Strategic priorities: Matt Peers, Linklaters

matt peersLinklaters’ director of information systems and strategy, Matt Peers, joined the Magic Circle firm in May 2015 from Deloitte, before which he was managing director of IT at Carphone Warehouse. Here, he shares his current strategic priorities and some of the wider perspectives gained from 20 years in the professional services and retail industries.
I have been with Linklaters for a year following time in other professional services and retail so I think I bring an interesting perspective to the firm. I have a view that technology is an enabling function and needs to deliver the needs of the firm rather than leading the firm somewhere that it doesn’t want to go. This doesn’t mean that IT leaders are not involved in discussions and providing ideas, input and challenge to help educate the firm on matters relating to technology but it is important to get the right level of sponsorship from the firm. Below are our strategic priorities for technology. It goes without saying that our core IT services just have to work.
Priorities for technology
1. Digital disruption
There is a growing gulf between the technology people have at home and the technology provided at work. From the way information is created, stored, shared and communicated, the workplace is in catchup mode to what we do in personal lives. We have a duty to provide IT systems that meet the needs of our people extending from the user interface that we give them in key applications through to the delivery of IT training. As one of our associates said to me recently, ‘I’ve never been on a training course to use any apps on my iPad so why should I have to spend time in classroom learning about the firms’ IT?’
There is an increasing move towards clients requesting instant service. In the retail world we used to refer to this as instant gratification i.e. people were not prepared to wait any length of time for a good service and we therefore need to have IT systems that support a global firm working 24×7 and enable people to work efficiently wherever they are. This means giving them secure access on an appropriate device (smartphone, laptop, tablet, desktop) to enable them to work quickly to serve our clients. As we move towards more flexible working patterns with a focus on work life balance, it is critical that IT just works for people.
It is imperative that we have levels of security across the Linklaters systems that match what our clients and regulators demand and to protect our own data and intellectual property but we need this to be set at a level that doesn’t impact client service and doesn’t impose unnecessary red tape.
We are working on giving people access to not only all their files and emails wherever they are but also enabling them to tap into the firm’s extensive knowhow without having to be in the office. In some cases this means digitising old content or simply making it easy to find legal publications in soft copy.
We are starting a ‘war on paper’. Printing is likely to be key to lawyers for some time but our experience shows that when visiting clients, rather than taking heavy bundles of papers relating to a specific matter it is far more efficient to take all the material electronically, which enables faster searching.
Any change in this area needs to be carefully controlled. Our firm is very successful and has a fantastic heritage so current working practices are still valid in certain practice areas and it is not realistic to assume that change will happen simultaneously across our whole firm. I definitely don’t want to drive unsuccessful change across the firm so a significant focus in every project is around the change component and I need to spend a lot of time listening to how and why things are done.
2. Differentiating with data
We need to make our data available to the right people at the right time. We have vast amounts of data and giving people the tools to interrogate this to improve the client experience is going to be key to our future success. While our business model appears relatively simple we still run several thousand reports every night, mainly covering our structured data. We are investing in leveraging our unstructured data to provide our fee earners with a much richer set of information that is easier and quicker to access.
Artificial intelligence as well as ‘big data’ are areas that we are constantly evaluating to see whether they deliver a value proposition for clients. Everyone is looking for efficiencies in the legal process. As we spend time looking at different or new ways of working, we benchmark any solution against work that was previously performed under our traditional ways of working and while there is clearly lots of potential in this space, the role of the IT function will be to help guide people to the right solution to help on their specific matter. We need to have areas of expertise across a number of different tools to help our lawyers if they encounter issues. I believe it will be a long, slow evolution to these new ways of working rather than a ‘big bang’ experience where we all do things differently.
We are spending time thinking about how the charging model will evolve if more work is done using technology because we will probably need more sophisticated pricing engines.
3. Daring to be different
We are a firm that continually innovates and whether innovation ideas come from our partners or business services leaders people are frequently finding new ways to evolve our business model. Our IT systems need to support such initiatives by ensuring that we can quickly trial new ideas safely and securely with a view to taking them through to business case and this presents a challenge to our IT leadership team to create sufficient headroom to be actively involved in the forward direction of the firm, rather than focussed on routine business as usual IT activity.
As a firm we’re also not used to trying things that might fail and another of the concepts that I’ve brought across from my retail background is that you need to be prepared to fail in order to learn and come up with even better solutions.
IT departments across a number of industries spend a lot of time worrying about the next system upgrade and there are a lot of super-plumbers out there. I’m asking my teams to become client champions and we’re investing in the teams that sit with our internal customers and speak to clients about how we can get the most out of working together. For example, within the last year we have developed Verifi, a computer program that can sift through 14 UK and European regulatory registers to check client names for banks.  This can process thousands of names overnight where previously it would have taken a trained junior lawyer an average of 12 minutes to search a single customer name. We developed this tool by co-locating our development team with the lawyers to understand exactly how they worked. While this sounds like a simple approach it was a very different way of working for us.
We have an international advisory group chaired by Rt. Hon. Lord Hague of Richmond which comprises four people with tremendous knowledge across a broad spectrum of global business topics. This group is intended to support the governance and strategic direction-setting of the firm.  It acts as a sounding board to our partners, providing critical input and challenge as the firm develops and refines its strategy.  This group participated in a Q&A at our recent partner’s meeting and it became clear that, if we are to make the best use of their advice, then our IT solutions need to be much more flexible and that we need to move away from our one-size-fitsall mentality that we have had for a very long time.
The cloud: we have worked with our risk function and some of our clients to determine how, where and when the use of the cloud is acceptable and this set of guidelines will form the basis of future decisions. We have a number of projects underway at the moment where we’ll be leveraging cloud services. Not only do cloud services make it faster for us to respond but they also remove some of the complexities around keeping IT environments current.
One of the biggest differences I found in moving into the legal sector was the broad spectrum of suppliers that operate in this space. While this is worth a whole article on its own, I am trying to make sure we are working with suppliers who are able to support and deliver to our business goals. There is a considerable amount of work to do in this area both by the suppliers we have and also by my own teams who need to improve their vendor management skills to help maximise the relationships that we have.
This article first appeared in Legal IT Insider’s June newsletter. Our July/August newsletter will be out on 10 August, click here to receive your free copy.