Continental Europe IT Profile: Stibbe in Focus

While we have profiled many of the IT teams in the UK Top 100 law firms, we’re excited to say this profile of Stibbe is the first from Continental Europe.
 IT Team Structure
Olivier Van Eesbeecq – head of ICT and facilities in Brussels and Luxembourg.
Jochem Roelofs – head of ICT in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam has just adopted Infrastructure as a Service with PeopleWare (see below for more detail).
Olivier Van Eesbeecq (pictured above)
Olivier, what is on top of your to do list at the moment?
We’re rolling out brand new laptops in Brussels and a new digital workspace, which is meant to be the virtual complement to our physical office.  It should also help to accelerate innovation from our lawyers.
The laptops are state of the art HP Elitebook X360s that you can convert to a tablet and they will help us to be more secure and complement our Always on VPN.  We can track the devices across the globe and can neutralise them remotely.  They have built-in privacy: if you’re working on the train no worries, your neighbour can’t see.  Thanks to the new version of iManage Work 10 we have also improved internal collaboration in parallel with the new laptops.
We are also providing new ways of working and are investing in a full-time barista because we believe it’s not only technology that will drive innovation, but you need a parallel strategy in facilities.  We are rethinking our office space now that we have the laptops.  We have a pop-up bar with the barista and healthy sandwiches as well as nice coffee.  We’re replacing the furniture and investing in good Wi-Fi.  It’s great to see people sitting working together.
With the new laptops we are promoting functionality like the reduction of printing from Word and Excel.  You can review documents with the inking function in Excel or Word and use your finger to highlight things to be rewritten, which means we can be more paperless.
We rolled out more than 200 laptops in three weeks across Luxembourg and Brussels, and Amsterdam is in the process of doing the same thing.
In Amsterdam, they are mapping out the roadmap to move to the cloud with iManage Work 10.
What is the biggest challenge you are having to meet?
New regulation, in particular the NIS.  In Belgium, the week the NIS came into effect we were required to be compliant, including having all sorts of certification such as ISO certification, an internal yearly audit, an extensive audit every three years and 24/7 contact.  It goes much further than the GDPR regulations in protecting data and we’ve already had two pitches asking how we comply.
We need to think if our ambition is to keep everything internally or whether we are we going to outsource, for example, our document management system to iManage by moving to the cloud.  They have that coverage.
Is NIS a factor in the laptop rollout?
In my head it was part of the strategy.  With the Always on VPN you can’t use a PC without being noticed by our firewalls.  It’s not possible to visit websites that aren’t allowed.  That creates a more secure network.  With the old laptops there was a risk of viruses.  So we always had our current strategy but the new regulations have helped us to get it over the line now with no push-back.
What is your ambition for the firm?
To accelerate the creativity of our lawyers and to organise training to help unlock their creativity.
We have found over the last two to three years working with our innovation committee that it’s not about technology.  You first have to make sure that people are thinking and becoming more creative than before.
What is your firm’s approach to “innovation”?
Well, our new managing partner Wouter Ghijsels has technology at the top of his agenda.
We have an innovation board, which I lead, which includes Dries Hommez, a corporate/M&A partner; and Erik Valgaeren, a technology, media and telecoms partner.
The committee also includes PSLs and some technology lawyers who are involved in testing new products.
What is your investment in IT?
IT investment is around 4% but if you take the investment the firm is willing to make each year including facilities and knowledge management, it’s closer to 7-8%.
This year is a bit higher not just in IT investment but in training; and of course we’re investing in the office environment.  We renegotiated our extended lease and received an incentive to stay, which we have reinvested.
What are your strategic priorities for the next 18 months?
Technology is not a driver.  It’s the people, and in order to make sure that people feel comfortable in their work and their work area, you need to invest in a lot of things and one of those is wellbeing.  We also have a big diversity programme running.  We try to drive innovation by training; investment in wellbeing; diversity; and the work environment.
Tell us a bit more about plans to outsource your infrastructure?
