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.
Marie Bernard has been the director of innovation at Dentons for nearly three years. An avid user of social media, Marie is also the voice of Nextlaw Labs, an innovation hub for legal service delivery.
Marie spoke to us about her priorities as innovation director, and about how she manages change between fast-moving startups, and slower-moving law firms. She also gave tips on finding and nurturing new innovations.
What are your priorities as a director of innovation?
My main priority is to make innovation tangible for lawyers and professionals – firstly by interacting with the outside world and secondly, by connecting with Nextlaw Labs. Obviously cost reduction is a side benefit we are aiming for. The alpha and omega is the improvement of our delivery model and the quality of legal advice we deliver to clients.
What proportion of your job is researching and finding innovations, and what proportion is stakeholder management?
The two are so intertwined. In order to make progress in innovation you have to empower people. I spend a lot of time on social media – as a place for inspiration. I spend about 2-3 hours per day on projects with startups. We are building a network of innovation ambassadors within Dentons, and I spend a lot of time with those people to help them act as change agents within the firm. The only free hour I have in the day I spend on pure RnD.
How do you deal with bridging between fast moving legal tech and slower moving firm decisions?
Law firms are inherently slow because they tend to have a more conservative mindset, but it’s a myth that they are not innovating. At Dentons we try to implement agile pilots. Nextlaw Labs is constantly seeking new ways to innovate within the firm. We create co-innovation partnerships with startups or other innovators to provide for a rich exchange of perspectives. When we introduce technology to a group of lawyers, we try to think like startups. It’s not just about how the group grasps the concepts, it’s about the thinking that comes with it. How does this impact our team, our clients? We empower people to explore and experiment within the pilot because innovation is also about failing.
If you are looking for ways to drive change and innovation, you should look within your organization and find the seeds of change waiting for that signal. Get together with your team to digest all the information available, see what the pain point is, and agree on where to start. Find the solutions, explore them and see where you are after three months. Be confident: you may not be an expert, but you have to try something new and then assess the lessons learned.
Are there any specific things you have done to help promote diversity in innovation? Do you have any advice for people trying to achieve more diversity within legal tech?
It’s moving slowly in the right direction. Maybe not fast enough. As a woman I always feel that you should be so good that they can’t ignore you. However, not everyone is in an environment where that’s possible. Women should be benevolent, network together and support each other. The mindset women bring to the table is important in decision making.
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 matter of personality and you must have self confidence. People are really ready to help so don’t be afraid to ask for advice. In terms of achieving good diversity within the team, I think it is something you have to actively think about. A lot of the times we are on autopilot and might not recognize our own biases. Merit is obviously essential – I don’t think you should hire people to fill a quota. To be successful in innovation, you should be open minded and shouldn’t restrict yourself by what is happening in your own industry. When I look around, I am inspired by what Google is doing and I like reading blogs, such as Atomico and IDEO. By informing yourself you can connect the dots and develop your own personal signature.
What piece of technology/software has made the biggest impact on your working life in the last five years?
I am often remote working and as such am always looking for better ways to collaborate. I couldn’t operate without a great video-conference tool and a project management tool, and I’m constantly chatting and texting with my team. See, what springs to my mind has nothing to do with fancy artificial intelligence tools… but a lot to do with how we leverage the very best of our human talent.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for legal tech in the next five years?
I think we will see a process of consolidation around a few standards. We’re in a transition phase right now – the gold rush if you will. People are looking for gold. Eventually we will have to consolidate all of this to achieve economies of scale and sustainable solutions. We need to find new ways of working together and create new partnerships, consortia and a standard of what’s working and what’s not. Once we know what is “gold”, we can find new ways of working together and find new ways to form partnerships.
If you were to start your own technology or legal tech business what would it be?
I am passionate about what’s currently happening at the intersection of legal and civic tech. The legal profession is not only in the middle of a chain that involves the production and the usage of law and jurisprudence, it also more broadly relates to public service. Think of the potential if the promises of the Open Government Partnership materialize! So I would probably turn my attention to a solution leveraging open data, transparency and accountability – maybe for commercial purposes or perhaps “simply” for the greater good.
How do you maintain a good work/life balance? And does technology help you with that?
It’s a learning curve for me. I am at a point where my kids are getting a bit more independent, so they need me in a less constant way. My kids are old enough to understand I have priorities and they have their own. Quality time can be had whenever that quality is there and I try to work around that. Technology that enables remote and flexible working certainly helps, as it means I can be home with my family and still stay connected to work.
What advice would you like to have had during your career that you had to find out for yourself?
Sometimes, even if you’re unsure you’ll be fit for a role, you have to trust what others think about you. If they think you’ll succeed, then take the risk and go for it.