During the original dot-com boom, there was a brief period – oh so brief – when legal technologists and managing partners were almost on the same page. With both camps dreaming of dramatic use of IT projects to revolutionise the legal business – the era of Blue Flag – there were big sums signed off, in many cases with poor results when it came to the hard grind of implementation. Dot-com boom turned to bust and IT professionals were once again from Venus and fee-earners from Mars.
Aside from Linklaters’ high-stakes investment in a platform from SAP during the 2000s, technology has shifted in recent years towards pragmatism and smaller initiatives. Mirroring the wider shift towards flexible tech, chief information officers (CIOs) are increasingly focusing on off-the-shelf tools that can be rapidly adapted at competitive costs.
But – as we address in this month’s technology special – the gap between managing partners and CIOs is once again narrowing. Talk to law firm leaders today and they are almost as likely to cite the opportunities and threats of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and big data as talk of foreign expansion. There are a handful of law firm leaders now – among them Allen & Overy’s Wim Dejonghe, Pinsent Masons’ David Ryan and Andrew Leaitherland at DWF – who are fundamentally engaged with technology.
Our research on 20 key decision-makers in legal IT also illustrates the extent to which the CIO has been ushered into the leadership team; many of our profiled individuals have board status in their firms.
As to where the technology goes – the debate continues. But by common consent the legal profession is moving past the point where technology merely speeds up and facilitates what lawyers were already doing – e-mail, knowledge management, document generation, mobile tech – to the point where it will change the underlying product.
Volume firms in particular are looking at ways to predict outcomes of cases using data analytics to make an informed decision about whether it is worth pursuing a particular claim, based on previous and current decisions on similar or related cases. Predictive analytics are already being applied to intellectual property litigation in the US, perhaps as a prelude to big data being used to assist with commercial dispute resolution or to assist in profitability profiling and constructing new fee models.
When you can see how information is being used in other industries, the possibilities are vast. If a hotel can use your previous behaviour to know exactly what drink you will order next time you stay, why not apply the same techniques to anticipate legal issues for clients before they happen?
Where the breakthroughs will come from is hard to say – mid-tier and regional players punch above their weight when it comes to forging strong technology teams. But perhaps it ultimately requires the market-shifting impact of top-tier firms betting big to usher in real change.
It will also require managing partners and CIOs to get better still at speaking each other’s language. For all the comedic griping of IT directors about the hassles of dealing with lawyers – as a breed they still resort too much to jargon when they should be telling the board what their projects will do for the brand and the P&L. But on current form, a select band are getting there.
Gareth Ash, Chief information officer, Allen & Overy
Julie Berry, Director of infrastructure and IT, RPC
Paul Caris, Chief information officer, Eversheds
Janet Day, Director of IT, Berwin Leighton Paisner
Sheila Doyle, Group chief information officer, Norton Rose Fulbright
Keith Feeny, Director of IT and operations, Hill Dickinson
Peter Gibbons, Global IT and operations director, Withers
Paul Greenwood, Chief information officer, Clifford Chance
Lee Hanley, IT director, Charles Russell
Marcel Henri, Chief information officer, Europe, Dentons
Richard Hodkinson, Chief technology officer, DWF
Tim Hyman, IT director EMEA, Reed Smith
Simon Kosminsky, IT director, SJ Berwin
Bruna Pellicci, IT director, Ashurst
Daniel Pollick, Director of business infrastructure and chief information officer, DLA Piper
Colin Smith, IT director, Pinsent Masons
Stuart Walters, UK chief information officer, Taylor Wessing
John Whitlow, Head of IT, Addleshaw Goddard
Stuart Whittle, Information systems and operations director, Weightmans
Steve Whitwham, Head of IT, Burges Salmon