UK Top 50 Law firm IT profiles: Pinsent Masons

As part of a huge project to profile all of the top 200 legal IT teams/law firm IT capability, our contributing editor Amy Carroll spoke to Pinsent Masons about the structure and strategy of their team which, like many others, are increasingly engaged in client-facing solutions.
Pinsent Masons: At a glance
Team size: Internal IT function -120
SmartDelivery – 32
Colin Smith – IT Director (focus on core IT service delivery into the business. Reports to COO Alastair Mitchell.)
David Halliwell – Director of Knowledge and Innovation Delivery (focus on innovation and provision of technology to support legal services.  Reports to COO Alastair Mitchell on operational and delivery; reports to Head of Client Strategy Alastair Morrison on innovation strategy and legal services.)
Nigel Tranter – Head of IT Strategy & Architecture (reports to Colin Smith.)
Orlando Conetta – Head of SmartDelivery (reports to David Halliwell.)
Nigel Tranter, David Halliwell and Orlando Conetta of Pinsent Masons
What are your respective remits at the firm and how do your roles fit together?
Halliwell: I am Director of Knowledge and Innovation Delivery, so I work with the Head of Client Strategy and the Board on what our innovation strategy should be and how it should be implemented across the firm.  A primary focus is looking at the way legal technology is deployed for the delivery of legal services.
Orlando reports to me as Head of SmartDelivery.  His primary focus is on developing and implementing technology for front line legal services and client relationships.  Nigel is Head of IT Strategy & Architecture.  He reports into IT Director Colin Smith.  They are responsible for IT in terms of core service delivery into the business.
Both Colin and I report into our COO, who is responsible for all business operations, apart from finance.  On the innovation side, I also report directly into the head of client strategy, who is a member of the board.
Conetta: My job is really to manage the delivery of client solutions and the technology solutions we use internally to improve our legal services.  The team is split across four main groups.  We have a legal technology team that consists of software engineers.  Their job is to integrate and create technologies that enable us to model our legal processes and also provide a means of integrating other technologies into those processes.
The second team we call legal engineering.  A few firms have this, but I think it is fair to say we were pioneers.  That team is made up of people with various backgrounds.  Some are lawyers, some are paralegals, some have a law degree but went straight into legal engineering.  It is becoming a clearly defined career path.
That team’s main focus is modelling legal processes throughout the business and then using the technology from the legal technology team to systemise them.  They bring people, process and technology together.  The two teams combined are focused on making sure our lawyers have access to the right knowledge, the right templates and the right tools for the type of work they are undertaking.
There are also two other teams which emphasise how legal services are changing.  One is our client consulting group.  With client consulting, we recognise that there will be clients that require our technology and our processes to be seamlessly integrated into their own beyond any one particular matter, or who want advice or consultancy on the wider range of legal technologies available in the market.  The client consulting group undertakes the project management on those specific client engagements.  It is a dedicated function and not an add-on to our legal engineering and legal technology functions.
Then there is a final team, which we are very proud of and again represents something we have pioneered.  Their focus is on data science and legal analytics.  The legal analytics team’s job is to work alongside lawyers on actual transactions and matters.  Because it is not just about having the right technology in place, but having the right skills in situ when a particular matter is being undertaken.
Tranter: What my team does is complementary to what David and Orlando are doing.  We focus on ensuring technology that the organisation uses is efficient and optimised, particularly as we expand internationally, as well as providing a degree of innovation internally.
There are around 140 people in the team as a whole, including enterprise architects, the business change team, operations team and a “follow the sun” service delivery model.
And how many people are in the SmartDelivery team?
Conetta: We have a complement of 32 people in SmartDelivery, including 10 software engineers and 13 legal engineers.
I also think it is important to emphasise that we see a need to embed different skillsets throughout the business.  We are not ring-fencing our capabilities within an isolated group.  Rather, we are finding ways to embed those skills directly within the delivery teams of our legal services.
What are your top line objectives as an IT division?
Halliwell: We don’t just see technology as a way to improve our own efficiency – to be faster, better, cheaper.  Using our technology platforms we are generating data we can use to provide clients with insights into their own businesses.  There are a couple of examples where we are already feeding that back to clients.  The more that we systematise what we are doing with technology platforms, the more we will be able to do that.
