Weightmans and its Product-Focused Approach to Legal Innovation

For UK-based Weightmans one key way to make legal tech achieve the firm’s goals is to develop productised services. Another has been to create Innovation Partners. Artificial Lawyer caught up with Catriona Wolfenden and Stuart Whittle to learn more.

First, the partners. Wolfenden, Product and Innovation Director, explained that they are now into the second year of their new innovation strategy and ‘it’s bearing fruit’. Central to this are their group of Innovation Partners, who have a clear objective to focus on client needs and see how these can be translated into products and services where tech can play a part.

She noted that as she and Whittle, Chief Tech and Innovation Officer, were no longer advising clients as lawyers the firm needed partners to get involved in that conversation. They can sound out what the clients may benefit from and then work with the innovation team to scope out a product that will meet that unmet need.  

‘They spend about 60% of their time not doing traditional partner things, but they are talking to clients and developing ideas,’ Wolfenden added.

From this process they have developed products that meet very specific client needs, built from scratch by the firm and then sold on a one-to-many basis.

‘It’s been hard work, but we have delivered solutions that the clients have paid for. They’ve not just ‘added value’,’ Whittle explained.

I.e. this is not a ‘giveaway’ to boost client relationships – although it will help there too – it’s a real commercial venture. In fact, they have now hired professional sales people to market the products and help the firm to make money from them.

So, what products do they have? There are several, but one they mentioned is Transport Manager Comply which ‘guides your team in identifying areas of non-compliance within your fleet management operations – so you can address issues before it’s too late’. See here.

There are also a range of tools for employers needing to handle disability issues, which taps the firm’s expertise in employment matters. See here. This includes a discrimination-focused product and a ‘reasonable adjustment’ tool.

And these are not simple chatbots. Going back to the transport tool, here are some key facts that the firm set out: 

  • ‘This stand-alone tool does not have to be integrated into any existing systems. It has been designed as a GDPR compliance system, storing almost no data.
  • Take away the guess work, by incorporating guidance notes taken directly from Government sources
  • Provide a process to follow – and lay an audit trail, by sending a copy of the report to the user
  • Produce reports that identify areas of risk so these can be addressed
  • Prove you have put the correct processes and systems in place to identify issues
  • Ensure that your transport management team are conducting thorough and effective fleet maintenance inspection quality control checks
  • Give your team the support they need to investigate and challenge poor maintenance standards across your fleet
  • Produce an audit trail that you can rely upon during any regulatory investigation
  • Ensure that your management team have advanced warning of any compliance issues developing
  • Help your business and directors comply with the conditions of your operator’s licence
  • Reduce your risk.’

All in all, it’s a win-win. These are the types of tasks that just on their own would not produce a lot of income for a lawyer at the firm, but when productised and made into a one-to-many tool, they generate revenue much more broadly. The clients also get access to productised services that they may not have thought possible before.

As Wolfenden said: ‘We are commercialising the knowledge [we have at the firm] in a risk mitigation product, and then sell that to the clients.’

Whittle added that it was not easy to do. Clearly you need the legal input, then plenty of engineering and product management. And then you have to sell it as well.

So, other firms should not assume this is a quick path to profits. But, over time, and with enough products that really connect to the clients – especially because partners at the firm have reached out and spent time with them to understand unmet needs – then it can work.

One last thing that Whittle mentions is that when it comes to selling a product to the market it’s quite a different experience. ‘We have learned a lot about selling stuff. I have a new-found respect for the vendors selling to us!’ he concluded.