The regulation is driving our decision – it’s no longer part of our core strategy to host our own servers.  It’s become so complex and the number of upgrades is high.  If you want enough resources to work with tools such as iManage Work 10, all those projects have new functionality, but you need time to explore them.
And you have a big agenda against waste?
The clients are driving our agenda – we have to be more sustainable than ever before.  In Belgium we have a lot of pitch requests and more than 70% of them ask about sustainability, security, compliance and diversity.
It’s not all about tech but tell us about some of tech you’re playing with?
We’re looking at BRYTER [a no-code platform to turn knowledge into apps].  It helps you with your thinking based on a yes/no decision tree.  It’s a nice easy-to-use platform but you need a lot of volume if you want real benefit and we are full service and handling complex legal matters, so we don’t have a lot of repetitive work.
We are also using an artificial intelligence enterprise search tool called Sinequa.
We have trained the system how to recognise an engagement letter – we have 26 million documents and emails all indexed.  Internally all of our sources have been indexed by that search engine, including PDFs.
We have had it for four to five years but now they have machine learning capability.  We were one of their first ever clients – not just in legal – to use the ML module.  We teach the system how to recognise an engagement letter, whether in English, French or Dutch, whether it be in the mail box of the managing partner or in our DMS, FileSite, the system will look through the entire source and flag all the engagement letters with an error rate of 0.1%.
Why is that important?  The business development department and our pricing team need the latest engagement letter.  If you have a pitch you need to make sure there is no engagement letter that it is still relevant to that client.  It’s a human thing: a partner has to send over the latest, signed engagement letter to the risk team but it’s often not done in time.  We have an official engagement letter database but it doesn’t contain them all.
Sinequa is also capable of recognising price negotiation discussions through email – we didn’t train it to do that!  If a partner and a client are sending emails comparable to an engagement letter the system can recognise those discussions and they are flagged as “contractual information” because not every email turns into an engagement letter.
Our intention is to use it to identify NDAs and other types of contracts.
Do you have any plans to change any of your tech?
When I go to ILTA I would like to know if there is a good alternative to HighQ Publisher.  Two years ago the dashboards were free but now it costs a lot of money.   You can get a better dashboard in Collaborate but under the premium module it’s no longer free.
However, with HighQ we have created the first link between Collaborate and our data warehouse. We get requests in real time for WiP and will build a client portal.
What is your approach to shadow IT?
It’s under control because we have a very good overview of what is going on within our infrastructure and if we see anything shady we make sure it becomes under the control of IT.
On the new laptops, we encourage the online presence of lawyers on apps likes LinkedIn and Twitter.  The most popular parts of our website are where people are involved in social media and we see a peak in the number of visitors when someone launches an article in the press.
What is your biggest challenge or frustration as head of IT?
Not having enough time!  Things are moving so fast.
When we’re toasting your success in five years to what will it be?
The business is still growing.  People are asking for alternative billing so it would be good to see that the new way of working is successful.
If you see two or three lawyers sitting together outside of their office proposing creative solutions to clients, it’s been a success.  The world is changing so fast, and our need to be creative has nothing to do with technology.  If you’re going to help with a blockchain financing, it’s new and you have to be creative with law that’s not adapted yet.
We are investing in training and culture and different angles on top of that because we see the impact of the environment on the day-to-day things we decide in the office.
One advantage is that I have a double role and we can shift faster than others who have someone for facilities and someone for IT because everyone has their own agenda and challenges.
Stibbe’s core tech stack
DMS: iManage Work 10
Comparing documents/metadata cleaning: DocsCorp (the entire suite).  Van Eesbeecq says: “We swapped out Workshare a couple of years ago.  We tested it and the send and clean took much longer with Workshare at that time and DocsCorp’s PDF suite is also nice.”
Practice management: Aderant
CRM: Interaction IQ
Pitch creation: Enable Business Solutions
This article first appeared in the July/August Orange Rag – to receive the free newsletter as it gets published click here: