This week’s Legal Innovator Profile is with Tara Waters, Chief Digital Officer at international law firm Ashurst.
– When did you first hear the term ‘legal tech’ and what did you think at the time?
It would’ve been shortly after I joined Ashurst in late 2014. We had recently established ‘Ashurst Advance’, which included a legal technology capability. I was definitely intrigued and sought to learn more about what we were building within Ashurst. Conceptually, the idea of using technology to make lawyers more efficient seemed like a no-brainer, especially given my background in capital markets where hand mark-ups remain the norm!
– What is your role now?
I am the first-ever Chief Digital Officer at Ashurst—which builds upon my role also leading our in-house digital services and products team, Ashurst Advance Digital. I am responsible for helping to set and execute the firm’s digital strategy (within the context of our firmwide strategy).
This involves partnering with stakeholders across the firm to identify and deliver projects and initiatives that will produce the greatest positive impact in terms of both progressing us towards achieving our digital ambition and delivering improved employee and client experiences. My focus spans technological, operational and cultural change projects and initiatives, and specifically how by applying or building out our digital capabilities we can enhance everything we do.
– Why did you move into this field, (if this is not the only field you’ve worked in)?
It’s been a purposefully slow transition out of being a full-time practicing lawyer (because I really love advising my clients!), but when the opportunity presented itself nearly four years ago to create an in-house digital solutions capability I couldn’t pass it up.
Given my prior experience working as a web developer and then advising a range of emerging technology companies, I genuinely felt that there was no one else in the firm better placed or who would be more passionate about and dedicated to leading the charge in addressing the challenge of our own digitalisation. I remain convinced of this, and I have supported my trajectory through continuous learning and education.
– What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Two things. First, being able to work with a group of like-minded people who are not just up for the challenge, but the challenge is what gets them up every morning. Second, getting amazing feedback about those people and the work they are doing within the firm—which evidences we are taking the right approach and making the right impact. Whilst there remains much more for us to accomplish, knowing that we are making a real difference is what fuels me.
– If you looked into a crystal ball, how much do you think the everyday practice of law will change in the next five to ten years?
I expect and hope that over the next decade lawyers and law firms will become fully digitally enabled—in terms of both the technology and tools available and able to be used seamlessly and the capabilities that they will have developed to support new and better ways of working (e.g., design thinking, service design and experience design). Likewise, I expect and hope that the ways in which we engage with our clients are seamlessly managed and manageable in an omnichannel environment.
I think there are a number of other operational and cultural shifts that will need to take place in tandem, including alignment of teams around services & solutions rather than legal product specialisations and a move towards value-based pricing and reward.
– If you had one gripe about legal tech companies what would it be?
Not a gripe per se, but I am starting to favour companies that offer free (or easy-to-access) trials or sandboxes, and usage-based pricing.
– If you had one thing you’d really like to applaud legal tech companies for, what would it be?
We have been the beneficiaries of exceptional levels of customer success and service support from some of our vendors (particularly newer ones). It makes a huge difference to us and really sets them apart as true partners rather than vendors.
– And finally, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into this field?
There’s no set pathway into this field nor one career track. However, you do need to be adaptable, able to handle ambiguity, able to work as a team and always be willing to pitch in—no matter your level or role. You also have to love the problem, not just the solution.
Legal Innovators UK Conference – London, November 10 + 11
If you found the topics covered in this profile of interest then come along to the landmark two-day legal innovation conference in London. Day One: Law Firms and ALSPs, Day Two: Inhouse and Legal Ops. We have a fantastic line-up of speakers from across the legal and legal tech ecosystems for this event focused on learning, sharing and networking. See you there!