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.
Jo Owen has been Head of IT Service Delivery at Clyde & Co for the last three years. At the same time, she has been working as Director of her own company, NextUp Events Ltd. NextUp is a mentoring and networking initiative for the next generation of IT Leaders.
We talked to Jo about working as CIO and Head of IT Service Delivery at a firm. She shared some advice about the best way to meet and network with other in-house professionals and how to align IT strategy with your client’s values.
What led to the decision to mentor new legal tech talent, alongside your job as Head of IT Service Delivery?
I have always been a techy but once I became a CIO I was suddenly invited to lots of networking events. It made me question what networking opportunities I had missed out on before becoming a CIO. As it turns out, there is very little for the more junior members of in-house IT and it’s that which led me to start NextUp. We have been glad of the support from the legal tech community, who have been happy to sponsor us. It has also been good to liaise with other pioneers like Legal Geek and we now partner with Legal IT Insider. I think it’s also important to foster diversity in this way. If anything, I think we are seeing less women joining in-house IT roles. This has to start in schools. A number of my friends daughters, who are approaching GCSE’s in school, have decided not to pursue courses in technology, as they don’t know what type of jobs are out of there. Schools need to be more knowledgeable about the type of roles the technology industry has to offer.
What are the main differences between innovation in firms and in start-ups?
The biggest difference is that law firms are inherently risk averse. Change in firms is very challenging. On the other hand, start-ups are lean, high risk and move very quickly. In essence, they are polar opposites! Innovation hubs in law firms still have so much work to do to bridge this gap. In part, this is because implementation in firms is difficult. Managing partners, lawyers, associates; they all have to be engaged. This takes lots of time, whereas start-ups try to achieve results in days rather than months. There is a belief amongst start-ups that they can do everything. This tends to not be that successful, not least because specialism in firms is important.
As an IT director, what misconceptions do start-ups have about in house tech? What do you wish start-ups knew about the IT infrastructure of law firms?
Most of the people I work with know about our infrastructure quite well. They know the industry. Law firms tend to do what everybody else is doing, so most solutions are already au fait with how things work. The most important thing to do is network! Get to know your potential clients individually. This is the best way to know what their in-house IT looks like.
Should there be a different approach for sales between selling to lawyers and to the IT department?
The most important thing is finding the ways into all of them. Events are the best way to start. The face to face approach will always get the best response and is the most likely to turn into a sale. The important thing to remember for sales is that techy lawyers will jump on anything that sounds exciting. However, you need to engage the IT department. The approach itself will depend on who you talk to. For business facing teams, identify business problems. For the technical teams, you need to combine the business problems with enough tech to engage them.
What are your priorities as an IT director?
I will be starting at Cripps in a couple of months as their new Operations Director. Their strategy is all about modernisation and I plan to focus on understanding our client’s needs around this and delivering on those needs. From a client perspective, how do we improve our services to you? As always, this will include cutting costs to stay competitive. However, as well as client engagement, I need to ensure we have good internal engagement. The massive changes the industry is currently experiencing are our biggest challenge. How do we work with that? There is a lot of fear that technology will take lawyers’ jobs away, which isn’t the case. I need to manage this through business engagement.
What piece of technology/software has made the biggest impact on your working life in the last five years?
Unified comms. My job has been all about engagement with IT, partners and senior management teams. This wouldn’t have been possible without unified coms.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for legal tech in the next five years?
As I said earlier, the industry is going through a massive amount of change without knowing where it is headed. Suddenly lawyers are having to deal with automation and AI. It will completely change the industry and the technology world is going to have to support the legal world. Technology needs to step up and act as a guide for lawyers or legal tech will not have the engagement it needs to be successful.
If you were to start your own technology or legal tech business what would it be?
Probably a company which takes on an end to end legal processes using technology, to solve client problems. I would primarily want to work with technology specialists, with advice from a lawyer. I would love to truly show what can be achieved with an innovative approach unhindered by ‘the way it’s always been done.’ The process itself would be led in terms of technology. Lawyers could then either be left to purely advise on the legal aspects of the problem, or even better, program the technology to do it!
How do you maintain a good work/life balance? And does technology help you with that?
Unified comms helps with that massively! The downside however is being available 24/7. In my experience, it is important to set boundaries. The minute you say it’s acceptable to call me on my holiday, your phone will never stop ringing. You need to have a team you can trust to do your job while you are away. Don’t forget that holidays and breaks are important if you want to be able to do your job well.
What advice would you like to have had during your career (that you had to find out for yourself)?
Probably how important it is to know your strengths and weaknesses. It’s something I just learned for myself. I, like many other women I know, have had massive self-doubt issues. However if you know what you are good at you can hone that skill. It takes experience to know when to take a step back and realise that you don’t have to be good at everything to be successful. Think about what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. Ask questions. More often than not colleagues are happy to share their opinion on what they think you excel at. Finally, look at what other people are good at and compare that to yourself and what you like doing. When you know that you are not good at everything you can hire people who can fill in the gaps you miss.