As part of our Women in Legal Tech event on the 2nd & 3rd November, we are releasing a series of interviews with inspiring women. Their stories offer advice and guidance for anyone thinking of entering the world of legal tech. Following the event, we will be collating all of the interviews in a free e-book. Keep an eye on our social media to get your copy.
More details of the Women in Legal Tech event can be found here.
Isabel has worked her way up through the ranks of Freshfields to her position of Innovation Director. Over the last two years she has focused on driving innovation by engaging everyone across the global firm, from associates to partners.
Isabel spoke to us about her priorities as a director, and offered tips for start-ups looking to pitch big firms with solutions. For Isabel, vendors should provide open architecture and should demonstrate understanding and respect for the uniqueness of each firm. This is the key to helping law firms achieve innovation.
What are your main priorities as a Legal Services Innovation Director?
The main aim behind our innovation initiative is to create value for our clients. This can be on a matter by matter basis. However, it can be broader than that. When we invest, for example, in training our AI algorithms using our documents and lawyers, many clients will benefit from this investment in the future. Also, rather than focussing on point solutions to individual problems, we aim to integrate different tools and technologies into one ecosystem, to provide a streamlined, end to end service, delivering value at every level. The key for all of this is having an open architecture, and ensuring products work together as a whole for the benefit of our clients and our lawyers.
What proportion of your job is researching and finding innovations, and what proportion is stakeholder management?
I wish I had more time to scan the horizons beyond legal world. However, our innovation team is relatively small compared to the size of our organisation. Essentially a large part of the team’s role is to manage a firmwide change management programme – and that is necessarily internally focussed. . This does mean that I have to invest time in stakeholder management. I also see a lot of external vendors. But I don’t like to be sold one-stop-shop solutions, as this is an old fashioned take on law firm needs. When I search for new products they have to be able to add value to lawyers and clients. Those offering solutions must respect that each firm or client is different, and will require a unique approach.
How do you deal with bridging between fast moving legal tech and slower moving firm decisions?
It’s certainly a challenge! I have worked to produce a set of ‘light’ processes for all innovation work. Every bit of technology that the firm adopts wholescale has to go through information security, legal and procurement vetting. These three steps are mandatory, but unfortunately take an extraordinarily long time. The lighter process is put in place to be faster, by allowing a lighter touch approach while testing a proof of concept. IT means we can test the business case, ensure it solves a problem for us and then roll out firm wide following the full procurement process. It is a learning process and we have to get into the mindset of killing things quickly if they don’t take off.
At Freshfields I have learned to drive change from two angles: Clients and associates. Client demand is a very good lever to persuade partners to change their practices. As our core innovation team is small, we also use groups of associates across different practice groups and geographies. We hear from them what clients are saying. Through them we set up innovation channels. It’s fascinating for associates who may have been frustrated with old ways of doing things. I also love listening to our associates and hearing their ideas, which are often really inspirational and come from a different way of thinking.
What innovation has had the biggest impact for you at Freshfields?
I don’t think there has been any one single game changing piece of tech. What has been an innovation for me has been the stitching together different components and technologies. In one instance, we were working for a client who had a large number of civil procedures globally. We had to think of how technology could help us meet this client’s needs holistically and with a single global solution. We found by combining different technology solutions, like Kira and automated drafting, we could do so in a streamlined way. The real innovation for me has been looking at how do you work with each piece of technology and build an integrated ecosystem.
You have obviously been very successful in becoming a director at a young age and as a woman, what advice would you give to others following in your footsteps?
It’s a great time to be in the field of legal innovation. Everyone has a lot of energy and things are changing very quickly. My advice would be not to hesitate, to jump in if it interests you. It is important to remember you need a lot of energy and thick skin. Keep pushing, because that is fundamentally how you can drive change in a classic sense.
What piece of technology/software has made the biggest impact on your working life in the last five years?
Microsoft surface hub. I have a team split between Germany, Manchester and London. MSH allows you to have a very interactive meeting rather than a conference. It has allowed the interaction of the global team to be seamless and completely integrated.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for legal tech in the next five years?
I foresee cloud provision being the biggest challenge. We have adopted a number of cloud solutions, and the difficulty is that using them requires the clients’ consent for confidentiality reasons. Now, most clients are happy to use it which is great. But vendors aren’t addressing that in their pitches to lawyers. I would like to see more creative solutions from vendors about how to manage the client confidentiality issues in the cloud. Not many providers in the law tech space have thought about this and are immature in this regard.
If you were to start your own technology or legal tech business what would it be?
I would build an effective client collaboration platform. There is currently not a single solution that allows you to work effectively with your clients. It would have to have integrated analytics, and complete oversight. Ideally so you could run all processes for each client through their portal. It would provide real transparency.
How do you maintain a good work/life balance? And does technology help you with that?
The honest answer is that I don’t think I do! Balancing a full time job and three kids is a challenge. The danger is getting locked in a service mentality where you never put your phone away. Flexible working, and technology which allows multi-tasking (not to mention taking my Macbook and iPhone everywhere) are a real help. The ability to work wherever I want has revolutionised working for me. I don’t care where my team works, as long as they deliver. It’s such an exciting time to be in my role and I don’t want to miss a minute of my job.
What advice would you like to have had during your career (that you had to find out for yourself)?
I wish I had been encouraged to think more creatively earlier on. There is a tendency, in law firms in particular, to respect the hierarchical structure. You aspire to be a partner, which ensures a collective way of thinking. I wish I had someone who had told me to be creative in delivering work. It’s time now to think differently about why we do things in a certain way and to challenge convention. You should have the courage to be creative!