Top 50 Law Firm Profiles: Herbert Smith Freehills

As part of our project to profile the IT capability of the top 100 legal IT teams/law firm IT capability, Legal IT Insider spoke to Haig Tyler, CIO at Herbert Smith Freehills about their strategy and structure as well as the key technology recently introduced at the firm.
Herbert Smith Freehills: At a glance
Team size: 280 – 290
Haig Tyler, CIO (global remit, reports to Nicole Bamforth, COO. Tyler also co-leads the firm’s innovation and technology activity)
Steve Casey, IT Director, UK, US & EMEA (based in London, reports to Haig Tyler)
David Turner, IT Director, Asian & Australia (based in Sydney, reports to Haig Tyler)
Stephen Andrews, Head of IT Architecture (global role, reports to Haig Tyler)
David Robinson, Head of IT Security (global role, reports to Haig Tyler)
Beth Clapton, Head of IT Assurance (global role, reports to Haig Tyler)
Investment in IT:
In line with industry norms at 4 – 6% of revenue
Co-led by Chief Administrative Officer Alan Peckham, based in Melbourne, Australia, and Haig Tyler.
Newly introduced technology:
New contract express capability
New platform focused on share price agreement automation
Kira for contract review
Relativity for discovery and possibly for document review
Developed own dispute decision support tool
Developed own risk management tool
Digital workplace including move to cloud, ie Office 365;   delivering on new technology roadmap for Alternative Legal Service (ALT) practice.
Haig Tyler, CIO, Herbert Smith Freehills
What is your remit at the firm?
My job title is chief information officer. That is a global role looking after the firm’s approach to technology, including the obviously enormous remit of running all of our tech platforms.
What is the size and make-up of your team?
We are in the region of about 280 to 290 people. That waxes and wanes depending on any large project activity. Our main locations are London and Sydney. I have five direct reports. Two are regional roles. I have IT directors for each end of the world. Those are the roles to which most of those IT people report. Then there are three global functions. One is head of IT architecture and delivery. One is head of IT security. Then we also have a head of IT assurance, which encompasses finance and risk management. I report to Nicole Bamforth, our COO.
You have recently launched a dedicated legal ops team. Where does legal ops, and innovation, fit within the broader IT team?
I should have said, alongside my CIO role, I also co-lead the innovation and technology activity within the firm, alongside chief administrative officer Alan Peckham, who is based in Australia. It is a very tight matrix-style structure where we all work closely with the innovation leads who are part of the legal operations team. We also have legal process improvement, and legal project management functions within the legal operations team. I very much see those as key to building our legal operating model. You have to have those things in place before you can really benefit from transformative tech.
What are your top level strategic objectives?
Our key objective is differentiation. We want to use technology to differentiate our client experience and our firm. We try to remain tremendously client-focused in everything that we do.
We have an increasing focus on cloud capabilities and that is underpinning a fair amount of our innovation and technology activity. New lawtech capabilities are in the most part cloud platforms and we are becoming far more accomplished and comfortable with cloud.
In terms of internal systems, we remain a very global firm, so we continue to build our tech capabilities on a global basis. And I guess finally, I would add, that we are increasingly recognising that there are a lot of tech capabilities in all our people. It’s a societal factor. So, another objective is looking at ways that we can get the best out of our people and their use of technology.
And what are your more immediate, and specific, priorities at this point in time?
At this point in time, our biggest priority within IT is what we call the digital workplace. The digital workplace is about driving a far more mobile and effective working environment. We are basing that around Microsoft 365. We are looking to adopt as much of the Microsoft 365 estate as we feel comfortable with over the next couple of years. Obviously, that is very much a part of the move to cloud services, but we need to make sure that our clients are happy with the move as well.
