Glenlegal 2019: Innovation and legal technology – better together?

Legal innovation teams have three primary objectives, Addleshaw Goddard’s head of innovation and legal technology Kerry Westland, who has recently made partner, told delegates at the 2019 Legal Leaders IT Forum. As set out by Michele DeStefano at the University of Miami in her paper on chief innovation officers, the first is to differentiate the firm, the second is to develop a culture of innovation and the third is to delight clients: Westland told delegates at the 2019 Legal Leaders IT Forum how her team deliver on those goals.

And while there is a great deal of focus on how technology can be used to fundamentally reconfigure processes and drive internal efficiency, live client work goes on, and differentiation at an innovation and legal technology level is proving increasingly important to winning tenders.

“The questions being asked are more and more specific. What have you done for other people? How can you implement that for us? How, as a client, can we be more efficient?”, said Westland. “These questions are driving a lot of panel tenders at the moment and we have to be able to provide compelling answers.”

While working closely together, the IT team and the Innovation and Legal Technology team (ILT Team) at Addleshaw Goddard are separate. Westland believes that is important. She pointed to two recent success stories for Addleshaw Goddard that were supported by the innovation function to explain why.

The first was a private equity client with 150 separate assets to sell. There were over 2,000 bidders – some targeting single sites and others the entire portfolio. The client needed to have access to live information about the bids coming in and for that a tech solution was required.

“There was nothing available off the shelf,” explained Westland. “As well as capturing information in the bid process, we wanted to use that information to automate the SPAs and land registry documents.”

Westland’s team was asked to build a mock up for the pitch in just three days. A live system was in place two weeks later. It has generated several million in fees already. “And we had just three days to respond. This is the type of immediacy people are looking for.”

Westland also referred to Addleshaw Goddard’s work on National Grid’s sale of half of its gas distribution business a few years ago. It involved the transfer of 15,000 properties. When this had been done previously, with just 8,000 properties, it had taken eight years. Westland was asked to use technology to transfer double the properties in less than half the time.

The solution had to be used by surveyors on site, as well as five different law firms and a number of other third parties including land registry and financial advisers. The client also needed to be able to see exactly what was going on.

Working with the client’s process team and the firm’s real estate lawyers, Westland’s ILT team created a mock up within a week and a live system two months later. “It has saved over £1m in fees for NG, 18 to 24 months in time and even £40,000 in postage costs. Of course, there is lots of focus on process engineering, but these examples show how we need to be responding to clients even as we try and sort out the basics.”

So, what does this mean for how IT and innovation can best work together? Westland believes that while there is crossover, they are fundamentally different roles.

“IT needs to accept the value that innovation brings and vice versa,” she said. “Demands from clients are increasingly complex. We need to remember the importance of rapid design and development of solutions. There isn’t always time for a complete review of all the technology on the market.

“It doesn’t mean that new technology is always required, but the ability to rapidly test new solutions is crucial. IT needs to be an enabler and not a blocker. It is when we work together that we can be most successful.”

By Amy Carroll