UK Top 50 Law Firm Profile: Gateley’s vital statistics, strategy and structure

Gateley’s IT director Nick Capell speaks to Legal IT Insider about the listed firm’s IT structure, its core systems, strategic priorities and approach to innovation. This interview was conducted pre the news that LexisOne is being sold to SAGlobal.

Gateley: At a glance

Team size: 27 approx


Tim Connelly, head of facilities and IT

Nick Capell, IT Director (Eight days a month only, employed through Freeman Clark. No direct reports. Reports to operations board.)

IT projects team, IT infrastructure team and an infrastructure architect (All report to Tim Connelly)

Investment in IT: Unable to comment during closed period

Innovation: Horizon scanning team, including IT representatives

Core systems:

Currently moving from Office 2010 to Office 365

Practice management – moving from Elite Envision to LexisOne

Priorities: Move to Office 365; implementation of new practice management system

Nick Capell, IT Director, Gateley

What exactly is your role at Gateley?

Following Gateley’s flotation on the stock market, the firm recognised that it needed a step change in the capability of its IT function. Specifically, Gateley’s post-flotation strategy meant it needed an IT Director with knowledge and experience that is broader than the legal services market. Gateley took the step of approaching Freeman Clark, a provider of “fractional” CIOs /IT Directors, to deliver that level of strategic leadership. So, I am contracted through Freeman Clarke for about eight days a month. In those eight days I advise and lead the IT function, concentrating on more strategic issues, but there is a fair amount of nuts and bolts IT infrastructure that needs dealing with too.

What is the size and make-up of the technology team?

The team is made up of around 27 people. There is an IT projects team, including application development; an IT service and infrastructure team and an infrastructure architect. From an HR perspective, all three teams report into the Head of IT, Tim Connelly. I am contracted by the Operations Board.

Are there plans to have a full-time IT Director?

That is probably a question for someone other than me to answer! Obviously, at some stage in Gateley’s growth, the need will increase. However, things are working well at moment, so there are no plans to change the current arrangements.

Are there plans to change the size or configuration of the wider team?

In response to Gateley’s strategic direction, we have grown both the wider business and the IT function during recent years. IT was really quite a tiny team when I arrived. The firm is likely to continue to grow, both organically and by acquisition. That means a constant need to watch where the stress points are.

We are implementing a new practice management system at the moment, which will result in us having new opportunities and new stress points in a year or so, for example. We are actively trying to anticipate these and look at how the shape of the organisation needs to change to meet them.

Where does innovation fit within the organisation?

Gateley has a horizon scanning team, which includes the IT function. That team is responsible for looking at headline innovation technologies such as AI or autodrafting software or whatever it may be.

How would you describe Gateley’s key technology strategy and objectives?

I look at IT strategy as a pyramid. At the foundation level, you have IT infrastructure, governance and risk. The next level up is business management systems. You then have solutions that clearly add value to Gateley’s customer proposition. The top rung is customer technology. At the moment, we are doing a lot at an infrastructure level; we have the move to Office 365, and we have done a lot of work over the last couple of years on information security. In terms of business management systems, we have a practice management system project at present, which involves retiring 16 or 17 existing applications. That is going to take up an awful lot of attention over the next 12 to 18 months. The value add level is where the horizon scanning team comes in, investigating AI, auto-drafting, smartforms, our work on extranets and similar. Customer technology is something that I hope we will look at more closely in the future. Over time, I would like a greater proportion of our efforts to be focused on those higher levels of the pyramid but at the moment we are focused on getting the projects that we have in train done right.

What key systems are you using?

We are using Office 2010 at the moment. Just last weekend, we upgraded around 80 users to Office 365. The rest of the firm will be moved early in 2019. But the biggest project is our Practice Management replacement, moving from Elite Envision to LexisOne.

What is your approach to shadow IT?

I am perhaps a little unusual amongst CIOs, in the sense that I don’t view all shadow IT as bad news. I think it has an important role to play in challenging the IT function and enabling people to feel empowered. But, and it’s a big but, you need to make sure than any ideas that come out of shadow IT have a logical place in the medium to long -term strategy and, of course, that they follow policies, especially information security-related policies.

What is Gateley’s approach to innovation?

Overall, Gateley regards itself as a relatively innovative law firm. It was the first law firm to float on the stock market, for example. However, in the IT space, one needs to be a little circumspect because the market is prone to hype and some of the stuff that has been written about, or that salespeople talk about, has got significant amounts of hot air attached to it. So, whilst we are innovative, we take a fairly pragmatic view as to whether or not an IT innovation is hype or has material value.

What is your biggest frustration as IT director at Gateley?

I appreciate that at many law firms, getting buy-in for projects could be frustrating. But Gateley is actually pretty good at that. I do wish we could move faster than we are able to. Whichever way you cut it, there is quite a lot of legacy that always slows things down.

Does being listed impact the role of IT in the business at all? In terms of access to investment, perhaps, or the reputational risks surrounding cyber?

Not hugely. My reference points aren’t with other law firms, but with other commercial businesses. Obviously, reputation matters, whether you are listed or not. Cyber security matters, whether you are listed or not. Access to cash is a bit different with a plc management structure versus a partnership. There is a difference there, but it’s not huge.

If we were toasting your success in five years’ time, what would we be toasting?

If you imagine that pyramid, we would be doing far more at the top. Infrastructure would be running on rails and to an extent the same would be true of business management systems. The Practice Management System will not be occupying anywhere near the time and effort that it is going to over the next 12 months.

This interview was conducted by Legal IT Insider commissioning editor Amy Carroll