There has been a huge amount of effort this year putting in place various pilot activities, as well as starting to have those conversations with clients around their level of comfort with moving to the cloud. What we are seeing, almost universally, is a far greater degree of comfort now than perhaps even a year ago. A number of clients are very actively using Office 365 themselves, and we are targeting some of those with client-facing pilot activity. Some of the most exciting stuff Office 365 has to offer is around collaboration.
Alongside the digital workplace, our Alternative Legal Services practice has just agreed a multi-year road map of technology and that is something that we are just starting to deliver.
How much investment does the firm make in technology?
We are pretty much in line with the market. At any point in time, investment will be sitting at between four and six per cent, depending on where the lines are drawn. We are broadly in the middle of the pack in terms of investment. What’s increasing, at the moment, is the focus on investment around innovation. It is still relatively small in terms of the overall IT budget, but it’s growing.
What key pieces of technology have you introduced recently?
Importantly, we have put into production a pretty large contract express capability this year. Our legal automation team, which is part of the legal ops function, has done a lot of work to develop that capability, which has been particularly focused on real estate.
Alongside that, we also went live with a new platform focused on share purchase agreement automation. These are the first two systems to have emerged through our innovation and technology process, so it is great to get those into production.
Then there is Kira, in terms of contract review. That is also getting a fair bit of usage. We are expanding the use of our Relativity platform with regards to our discovery capabilities and we are also checking out its document review capabilities.
It is worthwhile pulling out a couple of homegrown systems as well. As part of the technology and innovation stream, we have developed a dispute decision support tool. This effectively provides structure to what would otherwise be a very subjective matter and is something we have written ourselves.
There are also a number of cyber tools that have been developed within the cyber and IP practice, which have attracted attention. We’ve got a risk management tool we have been developing as well. That one is really interesting because it followed an extensive set of design and thinking workshops with a number of clients and partners. The intention was to create an interactive tool that enables a rich and memorable discussion around risk management. It brings something visual to a subject that can otherwise be somewhat dry.
Do you have any plans to change your core systems?
I think we are very happy with the core systems we have in place. What we are focusing on now is how to better interconnect those systems, and how to better open them up for internal usage and also to clients, through various client portals and client dashboard capabilities.
There is a real latent demand from clients to have better visibility. One area we are working on at the moment is WIP management. We are enabling people to actually see the amount of time building on the clock. We are still only working with a small number of clients but it has proved the concept so we are really quite excited about expanding on that through next year.
What is your approach to shadow IT?
We’ve got to make more use of the capability and capacity of all of our people. IT has previously been the realm of a very small number of deeply technical people. But the nature of the tools these days is such that there is a lot more that our users can do. I am very keen to embrace that. We do need to be able to maintain a degree of control, however, particularly around the use of data, the quality of data and access to that data.
We are starting to take some relatively small steps in terms of looking at the capabilities of Office 365 in particular. There is some tremendously rich capability there that can be used in a really simple way. We are using forms, for example, to help prioritise our sprint development goals.
So, I don’t really worry too much about shadow IT. We want to embrace all the capability we have across the firm. But we do have to do that within various controls, particularly around data.
What is your biggest challenge or frustration as CIO?
Working within a law firm is a unique environment. When I came into the role, everyone said it would be impossible to get anyone to agree and impossible to get anything done. I have been here six and half years now, and while there is no doubt that working with a partnership of 450-plus comes with its challenges, I have really not had any particular problem getting investment for the things that we need to do.
I would say that the big challenge at the moment is around cloud adoption – how to balance the huge upside in terms of security, functionality and capability, with any concerns out there in terms of jurisdictional access. That is our major challenge at moment, but I remain very optimistic and confident that we can get through that.
If we were toasting your success in five years’ time, what would we be toasting?
I would like to think that we would have created a highly integrated and cohesive firm that had really built bridges between the legal and the non-legal sides of the business. I would also like to think that technology had played an enormous role in that, as well as building bridges into our clients’ processes and communities. Finally, I would like to think we were doing some really differentiating stuff with our technology. That is what I would like to be toasting.
This article first appeared in the April Orange Rag