Legal Innovator Profiles: Jack Shepherd, iManage

This week’s Legal Innovator Profile is with Jack Shepherd, who is Legal Practice Lead at iManage and a regular commentator on the ever-changing legal tech field.

When did you enter the legal world, and why?

I entered the legal world in 2008. Before I started university, I worked at a high street firm where I grew up, where I developed the beginnings of a case management for conveyancing systems. I worked at a law firm because I was about to study law at university.

I decided to study and pursue law more by process of elimination than anything else. I knew I wanted to go to university, so I crossed off all the subjects I didn’t want to do or couldn’t do because of my A-Levels. Law was one of the few left. I thought it would present me with good career options, so I took the plunge. I’m glad I did!

I met some people from Freshfields and applied for a vacation scheme which I was fortunate to secure. I knew pretty quickly that it was a place I wanted to work, and I was lucky enough to earn a training contract there. People are sometimes quite down on “big law” (including me), but Freshfields was the making of me. It gave me confidence, friends for life and skills that will never leave me.

When did you make the shift to legal tech / legal data? And why?

I was always a tech geek. I used to watch my older brother coding and learned many skills from him. I started a website design agency when I was a teenager and built websites for local businesses. At university, I did more of these projects, too. This always appealed to my creative side. I applied to do a computer science degree at university before deciding to do law, but went off the idea when I found out it was so similar to a math(s) degree.

I remember the day I switched to legal tech well. I was in the restructuring and insolvency team – a few years qualified. Naturally, I was being worked very hard, and I began to think about whether this would work for me long-term in my career. When receiving emails from partners asking whether anybody had time to help on an urgent project, I responded with trepidation as I feared the impact of this kind of work on the responsibilities and commitments I had made to friends and family.

At a similar time, an opportunity to work on an in-house technology product at Freshfields arose. I was fortunate to be able to work on this. I made a bunch of mistakes in this project. Working with experienced product and technology professionals (both in and outside of Freshfields) helped me ride a steep learning curve, and I learned so much. Working in this field appealed to my creative side and allowed me to interact with people at a much deeper level than in my previous career in legal practice. 

What are your main objectives at iManage? 

It is a very interesting and exciting time at iManage. Many of our customers are moving to the cloud and being part of the cloud world means they are taking the opportunity to focus more on business outcomes and the value of tech rather than just the tech itself. 

Understanding the outcomes technology can bring for organisations goes hand in hand with the maturity of how we approach making knowledge workers such as lawyers, e.g. how to deal with handling, storage, search, and retrieval of high-value assets to create further value.

I focus heavily on this space. I work extremely closely with our customer success and product teams and advise customers on what we call the “business process” side of implementations. This might mean, for example:

– change management activities, ensuring and supporting that the technology is actually used,

– tidying up data so that knowledge management and data initiatives can be successful,

– gathering business requirements for new projects so that we are not implementing tech for the sake of it.

Although we are a technology company, we do not shy away from the fact that technology itself doesn’t cut it – you need to focus on the many processes that accompany technology to make it successful. This is basically my role at iManage.

My experience as a lawyer is extremely helpful for this because I understand the problems we try to solve at almost an emotional level. Part of my role is to spread my knowledge to people within iManage (and, sometimes, to IT functions at our customers) who might not have had direct experience working on a legal project themselves.

How has the legal innovation ecosystem changed since you joined it? 

I was a bit confused by a few things when I started – for example, the relevance of AI, blockchain, design thinking, “solutionising”, etc. There seemed to be a lot of buzzwords flying about, but as somebody who recently practised law, I was not seeing any substantial changes in what I did day-to-day. Most lawyers had yet to hear about legal tech, let alone care about it.

I think most lawyers know legal tech is a “thing” now. A lot of this is down to the pandemic, and we’ve all switched to Zoom, e-signatures etc. Other industries have been doing this for decades, but it’s a major step forward for the legal industry. Usage of Microsoft Teams is particularly exciting, given the number of other Microsoft services you get for free alongside it (e.g., Planner, Power Automate etc.). 

Changing how lawyers work is as hard as it always has been – they are intelligent, skeptical, and risk-averse people. In the past 12 months, I have noticed the emergence of “change management” as a fundamental theme in conversations. I hope it does not become a buzzword because it is crucial to consider these “non-technical” workstreams, namely, ” How do I actually get a lawyer to use this great new tool”.

I hope that the frameworks in which people think about technology change over the next two years. I still see some bringing technology into their organisations with a superficial understanding of what it will actually achieve for them or whether it will ever get used by lawyers. These are the conversations I help firms and corporate legal teams have – it doesn’t always come naturally to people, but it is fundamental if you want to drive success.

What advice would you give to others who may want to work in legal innovation and are perhaps 1) lawyers now, and 2) are not lawyers but work in other roles in the legal sector? 

It’s definitely worth giving it a try, as you will acquire skills that will be extremely valuable to you even if you decide to go back to being a lawyer. At law firms, secondment opportunities are often available. Alternatively, innovation and IT teams are often very keen on lawyers devoting more time to trying or helping with new tech and innovation initiatives. I’m noticing a particular trend with some in-house lawyers who want a change of scenery – many of those become intrapreneurs who set up Ops functions within their own legal function.

In terms of advice, the adage is that it’s not really about tech but what value and change you want to deliver. Don’t ask, “What tools should I use”. Instead, ask, “What positive change do I want to bring” – and start your journey there.

For people working in other roles in the legal sector, there is a whole host of legal technology applicable outside the classic “practice of law” but touches things like matter management, conflicts and risk. These are great areas in which to get involved. To the extent these kinds of people want to get involved in change in the legal practice sector, I would encourage them to speak to as many lawyers as possible to understand what they actually “do” in their day-to-day roles. In fact, I do this regularly at dinner parties…hopefully, people don’t get too bored with me. Still, it has helped me understand what a private equity fund manager actually “does”.

Thanks Jack, helpful advice!