Legal Innovator Profiles: Karen Jacks, CTO, Bird & Bird

This week’s Legal Innovator Profile is with Karen Jacks, CTO at international law firm Bird & Bird.

– When did you first hear the term ‘legal tech’ and what did you think at the time?

I can’t recall exactly, but within the last 5 or 6 years. I was slightly bemused to begin with – all of a sudden this was a well-used term, when to my mind law firms have always had legal tech particularly if we define it as technology to support the business of law.     

I am pretty sure the term became popular because there has been such a significant rise in both investment in legal tech and tech startups in this space. I did worry initially (not so much now that it has settled) that anything not invented in the last 5 years would be deemed legacy and not legal tech!

I spoke at a conference recently about what were the implications of new legal tech and risk, and as part of my research I found some staggering numbers in terms of the investment and number of new tech companies / solutions.  

– What is your role now?

I am CTO here at Bird & Bird – I joined the firm (first legal role) back in 2000 and as the firm has grown and evolved significantly my role has also grown and evolved to something quite different to what I was recruited into – all in a good way. My role covers quite a diverse portfolio now, from support through to innovation, so I’m kept busy and energised by it all.

– Why did you move into this field, (if this is not the only field you’ve worked in)?

Honestly – I was approached by a partner here for the Head of IT role when the firm was a fraction of its size. I had worked with him in an entirely different field some years previously and this was back in the day when we had partners responsible for business service functions, hence him coming to me.  

I had not really considered working for a law firm up to that point and had to pretty quickly get up to speed with some of the quirks of it all. 20+ years later I’m still enjoying it, so hopefully I’m getting  it right!

Before law, I worked in a number of organisations with a variety of IT roles, including manufacturing, consultancy and video games. 

– What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Difficult to pinpoint the one rewarding aspect … It would have to be building and managing an international IT team for all aspects of IT delivery: support to innovation and everything between, such as building up specific new teams, for example InfoSec, as the world around us changes. I have been fortunately allowed a lot of autonomy and space to build and change the team as the firm has changed.  

– 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 think with the rise of legal tech we are likely to see the lawyer’s traditional role change and a desire from them to use technology differently, i.e. rather than have a fixed portfolio of tech, there will be more flexibility in what they use.

IT teams will need to be ready to accommodate that if they are not already there. I suspect many firms have already recognised this change in needs.

– If you had one gripe about legal tech companies what would it be?

Over-selling the solution and not always understanding the regulatory/risk position. By this I mean the over-selling of a tool(s) that will ‘solve every issue ever, need no IT input, can deploy in a week’. This is quite common and I sometimes feel IT are then having to come from behind to reset expectations.

On the risk position this is all a bit dull, but necessary. We have many obligations to our clients that startups don’t always recognise, or do as an afterthought. 

– If you had one thing you’d really like to applaud legal tech companies for, what would it be?

Their total faith in their vision in a very crowded space. Some of the solutions we have looked at and/or deployed really tackle some specific challenges and may not be the most ground-breaking innovation, but if it solves a pain point at a reasonable cost then keep it coming! 

– And finally, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into this field?

Law firms have a reputation (unjustified in my opinion) for both not using technology well and finding it difficult to implement change.

I would say neither of these are wholly true, but they can be different from many other organisations – so be prepared to be flexible in your approach and accept you can’t always force change just because that is what has been agreed. Good negotiation skills are a must, particularly in a partner-led firm. 

Thanks Karen, that’s sound advice!

Legal Innovators UK Conference – London, November 10 + 11

If you found the topics covered in this article 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! 

Tickets and more information can be found here.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Karen,
    When you talk about flexibility in the tech portfolio, are you leaning toward best-in-breed technology that can be connected through APIs? What are your thoughts about PM software with regard to flexibility?

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