Legal Innovator Profile: Shilpa Bhandarkar – CreateiQ, Linklaters

This week’s Legal Innovator Profile – and the first of the year – is with Shilpa Bhandarkar, the CEO of CreateiQ, Linklaters’ proprietary contract management platform.

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

In January 2017. My co-founder, Amit Rai, and I had just agreed the terms of sale of our school communication app company Coo and were contemplating our life plans after. I had fallen in love with all things start-up and tech and was struggling to imagine life in a big corporate institution again. Amit gently pointed out that I had deep legal sector expertise (I was previously a Project Finance lawyer and then the Chief Operating Officer for the India and Africa practices at Linklaters before launching Coo) and surely it made sense to explore options in that sector.

I believe my exact words were ‘Uff, legal tech is not a ‘thing’’ as I furiously typed ‘legal tech’ into to make my point.

I was very happy to be proved wrong.

What is your role now and how did you get here?

I am the CEO of CreateiQ, the data-driven contracting platform designed and backed by Linklaters.

My search led me to a maternity leave cover role at Lexoo. It was meant to be a 6-month contract, which worked perfectly for me – I was curious to learn about the sector before committing myself to a career in it. I landed up staying for close to 1.5 years as their Legal Network Director before re-joining Linklaters as their first Global Head of Innovation. When the opportunity arose to help scale CreateiQ, I got involved (CreateiQ and Practice Innovation have distinct teams but as you would imagine, work very closely together) – and moved over permanently shortly after.

Why did you switch roles (if this is not the only role you’ve worked in within legal tech)?

My current role combines everything that personally energises me with all my varied previous professional experience – so when the opportunity presented itself, it was an easy decision.

I love the efficiency that tech brings to our lives – whether that’s creating playlists for a party in under 5 minutes or using Trello to plan a house renovation. When coupled with my background in law, legal tech is the perfect intersect.

Within legal tech, there are many different roles and possible career paths. For my part, I enjoy building product, being part of a cross-functional team, being responsible for setting strategic direction and accountable for the delivery of it – a general management role therefore suits me well. Finally, I also love being part of Linklaters – it is a firm of clever, ambitious and collaborative people, whether it’s our lawyers or our business development team. CreateiQ gets to be part of something bigger, enjoying the access that it brings while still maintaining its distinct brand and personality. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Can I say everything? Great team, great firm, a real industry challenge to solve. Most of all, the ‘aha’ moment when clients use the platform and realise just how much time they’ve saved themselves, how different their experience is to anything else they’ve seen before and how accessible contractual data can be in practice. A close second is the ‘aha’ moment when Linklaters lawyers get a demo and realise just how innovative their firm is and how creative BigLaw can be.

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?

Ten years is a lifetime, so I would like to think the everyday practice of law would have changed quite substantially. It’s difficult to imagine that our day to day lives won’t be entirely tech enabled by then – and that should permeate into the practice of law. For example, the rise of voice activated ‘screen-free’ tech has the potential to transform contracts and negotiations into something quite radically different from the way we do things today.

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

Legal tech companies over-promising and under-delivering. I have some sympathy for those forced by a VC-backed model to show growth at all costs, but ultimately it breaks trust and makes us all look bad.  

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

The legal industry has been one of the last to embrace digital transformation for a reason – innovating in this sector is hard! I applaud all legal tech companies – CreateiQ included – for the resilience we have to bring to our work daily, while keeping the faith that we will ultimately change the industry in a way that benefits everyone.

I have a quote that I have pinned to my wall as a daily reminder of what I have signed up to: ‘Try. Try again. Try once more. Try differently. Try again tomorrow. Try and ask for help. Try and find someone who’s done it. Try to fix the problem. Keep trying until you succeed.’

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

Legal tech is an industry, like any other. Therefore, you have to first figure out what it is you want to do within legal tech. Is it product design? Or marketing? Software development?

Then spend some time talking to people about what their day to day involves and see what resonates the most. Volunteer to spend some time on a tech or innovation project or initiative within your organisation – you will learn a lot and the skills are likely to be transferable no matter what you decide to do after. Finally, just give it a go. Innovation is not a spectator sport – at some point you’re going to have to just roll up your sleeves and get going!

Thanks Shilpa, great insights and advice!