This week’s speaker profile is with Jon Gregson, a Product and Innovation Partner at UK law firm Weightmans. Jon is one of many great speakers appearing at the Legal Innovators conference in London on November 8 + 9. For more information and tickets please see here.
What is your role and how did you get into this field?
I’m the Product and Innovation Partner for our corporate clients at Weightmans. I’m an employment lawyer by trade, and I still am. My clients in that respect are large corporate employers. But, I’ve always been involved in trying to do things differently or making sure my team are early adopters of new ideas or ways of doing things; be that in a tech/product space or new ways of working.
That gradually evolved until Spring 2022 when Weightmans introduced this role as one part of our Product and Innovation team. Now I blend being an employment partner with also being a product and innovation one, so I get to have the best of both worlds.
How much has your role changed in the last five years, and how much do you think it will change in the next five years?
I guess the structure of the role has changed. Previously I was an employment lawyer that blended in opportunities to utilise tech and innovation where they arose to specific client needs or problems, perhaps it was quite reactive in nature. Now I’m still an employment lawyer, but I also proactively work in innovation and look to develop products and solutions across our whole corporate segment.
Some products we take to clients and say ‘hey, have you thought about this?’ others we just have conversation to understand what keeps landing on their desks or underlying their litigation risk or legal spend and we look to develop solutions together.
I can only see that continuing to evolve. I suspect it may become even more segment agnostic. There’s already overlap between what I and the Product and Innovation Partners who work in our other segments do, and I think that will continue and actually the cross-pollination of ideas and solutions will only increase and itself offer more innovative ways of doing things.
Do you think that we have reached a ’new era’ for legal innovation, with forces such as generative AI, standardisation and rethinking legal work catalysing real change?
In some ways yes, in others I’m not so sure.
I think we have perhaps reached a moment where there is more awareness, interest and willingness to see where legal innovation can make a real change. That’s both internally and also externally.
But on the other hand, haven’t we already been doing a good bit of all this for some time? Documentation automation and workflows are nothing particularly new. As one of my colleagues put it the other day, how long have we had inbuilt spellcheckers? Or animated paperclips trying to get you where you need to be faster and more accurately? They maybe just weren’t as exciting or garnered the interest we now see? So, I don’t know if it’s a new era, perhaps just a different one or version 2.0.
From a law firm perspective, do you think that what external providers offer to clients will continue to expand, e.g. consulting services, internal ALSPs, home-made legal tech tools?
They may do. But I’d question whether in the absence of the client relationship or the understanding of the client issue whether can they really solve a client problem or need? Clients don’t come to us because they want legal advice, they come to us because they have an issue or a problem we can help them with. It just so happens we do that using the law, it’s not because we are a law firm. They’re not buying the law from us, they’re buying the fact we understand them as a client, we can help them reach a conclusion and we have the expertise to do so.
I see it the same way as any legal tech or innovation. Clients don’t buy tech because its tech; they buy it because it solves a problem or fulfils a need. But you only do that if you have an understanding of what that is. Otherwise its tech for tech’s sake. So for me the key is not what sector it comes from, rather it is why the client is looking to buy from that particular source.
How much has improving KM and data analytics inside the business helped the firm to perform better?
About five years ago a key client had a piece of litigation that involved several thousand claims nationally. It threatened to become overwhelming. In dealing with the claims we were capturing the metadata, but doing nothing with it.
Then we took the decision to visualise it to see where the claims were coming from geographically. In doing so there a lightbulb moment as it was apparent that there was a huge number of claims coming out of the Midlands.
When we lifted up that stone, we realised there was a particular trade union representative pushing the claims. So we approached him and effectively said ‘look we will resolve this issue with you, but the more claims you put in, the slower this will take, so just stop and work with us’. He did and we stopped the flow of claims.
A flat list of claims wouldn’t have allowed that. It was only when we brought them to life that we were able to see the pattern, act on it, and ultimately mitigate the risk for the client.
That kind of data and the insights it gives is invaluable.
What are the greatest opportunities for law firms today, given the changing landscape?
I think it’s what you can offer to a client as a service or a solution. There are opportunities in a whole host of different areas that might not be immediately apparent or what you might think is necessarily within your wheelhouse. But, actually once you understand what is keeping them awake at night or actually causing those claims to come, then you can start to see the possibilities; for the clients and also the firms themselves.
And finally, if you had one message you’d like to share about how to achieve successful change management in relation to legal innovation, what would it be?
As ever it’s the people that are key. You can’t have the Field of Dreams ‘if you build it they will come’ approach to legal innovation. People may look at it, poke around the edges then think ‘what does it do for me?’ or ‘it’s too much like hard work’ and then leave it. Like any change it’s about getting engagement early and with the right people.
That is part of what we’ve done here at Weightmans with the Product and Innovation Partner roles. We bring the key stakeholders in at a very early stage and make sure they stay involved in the product lifecycle right the way through from ideation, development, and then testing and deployment. So far it’s produced some of the most interesting and successful ideas and solutions that we’ve developed.
Thanks Jon, looking forward to hearing more at Legal Innovators in November.
Legal Innovators Conference – November 8 + 9 – London
The Legal Innovators conference will be a landmark event exploring a range of key issues with high-level speakers from across the legal innovation ecosystem. The event will take place on 8 + 9 November in London. Day One: law firms and ALSPs, Day Two: inhouse and legal ops.
For tickets, please see here.
Here is a list of our great speakers so far: please see here.
While for general information: please see here.
The two-day event comes at a time of significant change for the legal market and we will be bringing you engaging panels and presentations where leading experts really dig into the issues of the day, from generative AI, to the evolution of ALSPs, to law firm innovation teams in this new era for legal tech, to how empowered legal ops groups and pioneering GCs are making a real impact. And as always, I’ll be there and chairing the event.
See you there!
Richard Tromans, Founder of Artificial Lawyer and Conference Chair.