Tranter: I would agree with David about the importance of data.  It is certainly something we are looking to exploit through our internal IT strategy as well.  Technology transparency is also key.  We want to ensure that technology empowers the organisation, rather than getting in the way.  This means being device-agnostic and creating digital end points for services that are consumed by our internal business colleagues in the way that they want to consume them – in any location and at whatever time is necessary.  A key objective for me is ensuring we have the architecture, platforms and processes to enable us to do that.
What key pieces of new technology have been introduced over the past year or so?
Conetta: One of the key things that we have introduced ourselves is a platform called Matter Management.  We recognised a good few years ago that many of the workflow platforms on the market, be they focused on law or otherwise, did not match the way that lawyers approach their workload.  So we have applied rule-based artificial intelligence to the challenge, recognising that what lawyers need is the right checklist, the right list of templates and the right list of roles that they need to fill, as well, of course, as a project plan in front of them.
That’s where our technology kicks in.  We have a proven ability to enable legal engineers to model scenarios.  For example, it could involve tribunals raised because of sex discrimination, or wrongful termination or contract disputes.  Whilst the overall process is the same, the checklist, templates and work that needs to be done by the lawyer could differ widely across those scenarios
It takes the whole concept of a work type and breaks it down to a far more granular level.  It integrates our data technology with workflow technology together with AI rule-based technology, so lawyers have just one place to go to see the matters they are working on, but also the correct checklist they should be operating against.
That is clearly a case of the firm building what it is unable to buy.  What is your approach, as a whole, to innovation?
Halliwell: We don’t invest directly in start-ups like Allen & Overy or Mishcon de Reya.  But we do have a combination of different things we are doing in a similar space.  First, we are building our own internal capabilities, as Orlando mentioned.  Second, we have collaborated with technology companies to create joint venture propositions.  We built a business called Cerico alongside a tech company called Campbell Nash.  We grew that into a really exciting business that we sold to Dow Jones.
The third area of focus is quite a new one.  We are looking at ways to access a really broad set of international tech start-ups, focused on a whole range of industry sectors rather than just the law, and we’ve got some ideas about that that we’re looking at now.
What specific projects or priorities do you have for 2019?
Conetta: There are some public initiatives that we have put our name to, particularly around blockchain and the future of contracts.  We are part of the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium, which has been pioneered by the team behind Integra.  That particular initiative is about standardisation on platforms and we are working with other law firms and, of course the consortium as a whole, to investigate various proofs of concept to see how that might work.
We have also signed up with the Accord project.  That initiative is trying to deal with the problem from another angle.  It is examining the extent to which we are able to standardise particular forms of computable contracts in specific areas of expertise such as supply chain, for example.  We have lawyers involved in each of the working groups they have set up and, of course, we are involved in the technology working groups as well.
I think this gives an indication that, while we are willing to build our own technology, we look to do so based on collaborative standards.  It is also about taking risks.  No-one can predict exactly which direction legal blockchain is going to take.  We want to be part of that journey.
What would you say is the biggest challenge, or frustration, in each of your roles?
Tranter: I would add that the internal adoption of cloud-based technologies – for example Office 365 – is both a challenge and an opportunity.  Rather than focussed on technology it represents a cultural shift and adoption of how we operate, how we collaborate.  Some of our colleagues will readily adapt to these changes.  For others, it will take a little longer.
The other challenge that we face is around perception of the cloud and security.  However, if we can resolve the perception, there will be good opportunities to lead in new innovative directions.
Conetta: From my perspective, the big challenge we see is around expectations for artificial intelligence.  There is a view amongst some lawyers, and clients, that technology will do the same job that lawyers are doing right now.  Some people find that really exciting.  For others it is a threat – they simply don’t believe a computer could do what they do.  Either way, I don’t think this is a helpful way to think about technology.
I would like to move to a bigger picture conversation about how we can use capabilities to reinvent our legal services.  It is about how we can solve problems that were hitherto impossible to solve.  AI is part of that story, certainly.  But it’s a capability, not a product you can just slot in to fix all your historical legal problems.
If we were toasting your success in five years’ time, what would we be toasting?
Halliwell: For me, success would be no longer having a named innovation team.  Innovation would just be the normal way in which Pinsent Masons does all of its business.
Tranter: For me it would be technology transparency and empowerment.  It would meet the need to support the firm to work in a way that supports a dynamic global organisation.
Conetta: I would add that our legal services will be easier to consume and will proactively address the strategic challenges of clients on their own.
By Amy Carroll