawyer then asked about what will she be focusing on as we steadily move out of the worst of the pandemic and as some level of new normality returns?

‘In a way I’ve come back with an extra fresh perspective. I am asking myself: how can we laser focus our efforts?’ she said.

Part of this new focus also connects to better communicating internally about how everyone is doing in the innovation team. ‘We now talk a lot about our physical and mental wellness. It helps to unclutter our minds,’ she noted.

And in terms of BCLP more broadly?

‘The firm has a new strategic plan – Project Advance – and part of this is for us to look at all the points inside the firm that connect with our team,’ she said.

The firm, in addition to its KM group, the core innovation team, and the broader group of IT professionals, also has the Cubed group, which provides volume legal services and also legal ops and tech consulting to clients. They’ve also been accelerating their growth in data analytics. And they also have built some of their own legal tech tools, such as the case assessment system Clear/Cut.

As explored in the recent interview with Kerry Westland at Addleshaw Goddard, there are a lot of interconnected pieces here, all of which link back to the many practices of the law firm, and often out to the clients, at the same time.

‘Since the merger [between the UK’s BLP and the US firm Bryan Cave] we have been working really well, and we don’t work in silos, but we want to focus more on cross-functional teams, to collaborate on projects. We want to share information and expertise across the firm.’

‘I know it may sound a bit squishy, but we have opened up a lot of really good conversations,’ she added.

More tangibly she gave an example of how they are using data analytics to help clients to do things differently. ‘We create dashboards for them [in relation to their legal work], which help them to achieve what they want to achieve.’

Another area they are focused on, she explained, is ‘how democractisable is the tech we have? For example, take expert systems: can all the junior lawyers in the firm use this technology?’

She noted that you can look at legal tech inside the firm as having ‘a shallow end where you have very democratic tech that everyone in the firm can use‘ and then there is the deeper end, where you have ‘bespoke use cases’.

This focus on ‘democratic tech’ has led the team to re-examine what software they have already, but don’t really use.

‘What do we have that we have not leveraged well yet? What do we have that can better enable our lawyers on service delivery?’ DeBord explained.

And this connects to the final area of attention: legal tech integration.

Lots of point solutions, all operating in different ways, and with different contexts, make it hard for lawyers to tap what is there. DeBord recounted an anecdote from when she was working as a litigation lawyer and mentioned that, ‘if I had to click just one extra button for a function to work I sometimes would not use that tech’.

And today, there are literally hundreds of point solutions out there, all operating in their own way, with many of the more developed products having in some cases more than a dozen key features. Even if you have a limited tech stack inside the law firm, it all creates a headache for the lawyers.

[Tech solutions] really need to be integrated into the working style of the lawyer,’ she noted. ‘We are focused now on ways to make things more seamless.’

This site asked if the answer was to just bring in one of the big platforms that already exist, or those that are now emerging?

‘We want tech that is highly flexible and can integrate, maybe that is something like a platform, but also maybe we can build that platform [for BCLP],’ DeBord said.

I.e. the answer isn’t necessarily one big vendor with one big platform, it could be many of those point solutions mentioned above, but connected in a way that they interface with the lawyers in a seamless and easy to use way.

Last question: what new tech is she interested in now?

‘We keep piloting new tech, but what we are doing now is going back and looking at our core activity. And that is all about innovating the firm’s service to make the experience better for the clients,’ she explained.

I.e. this renewal and rebirth – in more ways than one – that DeBord senses, is not about whole new swathes of tech tools arriving, but going back to the reason that legal tech exists in the first place: to make the delivery of legal services better for the providers and the clients.